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Run-DMC’s Darryl McDaniels on ‘the power of influence’

DMC says 'keep it organic and simple'

Hip hop pioneers Run-DMC made an indelible mark on music, culture, fashion and marketing. Today, Darryl McDaniels is still touring the world and pursuing brand partnerships near to his heart. He shares his insights about the power of influence, simplicity and respecting your audience.

Cashews, cookies and comic books. What do these things have in common? They are all things that Darryl ‘DMC‘ McDaniels loves. He’s also an advocate for mental health, physical health and bringing music to schools. In all of the projects that McDaniels has become a part of, these passions shine through.

His latest partnership is the limited-time only launch of D’Z Nuts with Nature’s Eats. All proceeds for sales of the product will go to charity including the JMJ Foundation which is dedicated to funding music programs in schools. It was created in honor of Jam Master Jay. The line of healthy nuts is also a reflection of DMC’s healthy lifestyle. He is 14-years sober and dedicated promoting healthy living. This includes investing in the mental health startup Uwill which connects students with therapists.

Speaking to The Drum, McDaniel’s shares his thoughts about what successful collaboration looks (and sounds) like as well as how brands can speak to large and diverse audiences. Here’s what he has to say.

What's the secret to cross-over success?

Run-DMC, and its legacy, has always been relatable across the board. When Steven Tyler took the mic stand and knocked down that wall and the Walk this Way video, people tell me globally that didn't just happen in a video. That happened across the world.

I have a habit of being able to frame things together, cross over things and connect things. You know we put rock with rap. We put black people and white people together. We toured the world with the Beastie Boys. There would be no Yeezy’s. There’d be no sneaker culture if it wasn't for what we did with Adidas. But that being said, it wasn't like I created this.

All of these things existed but nobody knew how to utilize it. So I was able to utilize these things through pop culture, whether it's music, rock and roll, hip hop, apparel classes or school. ‘You know I’m DMC in the place to be, I go to St. John's University.’

Universally, I look at everything that that we‘ve done here as a greater creative presentation of the possibilities that still exists in everybody‘s industries across the board. What you need to do is you got to get to creative people together.

How do you know it’s right when you put something together? You make it sound like it’s easy. Brands screw it up all the time.

By seeing the excitement of everybody involved – when there is genuine happiness about doing it. It's different when you sit there, and problems arise, and you have to work towards a destination or do things just to get a result.

You know when it’s going to work. Advertising and marketing is like when we started a song. You can tell what's going to happen if people are excited because of the beat. Because now I'm going be excited to put my lyric on it. So now that you got the song and the lyrics, the next thing is to work with the people who are going to get that out to the world so everybody else can hear.

That was phenomena with this project. It started with JC’s product [JC Taylor is the head of marketing for Nature’s Eats]. Then Adam [Adam ‘the creator‘ is president of BrandFire] knows I’m into nuts, fruits and stuff like that. It was about getting creative people together. The whole D’Znuts [riff off of the meme] thing is fun. It’s light-hearted. It’s humorous. It just works.

It’s got to be something that is organic and simple. Jermaine Dupri, one of the greatest producers ever says ‘simple is always better.’ So its simplicity and it's the excitement of all of the creators involved.

I’ll never forget the day my friend came over my house and had on new Adidas with no shoelaces. I was like ‘what’s going on?’ What have you learned about being an influencer?

There’s a responsibility that you have with it. When we first put out the Raising Hell album and Walk This Way was killing and we were coming in town with the tour buses — people were wearing Adidas from head to toe. It was actually Jam Master Jay, may he rest in peace, who said ‘yo, we got to watch what we are doing. If you have power to tell people what to drink, what to drive and what to wear. You also have the power to tell people how to live.’

I‘ve been sober 14 years. I never put drink and get drunk on my records because I didn‘t want the younger kids to do those things. Now, that being said, most parents want the kids to eat nuts, and vegetables and the healthy stuff. They prefer to candy, but by seeing cool gangsta ass DMC with his hat on, with his Adidas on, rocking the whole Coliseum a kid might look at me and say yeah I want to eat some nuts because it's cool to eat that now. So, the important thing is about the responsibility.

If there was one thing you’ve learned from a marketing perspective across all your success and your projects, what would it be?

Think of your consumer first, your target audience – their needs and values and safety come first. I’ll always remember what KRS-One, one of the greatest in the history of hip hop, told me. He said, ‘you know getting record deals is cool, selling records and touring and getting money is cool, but my first concern is my audience. Don’t take advantage and exploit them to improve your situation. Take care of them first and then all that energy allows you to go out and do what you're supposed to do.’

Don‘t put yourself above your people. We didn’t want people to see celebrity when they saw Run-DMC and Jam Master Jay. You saw yourself. If you‘re black, white, Puerto Rican, young, old.

When you connect with the people first. You're not just connecting with them to sell that product for one or two years. You're connecting with them for a lifetime.

I started making comic because I grew up loving comic books. So now when I go to a Comic Con, I‘m there for the comic books, but then there is a little, eight-year-old girls saying, ‘Um, excuse me, Mr. McDaniels. I love your ‘Tricky’ song.’ When she gets to be 18 years old, and if I had a line of bedsheets and towels on a shelf, when she goes shopping she's going to remember Mr. McDaniels. She’ll remember that his song was good, and his comic was good so his his bed sheets must be good. If I can work with other creators like Adam and JC, who are brilliant, you know I could become a hip hop, rock & roll Martha Stewart up in here.

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