Run-DMC’s Darryl McDaniels is one of more than 20 artists involved in SongAid, an ongoing effort to fight the global hunger crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The effort started 5/29, and each week, new music is placed into playlists curated by well-known musicians and public figures. Each time a fan listens to a SongAid song, the streaming proceeds will go to WhyHunger’s Rapid Response Fund, founded in 1975 by the late Harry Chapin.

“When I went to meet [Chapin’s widow] Sandra Chapin to get permission to sample ‘Cat’s in the Cradle,’ she told us this long story about Harry,” says McDaniels, who sampled Chapin’s 1974 hit on his 2006 song with Sarah McLachlan, “Just Like Me.” “He started with this is on activism for hunger saying we have to fix the hunger situation in America so that we have the ability to fix the hunger situation in other countries. When she told me that, I was like, that’s the realization of the whole superhero thing—with great power comes great responsibility.”

McDaniels, a fan of “Cat’s in the Cradle” since he was a youngster, has been involved with Chapin’s charity ever since.

“Harry had it right. You can’t just go into the neighborhood and give out turkeys on Thanksgiving and not show up for a whole another year. You can’t just go into these neighborhoods at Christmas and give out coats and stuff like that and not show up for another year. Teach people how to grow their own food. People have to be self-sufficient.”

Self-sufficiency has been McDaniels’ M.O. since he and Run (Joseph Simmons) started hanging out in the parks of Hollis, Queens, hoping to rap over the beats local DJs were spinning. After meeting Jam Master Jay (the late Jason Mizell), they formed what would become the rap group to crack the mainstream. McDaniels takes us back to the early days and explains how it evolved from being an underground performance art into a potent commercial force.

“The thing that caught me was the tapes of the live recordings of the parties in the parks, house parties in the club, that they would sell them in the streets. I was captivated, I was mesmerized—every cell in my body to relate to this thing.

“The young people had no music, no culture. We listened to music that my mother and father thought was cool—Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Al Green. We knew soul music. We knew funk, we knew Parliament, we knew Ray Charles, Moms Mabley and Richard Pryor. We knew all of that.

“The greatest period in hip-hop is the period before it was on record. Nobody talks about that. The only thing that you really got from those eras are cassette tapes of people like Grandmaster Caz and DJ Red Alert and Africa Bambaataa. Spoonie Gee. Tapes from Harlem World, T-Connection, the World, the Roxy. The rappers would all talk about clothing, drugs and politics, but it all would be presented with a different thing or different flow and a different story. The DJs and MCs took the music of the projects and allowed us to put our own voices on it.

“Even the great producer Rick Rubin said, ‘Man, if it don’t sound like it sounded on those tapes in those clubs when you walked in, you don’t say it.’

“When they were able to take that art and culture into this ‘show business’ world, it got kinda diluted. It was great, but it wasn’t what was happening at the block parties or in the park.

“Once it did get on record, it was another step up for the worldwide exposure of it. Hearing what these young folks were doing in the Bronx, transformed and presented on record, gave me the feeling of, wow, I could relate to it because I know who Melle Mel is, I know who Kool Moe Dee is. It was like the kids in the ’50s: they had their own music, we finally had ours.

“When ‘The Message’ came out, everybody duplicated it—’Message Two,’ ‘The New Message,’ ‘Life in the Ghetto,’ ‘The World Sucks.’ We made a socially conscious message record that wasn’t all just depressing. I rapped about school the way a drug dealer would rap about selling drugs. We did it without hurting anybody.

“Then Afrika Bambaataa and Soul Sonic Force came out with ‘Planet Rock,’ and everybody sampled it. We did it, too, with ‘It’s Like That.’ But then we did something really different. We said, ‘We’re going to make a record called ‘Sucker MCs’ that nobody has the balls to try to make. We’re just gonna do a beat and we’re gonna flow.’ That gave everybody the freedom to stop following the rules.

“More importantly for me, I went to Catholic school my whole life. I was a straight-A student. I wasn’t in the streets; it wasn’t cool to be in a gang or to sell drugs in our own community. It’s not cool to shoot each other. It’s good to go to school.

“We weren’t from Harlem or the Bronx, so they hated us in the beginning. But then, [other rappers] started realizing in every interview we said we do this because we want to be like the Funky 4+1 and the Treacherous Three. When LL Cool J saw us doing that, he came out with ‘My Radio,’ and then everybody saw Public Enemy doing hip-hop their way and then De La Soul. It was growth.

“Now everybody’s rapping. I can’t critique it, it is what it is. But hip-hop was about keeping it real and to this new generation, it’s about getting your money.

“The young generation doesn’t want to make important records because they think it’s corny—that’s what older people do. Like, even when I speak at high schools and middle schools, I say, y’all looking at me ’cause I’m 55, but I didn’t change the world when I was 40. I didn’t change it when I was 30. I was 18 years old. I didn’t look at the fame of it. I said we would change the world by doing what we were doing. It was about changing the world by telling your truth.”

 Darryl "DMC" McDaniels, center, with Joseph "Rev. Run" Simmons and the late Jason "Jam Master Jay" Mizell

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