Article by | Photos courtesy of DMC and Zara Phillips published | june ‘09

Rap superstar Darryl "DMC" McDaniels was living the high life. His legendary rap group, Run-DMC, was touring the world playing to sold-out arenas. Some nights he would make over $150,000 for one show. Then he’d go back to his hotel and lay awake in bed, depressed.

DMC had achieved the fame that many musicians dream of, but underneath the glamour he began to doubt his very existence. He wondered if this was all there was to him, and whether he was on this earth just to be behind a mic. "Every night I would lay in my hotel room and this dreadful feeling would come over me. I couldn’t put my finger on it," he says. "It got to the point where I started having suicidal thoughts, because I couldn’t put my finger on ‘What is this void? What is this missing piece?’"

The "missing piece" turned up when, at the age of 35, he learned that he was adopted. As a child he had spent his early days in foster care before going to live with his parents. The vague questions that had been brewing in his mind about his identity and his existence began to make more sense to him, and they took a more focused form as he went on a search for information about his birth and his origins, eventually locating his birth mother.

Despite some of his earlier pain and confusion, DMC is a strong believer that he is exactly where he is supposed to be. He says that if he hadn’t been born to his birth mother and adopted by his family, he wouldn’t have had many of the opportunities that led to his success, and subsequently, his ability to help others in similar situations. "I don’t represent celebrity and I don’t represent Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. What I realize because of my story is that I represent purpose and destiny."

With his characteristic focus and energy, DMC went to work helping kids in foster care who haven’t had some of the opportunities he has. His work in that area has earned him several service awards, including the Congressional Angels in Adoption Award and the Hard Rock’s 2007 Love All Serve All Award. He co-founded a nonprofit called The Felix Organization, which helps kids in foster care and sends hundreds of these kids to a summer camp. He also advocates for the rights of adult adoptees to have access to their original birth certificates, which is currently allowed in only a few states.

DMC may be busy with all of his philanthropic endeavors, but he’s still rapping. He has a new solo album coming out this fall and was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He also continues to explore some of his earlier ups and downs through other music and film projects. His Emmy-winning documentary "DMC: My Adoption Journey" tells his story in a very public way, and he’s involved in music projects that hit him on a personal level, like the song and music video he did with Sarah McLachlan titled "Just Like Me."

Zara PhillipsZara H. Phillips has been creating music since she was a child writing and performing musicals by herself in her room. Born and raised in London, her career as a musician has included gigs with Live Aid creator Bob Geldof, Dire Straits, and several other U.K. artists. She’s done everything from touring as a backup singer to performing for television and videos. These days her focus is on solo performing.

In 2005 she finished work on her album "When the Rain Stops," which was produced by Grammy winner Ted Perlman. Like DMC, she was adopted as an infant and that is a theme in her award-winning documentary "Roots: Unknown" and her recently-published memoir titled "Mother Me."

Phillips is now living outside of New York City. She and DMC crossed paths for the first time at an adoption rally. Looking at them you’d think they have nothing in common—a muscular rap legend and a Caucasian woman with a British accent and warm eyes. But as they shared their stories they found a common thread that they later decided to express through their music, and DMC joined Phillips in creating the single "I’m Legit".

* * * * *

Avoiding the Undertow

Phillips and DMC are starting their day off right with breakfast the morning after their live performance of "I’m Legit" at the American Adoption Congress’s national conference. DMC leans back in his chair grinning while Phillips finishes her scrambled eggs. She had stayed up late after their performance, unwinding with a group of new friends, singing Beatles’ songs well into the night. The conversation turns to their own creativity, and what the process is like for each of them to express deep, raw feelings in musical form.

"My first solo album was all therapy for me," DMC says. "When I look back on it I realize what it was. This was before I went to the discussion groups, this was before I found out about therapists, self-help books and all of that. So when I look back at my first solo album, it was after I found out I was adopted, Jam Master Jay got murdered, my father died. And then I went into rehab for alcohol, and there were the suicidal thoughts."

While DMC was promoting the album in Japan he did fifty interviews. He began to notice that at every interview, the Japanese journalists kept pressing him with the pointed question: "Are you okay?" When journalist number fifty arrived at the final interview and led off with the now-old inquiry, DMC had to respond in kind.

"I said, ‘Why do you guys keep asking me that?’" he recalls. "The reporter held up my album and said, ‘So dark and depressing.’"

Phillips nods and chimes in, citing her change in lifestyle as one example of how music has helped her move through difficult periods in her life. "It was the same for me," she acknowledges. "I don’t drink or do drugs anymore, so when something comes up, what do you do with that feeling? I go write a song. That’s literally what I do to deal with my emotions."

"I think music is an outlet—a therapy," DMC adds. "At the same time I thought I was getting stuff off my chest, I was addressing issues for others. Which is I think what music does."

Phillips goes on to discuss the risk of putting her emotions out in the open through her music, in an honest effort to connect with people and help.

"You think, ‘This is who I am. I’m going to sing about it. I might get criticism but that’s the way I’m going to write my book.’ she says. "And I wrote everything. Everything. When I was published last year I thought, ‘Oh my God, am I crazy? I have written every emotion, personal stuff.’ Then I get people coming up to me. Like last night this girl said, ‘Your book saved me. I’ve never identified so much with a book.’ But I get the sense that you do it for yourself, really, to help yourself heal, and the luck is when it helps other people. It’s like the bonus."

Advice for New Voices

The talk turns to the challenges that new musicians face as they are starting out, searching for their voice and crafting their own sound.

dmc"Be original," DMC advises simply. "When Nirvana came out they were labeled as grunge, and then you get all these bands doing the same thing and it gets benign. They look at who’s selling the most and then they do the same thing. Most of the big singer/songwriters are writing about things that everyday people are going through."

DMC reasons that after one artist produces a successful, new sound, many others follow suit and use the same formula. The reason that the original sound worked so well the first time was because it was completely new.

He goes on, "I see that a lot of these artists have it in them to do something different but they’re thinking, ‘Man, if I make a good record my street cred is gonna go down.’ But that’s not true. If you make a good record your street cred goes up because those kids look up to you, because you’re talking about something real. I tell kids, ‘Hip hop is not being what everybody else is being.’"

"Another thing is to let go of the success," Phillips leans into the conversation with conviction. "I had to really reach a point of knowing I’m never going to stop doing my music. Whether I ever have any success in my life became irrelevant. I’m doing this because I have to do it, and that’s so liberating."

When she was younger Phillips toured as a background singer and found herself quickly enamored with the success.

"I thought, ‘I’m touring with so-and-so, and I’m going to write songs,’ she shares. "I wasn’t ready at that time. And then years went by, and I’m 44 and still writing, and it doesn’t matter. And that’s so freeing. Some kids are just so into that fame thing—‘I just want to do it to get famous’—and it’s not really about that."

In Music We Trust

A last topic of conversation lingers, both artists acknowledging the journeys their fans have taken with them as their own musical – and personal – lives have evolved.

"That’s why a lot of them don’t like hip hop now," DMC poses thoughtfully. "We didn’t make hip hop positive on purpose, it was just our consciousness. We were young and we were interested in economics, politics, history, religion. If we did make a record about material things—cars, money—we only made one record about it."

"That’s the only reason I can listen to your records. Because the other hip hop stuff, it’s too negative," Phillips interjects playfully.

"Music is more powerful than politics and religion combined," DMC states. "This isn’t about your nationality or race or color, this is about human history. We’re not coming to you as black and white, we’re coming to you as people. You can do that through art, through music, through performance. Where religion and politics fail, music is always successful."

With that, DMC checks the time and realizes that he’s supposed to be speaking at a workshop. Phillips only has a few minutes to toss her clothes into her suitcase and head to the airport. They take off hastily in opposite directions with the casual wave of two people who know that their paths will cross again.

Keep up with DMC and Zara on their websites:

DMC's website: www.me-dmc.com

Zara's website: www.zarahphillips.com

Listen to and download their song, "I'm Legit"

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