Run-D.M.C.’s D.M.C. and Artist/Director Justin Bua Talk D.M.C. Doc
Universally known as the “Devastating Mic Controller,” D.M.C. is one-third of one of the greatest music groups of all time: Run-D.M.C.. But, for decades now — especially after the untimely death of third member Jam-Master Jay in 2002 and the 2005 launch of the MTV reality series, Run's House, which highlighted the family life of frontman Run — D.M.C., born Darryl McDaniels, has been the most obscure member of the trio.
Enter Justin Bua, the man behind the intimate original documentary D.M.C.: Walk This Way, which aired last month on Ovation TV. An acclaimed NYC-raised artist fascinated by the gritty nature of hip-hop, Bua teamed up with the Queens rapper to finally tell his story, including being adopted, his struggle with alcoholism and coping with his ongoing vocal problems.
XXLMag.com caught up with Bua and D.M.C. to talk more about documenting the man behind the music. —Rachelle Jean-Louis
XXL: How did this documentary come about?
Justin Bua: [Ovation TV] gave me an opportunity to do my own [documentary] and to host my own. I’ve always been a huge fan of Run-D.M.C.. I reached out to D. I just felt like his story is the story that you never hear. We can’t really get Jay’s story; he’s dead, and Run is kinda like this caricature of himself on MTV. He’s kinda like the polished reverend. But nobody really knows Darryl. You know, nobody knows the man behind D.M.C.. I do, and I actually learned more as I went along. It was so compelling and so interesting, and I was like, "That’s a story that needs to get told." So that’s what I did: I told the untold story.
How did you meet? How long have you known each other?
Bua: I’ve known D for a couple of years. I was working on a project with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar called On the Shoulders of Giants, which I directed this documentary narrated by Jamie Foxx. I was with Chuck D, who was also on the documentary, and Kareem, me and Chuck were shooting some of the documentary at my studio. I was working on a painting. Chuck went up to the painting and was like, “Yo, my God, this is dope.” It was a painting of Run-D.M.C. for my Legends of Hip-Hop book that I was working on. Chuck’s like, “Yo, D is gonna love that.” I was like, “You know him?” He was like, “Yeah, I’m gonna text him right now.” That’s actually how it started. He just texted me right back. He was very humble, you know, very down to earth. We just started building right off the bat, just like that.
D.M.C.: He’s an artist, and he does this incredible artwork. He does with art what Grandmaster Flash does with turntables. [laughs] He’s a foundation of hip-hop. He looks at me like I’m great, but like, he was there in the beginning. He was there with Crazy Legs and Rock Steady and Bambaataa. He’s the real deal because he’s hip-hop without the music business. We hooked up with just our mutual friend because of the culture of hip-hop.
For those who haven't caught it, what can fans expect to see in this documentary?
D.M.C.: I’m a normal dude. My new saying is, “you’re not my fan, you’re my friend.” You just happen to be somebody that likes my music. But I ain’t better than you. Like, my whole thing is, rap is what I do; it’s not who I am. None of us is special. I’m the dude that’s not afraid to show that. If I’m doing good, I’ll show you; if I’m doing bad I’ll show you. So people always know me as the “King of Rock,” you know, the first to go gold, first to go platinum, that’s bullshit to me. Excuse my French, but that’s bull. It has nothing to do with the life that we live. For me, I’m not a politician—I hate politics and I hate organized religion, ‘cause organized religion and politics divide the people. Music is the only thing on the face of the earth that succeeds where politics and religion fail. People tell me, you know, all these guys - Eminem, Diddy, Nelly – “Yo, because of you, I do what I do.” But I had to get it from somewhere. There would be no Run-D.M.C. if it wasn’t for the rappers that came before us, before this music was put on records. So that’s why I love Bua. Our culture has nothing to do with show business, but it is part of it. So for me, I’d rather do a presentation of the D.M.C. guy, but not just what I do on records.
What do you think is the most interesting part of the project?
D.M.C.: [Bua] brought Grandmaster Caz from the Cold Crush Crew in. Caz started talking. I started reciting his lyrics, and Caz looked at me and could not believe I knew every word of every song of everything that they’d ever said. It was just amazing. When Bua brought Caz into that room, all my D.M.C. kingdomship went out the door, because I was humbled because nobody understands—if it wasn’t for Caz, there would be no Run, D and Jay. So for me, that’s the most powerful moment, ‘cause nobody understands what was going on in that room right then and there. Now I really realize when somebody comes to me and says “Yo D.M.C., you don’t know what Run- D.M.C. did for me.” I do understand, because when Caz walked into that room, something happened to me.
Bua: In the documentary, I do a portrait of [D.M.C.]. I do a literal portrait, like in paint. But I think that you really uncover the spirit of who D.M.C. is – the realness, the authenticity of him, and the sadness. I think the portrait is significant.
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How did you determine the choices for guest appearances and interviews?
Bua: Well, you know, Ice-T is a legend, obviously. He knows Darryl, he knows him well. He’s an authority on hip-hop. He’s an authority on the music industry, certainly understands the layers—the messed up, fucked up qualities of what it means to be in the game. He says, “You’re alone on the boat. You’ve made it, but everything you thought it was going to be when you arrived, is nothing, nothing like you could’ve imagined. So you go into a depression.” He gets the rise and fall of D.M.C. because he himself has experienced it. MC Lyte, Melle Mel, Grand Master Caz, Bill Adler from Def Jam, Z-Trip, Mix Master Mike from the Beastie Boys—all these people have achieved a level of success where they can really relate to Darryl’s success. And on top of that, like myself, they’re all fans of his.
Is there anything you hadn’t known before that you learned through the film?
Bua: Yeah, I didn’t realize, first of all, how much he drank. I mean literally, physically, the consumption of alcohol. I didn’t realize he was on the verge of suicide. I didn’t realize he was incredibly unhappy with his relationship with himself and with his relationship with Run D.M.C.. As a fan, I just saw the “Devastating Mic Controller.” The “King of Rock.” And I couldn’t see beneath that because he didn’t let—as the generation growing up around him—he didn’t let us inside to that world. So it’s really interesting to see that. And not from the bitter place, not from a resentful place. But from a place of realness and sadness. So he really allowed me to go into his world with open arms.
Is that something you think he was able to cope with through this process?
Bua: Yeah. Kind of come out of all of this and become a different person. From an alcoholic to a workout-aholic. He’s definitely taking his addictions and transforming them to positive things. I think he’s transformed himself to a positive being, and I think that’s a beautiful thing to see. He’s still a student of the game.
When will it air again?
Bua: Just keep track of Ovation TV for the next listing of D.M.C.. They seem to be playing the bejesus out of it. It’s on crazy constant rotation because the guy was the highest rated original series I’ve ever done.
What projects are you guys working on now?
D.M.C.: The new album is called Rock Solid featuring Mick Mars from Mötley Crüe, Sebastian Bach, Freddie Foxxx AKA Bumpy Knuckles, Chuck D from Public Enemy, Roberta Freeman, who sung with Guns N’ Roses and Pink Floyd, Pauley Perrette AKA Pauley P. from NCIS. The new music is King of Rock on steroids. It’s live drums, live guitar. When I was bragging I was the king of rock, that was me make-believing. Now, I’m living my rock n’ roll fantasy. Album will be 2012. First single “Rock Solid.” Dropping in 2 weeks.
Bua: November 8th, I have Legends of Hip-Hop dropping. So it’s my first book that pays homage to 50 of the greatest legends who’ve personally influenced my life, and their paintings. So I’ve got everyone from Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Melle Mel, Rakim, Beastie Boys, Run D.M.C., Jay-Z, Eminem—I mean I’ve got Missy Elliott, Queen Latifah—I painted so many people who were just completely—not only revolutionary in real life but for me in development of an artist and a human being just have influenced me so much and brought beauty to the world.
Speaking of influence, Tupac's 15th death anniversary is coming up in September. What did his legacy mean to you?
D.M.C.: Tupac is incredible. The reason why Tupac is a genius is because he could curse Biggie out in a minute, but he’s powerful because on the very next song, he could make a “Brenda Had a Baby” or “Dear Mama.” Tupac is like Treach. Treach and Tupac were good because when Treach and Tupac stepped to that mic, they made incredible records. They wrote life-giving, inspirational records. Tupac is from the same, um, chromosome and DNA as Melle Mel and Afrika Bambaaataa. Yeah, we street, yeah, we out here with the homies, yeah, we trying to survive, but when we step to that mic, when we open our mouth, shocked us, the hip-hop culture people. The world at large looked at a Pac or Melle Mel or Afrika Bambaaataaa and Zulu Nation, at a Treach and go “I can’t believe this is coming out of that young man!” That’s powerful! That’s what Pac records represent. He could curse you out, he could make the party record, he could throw his money up in the air, but in the very next breath he could make a “Brenda Had a Baby” or “Keep Your Head Up.” That’s power. That’s a leader. We need more of that.
Bua: Hip-hop is like the High Renaissance. Renaissance really means “rebirth.” And I think hip-hop was a rebirth of culture, and at the forefront of that, he was the iconic image of the rebirth of that culture. He was somebody who reinvented the way we think, the way we feel, the way we act. He was also one of those people, like Michelangelo or Leonardo, who could do everything. That’s why I painted him for the cover of my book, because he is the quintessential hip-hop icon. He represents everything good, everything bad and everything beautiful. I use a William Butler Yeats line where I say, “A terrible beauty is born.” I mean, to me that really sums up Tupac. “A terrible beauty is born.”