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Rakim Interview Part 1

Updated on March 23, 2013

Rakim Interview Beat Down Magazine V6 #1 (Part 1)

This is one of the most in depth interviews with Hip Hop artist Rakim during the release of his album the "The 18th Letter". I conducted this interview in 1997 at Universal Records for BEAT-DOWN Magazine. Rakim will break down: his upbringing, his lyrics, Eric B and his album at the time "The 18th Letter. There are solutions for some of Hip Hops current problems contained within the questions and answers of this article. Historical!!!

Rakim Interview Part 1

Rakim Interview

The Lyrical Soldier Returns

Interview By James Hamlett

Entertainers come and go, but there are those genuine few who leave an indelible mark on our hearts. Rakim Allah is one of those artists that will be remembered far after this time period. When Rakim came on the scene all MC's had to sit down and analyze what he was saying and how that was going to affect their style and status. You could never say Ra sounded like other MC's you heard on the radio or around your way. He was just Ra. Many of those type of rappers from around the way never get put on! For some reason the "wannabees" tend to get the recording contracts and the true pioneers only go down as neighborhood legends as in the case of many star basketball players. Aside from all of that the god is back. What you will read is one of the most intimate interviews ever with Rakim detailing aspects of his thoughts, life, lyrics and philosophies. So maintain and read it twice for maximum digestion.

JH: Where did you grow up and what are some of the things that stand out about your youth?

RAKIM: I grew up in Long Island the majority of my time. The best thing I grew up around was a musical orientated family. My whole family played instruments, my sister sings, my moms started off she was a singer back in Brooklyn. She sang from Jazz to Opera, she used to be on the radio. Coming up around that being the foundation. I had the streets smarts since I was a little kid. I always hung out with people older than me. I think it's a combination of my peoples that I grew up under, places that I hung out is what contributed to where I'm at now.

JH: What influence did your parents and family have on shaping your mind and how you see things today?

RAKIM: I owe it all to my fam. My moms and pops was real. I'm not going to say strict, but like (hits the table) upfront. They knew everything. They did the same things we did. They was on some like straight up and up. My moms being conscious of music, I guess I got the music from my moms and the street smarts and all that from my pops. I always gave my moms and pops the utmost respect. I didn't talk back to my peoples. The way they presented themselves to us, we knew. Don't talk back to moms and pops. I used to go around to my friend's crib or to my girl's crib and notice how they talk back to their people. I used to say to them, "Yo, don't talk back to your moms like that." I always had deep respect for my peoples 'cause of the love they gave me and the know how that they showed me through the years.

JH: Did your parents ever make you go to church and how did you feel about it?

RAKIM: No doubt. I used to go to church when I was real young. I used to go to church in Long Island, in Brooklyn, but I used to always sit there and feel like I was the only one there that was thinking what I was thinking. I used to look around and it seemed like everyone was paying attention. I was like scratching my head, feeling my fingers, thinking about yo what time is it. Is it time to leave? While everyone was like into it. I knew that wasn't for me. But at the same time I always had an intelligence with me, I was always in the streets, I was always trying to do good. I was always looking for something to guide me. In the beginning church wasn't it.

JH: How did you feel about the school system?

RAKIM: School was easy. It was to the point where I used to get over. I used to get over with not doing my homework or cutting class a couple of times a week. But still when it came time for a test. You know I knocked tests out! Plus the deep subjects like Science, Social Studies. I used to be able to ask the teacher a question that would shut the whole period down to the point where they're addressing my question and then got the class doing a little essay. Especially after I got knowledge of Self. It was funny because my football coach was my Science teacher. I had mad respect for him and he had mad respect for me. He gained more respect for me when I started busting his head. Dealing with the science and things of that nature. School was easy to the point where I used to always try to get over and just do enough to get by where I wouldn't get left back.

JH: What was your inspiration for writing "Eric B. Is President" and "My Melody"?

RAKIM: At that time I was fresh out the streets. The "Melody" was done 8 months before I met Eric B. That was done. Once I got with him we ran up in (the studio) and did "Eric B. Is President" right quick. At that time, I had the street views that I wanted to show, party views and science. That's why the "Melody" was so long. There was so much, its like when you introduce yourself to somebody you want to let them to know everything and the "Melody" was like, "Yo here I go." That's why I dedicated "Eric B. Is President" to my DJ. We was trying to introduce ourselves to the world.

JH: At the time and up to the present time how does the 5% wisdom affect your lyrics?

RAKIM: Allah's blessings is like everyday. I can't do nothing without mentioning ALLAH or one of his words. I can't do nothing without coming across one of his blessings or doing something and be like that's Allah talking to me or something happen to me and I say Allah gave me that. Every time I sit down and write I got to put something conscious in there. It's like I got a job now. They say that for those that know you got to deal in equality. If you know and you don't speak on it and don't apply it, it's like you're the worst hypocrite. I feel I got a job to do, being that I study so much and I believe in Allah like I do, I feel like I got to spread the word.

JH: How do you feel about other MC's that are using the same knowledge, the 5% knowledge in their lyrics? Does it seem real or does it not? Not to name names or anything like that. What's your analysis when you hear certain aspects of the lessons being thrown out there, how does it reach your heart?

RAKIM: When I first came out I was the only one. Now when I hear it, a lot of brothers, I feel good. Regardless if the person lives it or not, being that this is records, just so that the word gets heard somebody who is wise will take it and use it and apply it. You can look in a book of wrong and learn more right. If you're reading a book that has all wrong in it , you're learning what not to do. So meaning even if somebody is talking and they don't live it or whatever. The listener is going to grab it and somebody is going to say "Yo I need that and grab that jewel and live with it." It's all good.

JH: On the "Paid in Full" album you had the song "Move the Crowd". There is a line where you said, "With knowledge of self there's nothing I can't solve. At 360 degrees I revolve." With that what were you trying to break down?

RAKIM:In that right there as far as the 360 degrees, that's the ciphers that we deal with. 360 degrees is like the table that we're dealing with now. Like the tables turn. When you deal with 360 degrees it 's a complete cipher. Dealing with the knowledge that I got it teaches me how to get along in the world in any situation. With the knowledge of Self there's nothing I can't solve and 360 degrees. That means I'm complete, my ciphers complete and I'm going to keep spinning in that cipher just like the planets and the earth and things of that nature. I was trying to show and prove with knowledge you can deal with any circumference or any atmosphere or any habitat and come out the way you're supposed to come out.

JH: On the Song "Follow the Leader" on your next album you said two things: 1. "Self esteem makes me Super, Superb and Supreme" and 2."I'm here to break away the chains, take away the pains, remake the brains, rebuild my name." Break those down.

RAKIM: When you are dealing with the powers from within, super that's a word we use to describe something a little more than ordinary. You know I'm dealing with the same word forms. Superb is like excellence. Supreme is a level that you reach after you accomplish these things. I was showing and proving what Self- Esteem could do for you. I was showing and proving arts skills rhyme skills, by taking the same word and blowing it up. Super, Superb, Supreme! My skill for writing and then my know how for knowledge, that was one of my ways of combining it. Then the other one "I came to break away the chains." That's like the slavery chains. Take away the pains, remake the brains, and rebuild my name from William to Rakim. Like I said I was sent to do this. "I'm here to break away the chains, take away the pains, remake the brains." In other words, retrain people's frame of thought. Rebuilding my name from William to Rakim showing and proving that I'm aware now.

JH: On that next album LET THE RHYTHM HIT'EM you had the song "Mahogany" and you had a line that went "So I prescribed her, something to revive her, surpise her, she's liver and much more wiser, from the light I shine when a brain cells sparked." Break that down.

RAKIM: That's the science of teaching your woman. It's like the man is the captain, the women is the lieutenant and the kids are the soldiers. Like right now I'm not home with my kids. I teach my Wisdom so when I'm not there she takes care of the shorties. Just like the sun shines on the moon, and when the earth rotates and the moon is over here, and the sun is over here, and the sun and its shaded on the side we get light from the moon, showing and proving how we're symbolic to the stars and things of that nature.

JH: It's not what they call sexist.

RAKIM: Nah. With that there I prescribed her knowledge. Something to revive her, and surprise her. Now she's wiser liver, much more wiser. From the light I shine when a brain cells sparked. When her brain cell sparked, constantly so she can glow in the dark, because a woman is symbolic to the moon. I never try to disrespect women in any way. That was strictly to the mind!

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    • keitht7 profile image

      keitht7 6 years ago

      Great interview.I am a huge fan of the God Rakim.Rakim did to Hip Hop Music and Culture what great music writers from Gamble and Huff to R.Kelly has done for R&B.Without Rakim alot of the old slang like Aint no half stepping,and dead presidents would not be in the Hip Hop vernacular.Thanks for the informative article,and keep up the good work.