It’s just after 2pm and we’re inside a building that looks like a dressed-up airplane hanger on the second-to-last day of South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. Daryl McDaniels, the “Devastating Mic Controller,” has spent the last 20 minutes pouring everything he’s got into his classic hit with Run-DMC, “Here We Go (Live From The Funhouse).” As the special, surprise guest for the evening, he’s been going back and forth with Black Thought while the legendary Roots crew prepare for their third annual Bud Light Jam showcase.
You’d never know that this was a soundcheck. The amount of intensity, lyrical precision, and showmanship that DMC brings while performing “Walk This Way” and “Peter Piper” for an audience of basically just me is kind of inspiring. This is a guy who still lives to entertain people and gets off on the burning down the stage, even if the venue he’s in is empty. After the second time running through “It’s Tricky,” he makes the band run back the song’s outro, coaching Captain Kirk, the Roots’ guitarist, to throw in some tasty licks while Questo and the gang bring the song to an end. Due to a bomb threat that someone emailed to the venue — the suspect was apprehended the next day — no one else would get to enter this space and enjoy the products of their labor, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it was amazing. As DMC comes off stage, Ludacris breaks from a game of foosball to wrap him in a big hug, playfully asking if he’d just turned in a whole set. Indeed he had.
DMC is an artist who straddles the worlds of rock and rap better than almost anyone. Throughout the 1980s, when he was pioneering hip-hop in Run-DMC, he, Run, and Jam Master Jay regularly sampled breakbeats from prominent rock bands, sometimes going so far as to collaborate with them directly like they did with Aerosmith on their iconic rendition of “Walk This Way.” There was a reason they were the only hip-hop group invited to perform at the heavily rock-curated Live Aid festival in 1985.
With hip-hop firmly affixed as the most culturally dominant and commercially viable genre in America today, and with rock receding into the background, I thought I’d ask the man who been there for it all what he thinks about the way the two forms contrast and compliment one another.