"My Le Coq Sportif" is not an easy rap to write.
"I have been trying," laughed DMC, who recently abandoned his signature Adidas shoes, immortalized in Run-DMC's 1986 classic "My Adidas," for a Le Coq Sportif look.
"People are saying, 'They probably paid DMC a lot of money to take those Adidas off,' but I found them, they didn't find me," the rapper promised.
D's change in shoes — and entire wardrobe for that matter ("I don't wear the glasses now, I wear contacts") — is all part of a reinvention that began some 10 years ago, when the man who dubbed himself "The King of Rock" discovered classic-rock music.
"I liked the instruments, I liked what they talk about on the records," he said. "It's information. It's universal. It could relate to life."
With his group temporarily disbanded, DMC was stuck in a creative and emotional slump and even felt suicidal, until he suddenly found a new reason to pick up a microphone.
"As opposed to just doin' a record where I'm talkin' about how good I am and I'm the king of this ... I'm just going to talk about what I go through in life, what's happenin' overseas, what's happenin' in the schools," he said. "I was at a point where I was asking myself, 'How does a b-boy grow up into a b-man?' I can't rhyme about what I did when I was 18. And I heard a lot of rap cats, they always say, 'Yo, when I get 35, I don't know if I'm gonna be rappin'.' And that was devastating when I heard it, because does Bruce Springsteen stop playing the guitar 'cause he's 50?"
Without knowing what he would do with them, DMC started writing songs that were intensely personal or political. "It was fun, it was adventurous, it was something new, and I was free to be Darryl as opposed to DMC," he said.
Eventually, he started collaborating on tracks by peers like Kid Rock, DJ Lethal, Buckcherry singer Josh Todd, Korn bassist Fieldy, Doug E. Fresh, and Aerosmith's Joey Kramer and Tom Hamilton (see "DMC Hits Rock Bottom, Climbs Back With Help of Limp Bizkit's DJ Lethal").
Along the way, D also decided to write an autobiography, which ultimately led to the catalyst of his reinvention. "I wanted to start the book, 'Yo, what's up? I'm DMC, you know me, Darryl McDaniels of the groundbreaking rap group Run-DMC. I was born May 31st, 1964,' but that's all I knew, so I called my moms up," the rapper recalled.
His mom gave him some shocking information: He was adopted.
"At first, I was gonna get really sad about it," D recalled. "But then I said, 'If my [birth] mother never gave me up, my mother would have never came and got me, I would have never moved to Hollis, I would have never met Joe, we would have never formed Run-DMC and none of this rap sh-- would have jumped off. 'I'm gonna write a record that's gonna help kids in the foster homes, or that are lookin' to adopt a kid.' "
For the track, called "Just Like Me," DMC sampled Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" and recruited his favorite artist of all time to sing the chorus: Sarah McLachlan.
"I tell people now that my first 25 years in this game were tremendous, but my next 25 will [be even better]," D said. " 'Cause right now I'm like a little kid, everything is new to me. My identity is new to me. This music is new to me."
It's taken him nearly a decade (see "Big Plans Under DMC's Kangol Hat: Solo Career, Movie, Cartoon, Label" and "DMC Gets Real With Sarah McLachlan On Checks, Thugs, And Rock 'N' Roll"), but DMC's debut solo album, Checks, Thugs and Rock 'n' Roll, is finally being released March 14, coinciding with a VH1 documentary featuring D tracking down his birth parents.
"It's a bit of time [to be] working on a record, but it doesn't seem that long," he said. "I didn't set out to do a record where the people that I made the music with, that they just do the track and you come in and do your vocals. Everybody that I worked with, we started from scratch and we composed and we arranged and created new music."
D has already shot two videos, one for "Just Like Me" and another, directed by Ondi Timoner ("Dig!"), for "Machine Gun," an Iraq War commentary featuring vocals from "C.S.I." star Gary Dourdan. The album also features a tribute to Jam Master Jay called "Missin' My Friend" and collaboration with Run called "Come Together."
"It's really a universal album," D said. "I want the 65-year-old — no, older than that — the 67-year-old white guy from the boondocks in Wisconsin that don't give a damn about rap to hear my record and go, 'I'll listen to that.' "