Harnessing the raw energy of hip-hop, Run-DMC stormed the music industry, breaking barriers and crafting legends. Their chronicles tell a tale of firsts: the first hip-hop act nominated for a Grammy, to garner a platinum record, to feature in MTV videos, to grace the cover of Rolling Stone, and the sole hip-hop act at Live Aid. In 2009 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame...the list goes on. Their secret sauce? They didn’t come to be part of the game; they came to be the game.
Darryl McDaniels — known to most as DMC — took center stage at a recent HotelSpaces event, unveiling the astonishing journey of Run-DMC and his personal voyage of self-discovery, touching on themes of innovation and mental health advocacy.
Charting an Unorthodox Course
Run-DMC blazed a trail by doing things differently — from their unique sound and look to unconventional partnerships, like their groundbreaking song with Aerosmith in the 1980s. McDaniels has since authored a memoir detailing his struggle with depression, passionately championing mental health awareness. His words resonate deeply in a world grappling with unprecedented levels of stress and burnout.
McDaniels paints a vivid picture of his early life, describing himself as "the geeky, nerdy kid" growing up in Hollis, Queens, a comic-book lover who never intended music to be part of "his plan." Yet, his appetite for pop culture and passion for early ‘70s rock and folk rock steered him towards the world of hip-hop. It wasn't about fame or stardom, but about a way to narrate stories akin to his beloved comics. This newfound platform gave him his voice.
His artistic potential was spotted by Joseph Simmons, his eighth-grade classmate, who vowed to include him in his group when his brother, Russell Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam Recordings, allowed him to make a record. Simmons, better known as "Run," fulfilled his promise, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Sparking a Cultural Revolution
The year was 1984, and Run-DMC shook the music world with their self-titled album — defying conventional wisdom that nobody wanted a rap album. The first single captured hearts from New York to Florida, gradually blanketing the United States in its infectious rhythm.
They pushed the envelope further, "sampling" a classic '70s rock song, resulting in a transformative collaboration with Aerosmith. The unlikely pairing of rock and rap, black and white, young and old, spawned a cultural revolution that changed music and fashion forever.
McDaniels also pioneered corporate endorsement in the industry when his playful song "My Adidas" caught the attention of the famous sneaker brand. This was just one of the many ways the young man from Hollis, Queens, who started writing rhymes in the solitude of his basement, made his mark on the world.
A Beacon of Mental Health Advocacy
McDaniels has weathered personal storms, too. He candidly shares about his struggles with suicidal thoughts, addiction, and grief, emphasizing the critical role of therapy in his survival and well-being. He underscores the importance of acknowledging our feelings and seeking help, seeking to dismantle the stigma around mental health.
He's even penned a book, "10 Ways Not to Commit Suicide," and a children’s book addressing bullying, "Darryl’s Dream," with a mission to provide guidance and alleviate suffering for those grappling with similar struggles.
Channeling his creative prowess, McDaniels recently returned to his first love — comic books, launching Darryl Makes Comics, seeking to inspire, motivate, educate, and entertain through a different medium.
In McDaniels' own words, “The same responsibility that I have in my career and my artistic pursuits is the same responsibilities that all of you have in your career, to work together to do the things that make people smile and to make sure that everything that you touch comes out better than the people that did it before you. That’s our collective responsibility.”
Hospitality Learnings from DMC’s Story
For hospitality and hotel executives, DMC’s journey offers potent insights. The success of Run-DMC was no accident — it was a product of unrelenting courage, groundbreaking innovation, and steadfast authenticity. Similarly, thriving in the hospitality industry requires the audacity to challenge the status quo, to differentiate, and create memorable experiences for customers.
DMC’s emphasis on mental health is equally crucial. In an industry often characterized by high stress and burnout, recognizing the importance of mental health can be a game-changer. Leaders should foster an environment where discussions around mental health are encouraged and where seeking help is not stigmatized.
Lastly, DMC's return to his first love — comic books — is a valuable lesson on the power of passion. As leaders, we need to cultivate passion in our teams, as it fuels creativity, commitment, and performance. Much like how DMC has carved his path in music and mental health advocacy, hotel executives must strive to foster a culture that encourages individual passion and collective responsibility for providing an exceptional guest experience. In doing so, we can indeed make everything we touch better than those before us.
Oh, and, FWIW: his favorite hotel brand is Ritz-Carlton.