The Legend of Rakim: Miles Davis on the Microphone #Revisited
A few years ago I had the pleasure of seeing Rakim live in my hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. After attending Hip Hop Concerts for almost 3 decades, I finally got the chance to see Rakim Allah, better known as The God MC. For many older Hip Hop Heads, calling Rakim the “God MC” is not foreign language. On the other hand, a lot of younger fans might think this is blasphemous. This post is for rap fans young and old. What Rakim did from New York Hip Hop (Wyandanch, NY) and the culture in general will be discussed as you continue reading. There is a pantheon of MC’s in each era that pretty much make up a Mount Rushmore for that particular era. Before Rakim, there was Grandmaster CAZ, Kool Moe Dee, RUN (of Run DMC fame) and Melle Mel. This era was basically 1979-1985. You could also consider Kurtis Blow in this equation as well. This era was basically the “Yes, Yes...Ya’ll” time period and mostly party vibes outside of “The Message” by Grandfaster Flash and the Furious Five. These years were the foundation of what would be known as THE MC, as opposed to everything being about The DJ. The second Pantheon of MC’s on the Mount Rushmore of Hip Hop gained fame in what is affectionately called “The Golden Era”, which was 1986-1992. This was the emergence of LL Cool J, KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane and of course, Rakim Allah.
In 1986, Eric B. and Rakim released their debut single “Eric B. Is President." This was also the introductory to a lot of James Brown samples that would be used in Rap Music. After this song was released, Hip Hop and the “Art of Mcing” would never be the same. LL Cool J was a star at this time but his style was still “Old School” as he hadn’t transitioned into a more updated rhyme pattern. Rakim was basically Melle Mel, Grandmaster CAZ and Kool Moe Dee on steroids. Rakim has stated on video that they were the MC’s that influenced him. Rakim’s flow, rhyme pattern, cadence, lyrics, and approach to the microphone were the bridge between “Old School” and the transition into “Modern Rap.” Rakim didn’t write the way previous MC’s wrote. MC’s were writing BARS in a certain pattern. Rakim wrote lines like music notes as he played the saxophone in his youth. Inspired by John Coltrane, he counted his words like playing an instrument. This allowed him room to use multiple words within a rhyme. Rakim’s mother was a local Jazz Singer and his brother played instruments as well. William Griffin Jr. aka Rakim Allah was immediately looked at as the #1 MC in the streets. Ironically enough, Rakim has a street persona but rarely used any profanity or violent lyrics. I mean, he really didn’t curse. He filled his bars with intelligence. With Rakim, it was about real life stories, experiences and knowledge of self. In the summer of 1987 Eric B and Rakim released their debut album PAID IN FULL and MC’s were forced to evolve.
“You never hear Rappers being compared to the greatest writers of all time. You know, you hear Bob Dylan but so is Biggie Smalls. Rakim, I mean listen to some of the things he wrote. If you take the lyrics and pull them away from the music and put them on a wall for people to read, they would say its genius work.” – Jay-Z
“Holding on to all the rhythms I heard studying Jazz, I learned how to use certain syllable words and using them in a particular way to fill in the space like playing an instrument.” – Rakim
When Paid In Full was introduced to Hip Hop, it was like Miles Davis releasing his magnum opus, Kind of Blue. The album became the benchmark to every release that followed. Various publications still ranks Paid In Full as the greatest rap album of all time. I mean, the singles were “Eric B. Is President”, “I Ain’t No Joke”, “Move The Crowd”, “I Know You Got Soul”, and the title track “Paid In Full.” You can research this in multiple magazines and websites over the years. I also rank it #1 here on Da Dome as well, with Illmatic being a close #2. At any rate, Eric B. and Rakim went on the release Follow The Leader, Let The Rhythm Hit Em and Don’t Sweat the Technique before dissolving the group. Rakim would start his solo career after Don’t Sweat the Technique. As great as Paid in Full was, Rakim completely raised the lyrical bar on their sophomore LP, Follow The Leader in 1988. I remember hearing “Microphone Fiend”, “Lyrics of Fury” and “The R” in total amazement. During this time I was listening to my favorite Rap Group EPMD (it was first Run DMC and later A Tribe Called Quest) and little did I know Rakim gave EPMD a verbal thrashing on the title track “Follow the Leader.” Ironically, I didn’t know the details until Eric Sermon talked about the Rakim beef during an episode of Drink Champs with NORE a few months ago. Nas had said something about it briefly on UBR, back in like 2004. It is also documented that Big Daddy Kane was supposed to battle Rakim at the Apollo back in the day as well. Wow, that would have been insane. You better think twice before saying slick talk to The God. The following line was aimed at EPMD.
Stop buggin'! A brother said, "Dig him?" I never dug him He couldn't follow the leader long enough so I drug him It's a danger zone, he should arrange his own Face it, to space it, grace it, change the tone - RAKIM “Follow The Leader”
The first “Golden Child” of Hip Hop is Rakim, who was known as Kid Wizard before meeting Eric B. and later joining The Nation of the Gods and Earth, changing his name to Rakim Allah. This is why NAS was called the second coming because Rakim shifted an entire culture by the time he was 20 years old. Nas was seen as a prodigy also because by the time he was 20 years old, Illmatic was released. Rakim was working on lyrics for Paid In Full when he was 18-19 as well. This is amazing you put things in its proper context. To provide you with another jewel, Rakim is not even 2 years older than Jay-Z. Now, think about that for a minute. The album Paid In Full dropped in July 1987 and Reasonable Doubt dropped in June 1996. Rakim was ahead of his time. Over the years Rakim never compromised his style or lyrics. This is one of the reasons why Rakim and Dr. Dre never completed an album or contract when Rakim was briefly with Aftermath. It was rumored that creative differences could not be reconciled. Without Eric B, Rakim managed to release The 18th Letter in 1997 to critical and commercial success, 5 years after Don’t Sweat The Technique. Rakim still sounded fresh over the production of DJ Premier, Pete Rock and DJ Clark Kent. The follow up LP, The Master has one of my favorite tracks, “Waiting For The World to End”.
The first verse to “Waiting For The World To End” (Please Google and Read the entire song)
Through my travels I try to take righteous steps Because right or left could mean life or death No matter how trife it get, my sights is set But it's twice the threat when the nights is death My mental windows refuse to close, they get exposed To the neighborhood info where the poison wind blows A deadly plague spreading negativity, viciously Unto every city be in ghetto misery Don't let it get to me, the writer be left to die But it get mesmerize if it catch your eye Shines enormous, from pure revered cool's and garments But it's torment, jealousy drug wars or warring Tallying, slowly turning into barbarians More scary when the whole boulevard's carrying Living in the world of sin, my ghetto girls and men Waiting for the world to end -------- RAKIM
Over the years it has truly been a pleasure seeing other great MC’s talk about Rakim in such high regard. Jay-Z did a song with Rakim on The Blueprint 2 called “The Watcher” and often speaks about Rakim as inspiration. Jay-Z also stated in the past that he always wanted to see what Rakim thought about him as an MC. Nas wrote a dedication song called U.B.R. (The Unauthorized Biography of Rakim) on his Street’s Disciple album. If you want to see a true dedication to Rakim’s greatness, YouTube and watch the video “DMX meets Rakim.” This video will surely please true hip hop heads. A few months ago there was a video of Scarface (a legend) with Rakim. Scarface recited Rakim’s rhymes in his presence and let me know what he meant to him. ASAP Rocky’s real name is Rakim. His mother was a huge fan, met Rakim in her younger days and gave ASAP the name Rakim. I recently saw Jim Jones on Drink Champs (with NORE) talking about when him and Camron met Rakim in the 90’s. The enthusiasm in which he showed was very dope. If you know Jim Jones, he doesn’t get over excited about many things but he was very animated. I mean, most of your favorite rappers favorite rapper is Rakim. Most of the legends in the Rap Game list him as the #1 MC or the most influential MC because of the gap he bridged. Watching KRS interview Rakim on Boom Bap Nation and seeing the respect from another “God On The Mic” is a testament to the legacy of Rakim Allah. When you think of Jazz, and greatest list artist, you immediately vision Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. Hip Hop is also Literature and Rakim is not less of a writer or Poet than Robert Frost, Langston Hughes or even Shakespeare for that matter. When you think of Hip Hop, there is no list without Rakim Allah, God Bless.
#Throwback - Rakim "Remember That"..