Interview

Darryl ‘DMC’ McDaniels Riffs on ‘Christmas in Hollis’: ‘We Had No Idea It Would Turn Into This’

One-half of the super successful hip-hop duo recalls how the holiday hit came about and how it almost never came to be.

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Daryl McDaniels — aka “DMC” of rap legends Run-DMC — is a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, a comic book author, and most germane for our holiday show, he co-wrote his band’s holiday hit “Christmas in Hollis.” We’ll get to that in a minute, but when Brendan spoke to Daryl, they started by talking about his new graphic novel, “DMC 2,” and how comics influenced his music.

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Darryl “DMC” McDaniels: Before music — before hip-hop came over the bridge from the Bronx to change my life — I was just a little kid that went to Catholic school, and I loved comic books.

The same way that I used to pretend I was Batman and Superman by putting my favorite blanket around my neck, and jumped through the house — and my mother would always be like, Boy if you don’t stop jumping in my house!” — well, when hip-hop came over the bridge, all the kids, all the young people in New York City, we wanted to emulate the real life superheroes that were the DJs, and the MCs, and the break dancers, and the graffiti artists. So I just thought of writing rhymes because I wanted to be like Grandmaster Flash and I wanted to have raps like Melle Mel.

So comic books gave me courage to get up on stage and perform. When I was on stage in front of y’all, Darryl McDaniels transformed into The Microphone Master King Of Rock.

Now, if you listen to [our song] “King of Rock,” Run says, “I’m DJ Run/I can scratch.” I didn’t say, “I’m DMC / I can rap.” I said, “I’m DMC / I can draw!”

DMC: That was 1985. And if you listen to my lyrics on “King of Rock” — “Crash through walls / come through floors / bust through ceilings / and knock down doors” — what do superheroes do?

Brendan Francis Newnam: Since this is our holiday show I have to ask you about another superhero. Isn’t Santa Claus kind of a superhero?

DMC: Well, it all depends. Christmas, in Hollis, to me, was mom is in the kitchen cooking, my dad putting the gifts under the Christmas tree, turning on channel 11 in New York City and they had the yule log at night time. They would save up their money, their hard working money, and they would take me to this toy store and let me pick out stuff.

That’s why, when I wrote my rhyme for “Christmas in Hollis,” I didn’t rhyme about Santa Claus and reindeer, this and that. My Christmas wasn’t that make-believe Christmas. And that’s why I rapped that, and I think that’s why people relate to my rhymes so well. Whatever holiday, whatever race, creed, color you are, people gravitate toward my verse because what do families and friends and people traditionally do on a special event? They get together and they break bread, you know what I’m saying?

Brendan Francis Newnam: So, whose idea was it to have a Christmas song anyway?

DMC: Well, for the Special Olympics, they was doing this album and it was Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen, and everybody. And when they was going through the list of people at that time, people started to acknowledge that, “This hip-hop thing is kind of legitimate, and we should include the new music.” At the time — because Run-DMC was bubbling — they was like, “Yeah, we should get Run-DMC and them to do it!”

Now, that being said, at first we didn’t want to do it, because we thought that they was trying to over-commercialize our hip-hop.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, you didn’t want it to be cheesy.

DMC: Right. We didn’t want “Saran Rap” and we didn’t want “Jingle Bell Rap.” That’s corny! But the thing that made us want to do it is, at the time, our publicist was Bill Adler. He said, “You’ll get to do something that’s unique.” And we was like, “Yeah, but they’re trying to abuse our hip-hop and make us do corny things we don’t want to do! We want to stick to the beats and rhymes!”

And it was actually Bill Adler’s idea to sample the “Backdoor Santa” music. He used the beat as the bait. He came into the studio, put that on the turntable, and when that thing said [imitates “Christmas in Hollis” beat]? When we heard that, Run picked up a pen. I picked up a pen.  And we said, “OK we can rock to this.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: How did people respond to this? You were concerned about maybe the integrity of your band, of your group, and then how did it play out?

DMC: Right, well that’s a great question. We thought it was going to be one of those things… it would be a record that was hidden on this album, that people would go back and listen to 25 years later and laugh at it.

Brendan Francis Newnam: It would kind of get lost in the shuffle, you thought.

DMC: Right! And then it would be like 50 years later, “Yo! I was going through that ‘Very Special Christmas’ album. I forgot Run and them did a song!” We had no idea it would turn into this.

People tell me, “D, from now on, for the rest of the world’s existence, it’s going to be Bing Crosby [singing], ‘I’m dreaming / of a white Christmas’… It’s going to be Nat King Cole [sings again], ‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire’… And it’s going to be [mimics “Christmas in Hollis” opening]!”

We had no idea it was going to be included with the likes of iconic… you know, Perry Como.

Brendan Francis Newnam: It’s in the canon, yeah.

DMC: That’s crazy. I mean… that’s crazy.  It’s inconceivable!

Brendan Francis Newnam: When I was telling people we were doing a holiday show, I was like, “I’m going to talk to DM–” and they’re like, “Oh yeah, ‘Christmas in Hollis’!” They know exactly.

DMC: Yeah and you know what’s crazy? I cannot go to the mall after Thanksgiving because every two steps is somebody yelling the verses from the record at me. All the way up until New Year’s!

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s hysterical.

DMC: I don’t even go shopping now. I shop online, because from Thanksgiving, getting into holiday season, I’m driving on the highway and truckers are rolling down their window yelling, “It’s Christmastime / in Hollis, Queens!” I can’t go nowhere.