Rakim Interview Part 2
Rakim Interview Beat Down Magazine V6 #1 (Part 2)
This is part 2 to 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 lyrics, Eric B and his album at the time "The 18th Letter". There are solutions for some of Hip Hop problems contained within the questions and answers of this article. The Conclusion!!
Rakim Interview Part 2
JH: On the next album you had a song "Casualties of War". What was the inspiration for the song?
RAKIM: That right there when I listen to it. I thought I went over there. I was feeling the whole science. War was like a thing of the past. You had little nick nacks where the president would send some soldiers here or there to hold it down. I had people that I grew up with that went to the army. My thing was like, a lot of us was over there for nothing. It wasn't even a beef between the United States and Kuwait. It was their beef. It was a man that was taking back what was rightfully his and then we get involved and send people to die for something that's not going to bring us nothing. I was dealing with it on that spec, feeling sorry for our brothers and sisters that was over there, I wanted to kind of show people what war will do to you. You could fight the war it could take one day or a year but still after that year there's many set backs and things of that nature that the individual got to deal with. Like when I said the kid came home the war was supposed to be over. I mentioned that in the joint. I said "Kamikaze's strapped in bombs, no peace in the east they want revenge for Saddam. Did I hear gun shots of thunder?"
JH: Why did you split with Eric B. and how did it affect you?
RAKIM: It came about, Eric had a little idea. He wanted to do a solo joint, and I would do a solo joint. To make a long story short he did his and when it came time to do mine he had to sign a contract. I couldn't move on until he did the contract. I was letting him know yo G you holding my whole world up. They not letting me go to the studio. They not releasing' none of my money till' this contract. I had to chase him for like 8 months. Once it went down like that - you see I'm a loyal person. If I have $10. and you don't have any and I'm going to give you $5. If there are 10 brothers and I'm the only one that got a room in the hotel or whatever it was like, nothing bothered me. I damn near gave him the spotlight and chilled in the background cause that was my stilo. He liked to be upfront. I liked to be chillin' on the down low. I used to set things up to where he was up there. As far as the cheese we was going 50/50. I wasn't complaining. People used to come up to me. Why y'all split (the money) - I said yo I wasn't planning on making a record. Eric B. came to me when I was about to go to college. Now if I was planning on making a record all my life then I would have been like I worked too hard for this - 75/25. But he came to me like yo let's do this. You I got connects. Yeah I know Marley Marl and Magic. I was like word lets do this. Now we a team now. For him to not come sign that contract when I told him dun my life is on pause right now. That showed me he ain't got the heart I had for him and like I got for others.
JH: Why the delay with the album THE 18th LETTER? Why did it take this span of time for the last album?
RAKIM: That Eric B. thing went down for like eight months. I was going to do the next album 1 year and a half after the last one dropped. The Eric B. thing took about 8 months. Once that got cleared up - 'cause MCA finally said f-k it. We just going to rip your contract up. Eric B.'s name was still on the contract. They was like we know what we're doing. I started working and the whole (MCA) staff got fired. When that happened demos got leaked out on the street. Who ever was at MCA that had access to the tapes they was selling it to mix tapes, selling it to radio. Then after that I got down with Universal in August. Everything went smooth since then.
JH: On the song the "The 18th Letter" you got two lines on there 1. you say "A fire burns in me eternally" you also say "the mind one of Allah's best designs?"
RAKIM: With that, man is symbolic to the sun. The sun is dealing with a ball of fire and didn't go out yet. Me being symbolic to the sun, that's what keeps me going, that's like my hunger. That's like my fury, my self esteem. That's the elements within me that keep my body motionable. The fire is self esteem. Inner strength.
JH: Then that other one, "the mind one of Allah's best designs."
RAKIM: When you look at everything that has been created. Everything is materialistic. As far as mans inventions. When you look at the Most Highs inventions he created the planets, he created the heavens, he created the earths. Like as far as our physical form, it's a great temple. But it has a life span and it dies. But what's powerful about the mind, the mind comes through every physical and when the physical goes the mind still exists. It 's amazing how Allah made the mind to the point where we almost alike me and you, we almost see the same. But we got different aspects of things. Certain things are what they call common sense. Allah made it like that meaning there's only one mind, be we all occupy it. Some of us dig into it a little deeper. Some of us are lazy on it. There's only one right and one wrong. That's one of "Allah's best designs, the mind will stand the test of time when I rhyme.
JH: If you were to tell the youth or anyone else about the power of the mind. What would you say, cause that seems to be the foundation of everything you've said when I think of your albums. What hits me is the power of the mind. A lot of people get caught up into technology and forget Self.
RAKIM: What I could tell them, man is exercise your mind at all times and the more they exercise it the more of their mind they could use. Right now we only use about 1/3 of our mind, if that. Everything derives from the mind. From sex to the way you want people to perceive you to anything in life, it all derives from the mind. If people start realizing this and get deeper into themselves they'll realize there's nothing that they can't do. Another thing when you get to know your self, you get to know everyone and everything on the planet. I'm you and you are me. I'm a man and you're a man. When people understand the more they know Self, the real Inner Self of themselves it's the same physical structure you've got. The same things you deal with I deal with. Everything derives from the mind. What's funny is the mind is the hardest question and I guess that's why I'm always writing about it.
JH: How do you feel about the direction the music is going lyrically? How do you feel about the skill levels of MCs today?
RAKIM: As far as the music, some of the music not the pre-made hits the songs that were hits already. Some of them sound good. As far as the rhymes, people are definitely using more skills, but sometimes the lyrical content it might not make people understand my man is nice. If he's talking about the same thing every body else is talking about that kind of takes away from some of the props. I feel the whole game got better. The only thing is that some of our lyrical content needs more of a balance, more of a scale, so people won't get tired. So if someone wants to drop a joint on how f-ked up the ghetto is or how f-ked up life is. People would respect it if you don't do 10 joints on your album like that. Mix it up and when you do come with that they respect you. When you drown them with it they tend to be like AAHH!! I definitely think it got more skillful and brothers got more colorful. It's going up, but we got to fix the lyrical content so people can start respecting us as artists not just as rappers or thugs off the corner making a record.
JH: How has life changed for you from the first single up to right now? How are you different?
RAKIM: I'm more humble now. Before I made a record I didn't care how my man perceived me. If I wanted to say some thing to somebody in a certain way. I said it! Now being that I'm an artist I learned to be humble. I learned to watch what I say. I learned to pay attention more. It's like a big difference man. Sometimes people say yo do you think rap changed you. No doubt it changed me. If I wasn't making records I'd still be hanging every night. Like I got kids too. Back in the days before I had kids I'd jump in my Benz and be a little moe'd up. Get on the highway and do 110. Not caring. But now I got kids and I'm more wise now. Life means more to me than having fun. I'm more calm, more wise, and more cautious. When you come out the streets. I ain't braggin'. I never sold drugs but I kept a joint on me. I got arrested plenty of times back when I was a juvenile. Not saying I was a bad ass. I was a juvenile coming' out to the city, to do MC conventions that Mike & Dave was doing. I had to hold myself down. Now I put the gat up. I chill. I pay more attention to life.
JH: What are five books you would recommend to read?
RAKIM: Message to the Black Man, Theology of Time, 120 Degrees Lessons, the Quran and the Bible. Read the Bible so they could understand the similarities where the bible got its history and its knowledge from. There's things in the Bible when you read the Quran there different wordings. The Quran is dealing with the Most High and the Bible is dealing with God. If they read them both and put it together they'll know what the true culture is. But definitely the Message to the Blackman, Theology of Time, 120 degree lessons, the Quran and the Bible.