Born to Run

The band is hoping to release an eighth album next year, with Rubin tentatively slated as producer. "The next one is going to be hard," McDaniels reports. "It's gonna be something historic, something that goes back to the days of the rhyme and scratch. We're looking at the face of rap today and saying we got to cut through all of that."

For most other rappers, such grandiloquent statements would ring hollow. But with more than a decade under his belt as a ranking member of rap's pioneer generation, McDaniels is not shy about voicing his distress over the recent trends in rap. "The record companies are looking for some boys who carry Gatts and smoke blunts," he observes. "These bands who jump around and talk about how tough they are. It used to be that the biggest thing was who had the best DJ and the best rhyme. That was the way you stomped another crew. The way you excelled was verbal. If you didn't have the words, the vocabulary to express yourself, you were a sucker MC. The word is the one thing that's real in rap. That will never die, and that's why we've been around so long. Because we keep it real."

At the same time, McDaniels says, he's dead set against the denigration of rap by self-appointed cultural watchdogs who are, in fact, judging the culture from without. "There's no such thing as gangsta rap," he argues. "There's just rap records with certain subjects that scare people. Gangsta rap is just a label someone came up with to disrespect what everyone's doing."

Though Run-D.M.C. never enjoyed the pan-cultural success of recent artists like Coolio, McDaniels doesn't begrudge the new generation. Just the opposite. He views their prosperity as a byproduct of, a tribute to, his own efforts.

"When we came out we opened a lot of doors, and I'm happy to see rap at the top of the charts, happy for the achievement of our culture, not just in music but in the movies and the media. Rap has become a big creative force. You can't make a movie these days without rap. Most music has to have something that pertains to hip-hop. They gotta drop a beat. And you can see the things hip-hop has done in the fashion industry.

"I'm not really a Coolio fan," McDaniels concedes. "But me and Run were just talking about this and we can see that Coolio is part of what's needed in rap today. He's a tough guy, but he doesn't sit there just telling people what a killer he is. He makes music that people like, about partying and having a good time, not violence or selling drugs. He may look like a gangbanger, but he's making pop records that sell. And he's giving props to guys like Stevie Wonder and George Clinton.

"Look, we grew up in this game, and obviously we've got a different approach. We don't use no DAT or dress up in outlandish outfits. We just put out the mikes and turntable and go with our arsenal of hits. But we support anyone who's a talented musician."

Mutual respect, it turns out, is the basis of Run-D.M.C.'s remarkable longevity. "It's just like a marriage," says McDaniels, who has a wife and son. "When you respect each other and you work together, you can't let it go to waste. We look at all these bands who broke up and never have the same impact and said, 'That's not gonna be us.' When you come, you gotta keep coming or you're gone."

And McDaniels is well aware of the social responsibility he bears as an elder statesmen of rap. "People tell us all the time how we inspired them. Not just young stars, but doctors and lawyers, guys who were in jail and told us, 'Man, you inspired me to do something with my life.' That's what it's about. We're not trying to make people into rappers. We're trying to make them successful people."

If this sounds like a pretty Christian attitude, it should. Both McDaniels and Simmons have turned to God, after battling through drug and alcohol addictions.

"We're not a Christian rap group, but we are rappers that happen to be Christian," McDaniels says. "Run is a licensed minister and I'm a deacon. Run's label, Reverend Run Records, showcases gospel singers. We're still saying the same things we always did -- stay in school, get an education -- but now we're confessing our belief in God. If other rappers can sing about guns and drugs, or give props to Jah or Islam, we feel we can give props to Christ and not be written off."

"It's almost like God is using us to spread His word, because kids aren't going to listen to teachers or parents or preachers, but they may listen to us. They may say, 'If God is the path they took, maybe I should check it out.' And that's all we're asking.

"The reality is, we still get down," McDaniels concludes. "We just played a show at the Olympics, at this disco they got for all the athletes, and didn't none of them know the words but we still brought the house down. 'Cause we still got the word."

Run-D.M.C. performs tonight (Thursday), August 15, at Club Boca, 7000 W Palmetto Park Rd, Boca Raton; 407-368-3333. Showtime is midnight. Tickets are $10.

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