This is a man that truly needs no introduction. He stepped on the scene in the mid eighties and proceeded to change the game based on his laid back flow and lyrics steeped in lessons. He’s your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper and you’d be hard pressed to find an emcee that Rakim ‘ain’t influenced.’ In this super exclusive interview Halftime caught up with the God MC himself to talk about his career from day 1 to now and all points in between including coming up as a fledgling emcee in Long Island to his new deal and up coming album. Ra talks about a rumored battle between him and Freddie Foxxx, takes an in depth look into his writing style including him explaining how he writes verses backwards as well as his production and family. It’s probably one of the most personal and revealing Rakim interviews you’ll ever read.
Halftimeonline: I heard before you met Eric B you were going by the name Kid Wizard and ran with a crew called Supreme Force.
Rakim: Nah it was called the LB Brothers, the Love Brothers.
Halftimeonline: Oh ok. Who was apart of the crew and what did you guys do to help build your emcee skills back then?
Rakim: That was my crew back in the day. We grew up in the streets. I was the youngest out of the whole crew. I was like in 9th grade while everyone else in the crew had graduated. But even before that I was rhyming since 4th or 5th grade. I just stayed around the hood listening to Cold Crush Brothers, Grandmaster Flash, and the Treacherous Three. I came up under them dudes. Being a fan of them and coming up in the hood staying hungry trying to get the skills crazy.
Halftimeonline: How do you think it was different coming up and molding yourself as an emcee back then versus cats coming up today? What were some of the things you were doing that you don’t see anymore?
Rakim: Well back then it was a lot different because there was more originality back then. We were shaping our image right before your eyes. The way the world took the first record kinda let me know to keep driving straight ahead because it’s that first impression that everybody loved. So once I saw what they liked me for I just stuck to that and expanded on that. But it was a lot more originality back then so we were shaping our careers, shaping our image, shaping our style trying to get that unique style or flow. Nowadays it’s a lot of the norms. I don’t want to say everybody has the same flow but it’s not as original as used to be.
Halftimeonline: I was reading a couple of interviews with Freddie Foxxx and he always says when you and Eric B got together Eric was actually looking for him and he found you instead. In one interview he said he was trying to battle you and your crew back in the days but he said you didn’t want to battle. Is there any truth that Foxxx ever challenged you to a battle?
Rakim: Foxxx lived a town over from where I lived, but I NEVER fucking turned down a battle with that motherfucker! Foxxx get the fuck out of my face. You can front on the whole world but you not fronting on me nigga you never wanted it and you’ll never get it. This is what I’ve been doing from day one. Fuck that bullshit man. Back in the day we were supposed to battle but as far as I remember the story correctly they didn’t want to fuck around. They didn’t like coming to our part of the town. They didn’t even like going to the parties where we were because we drew at motherfuckers at the party. So run that shit by him. Tell him you spoke to Ra, tell him everything he’s been talking is fabricated and I never turned down a fucking battle with Freddie Foxxx. Tell him to knock it off and stop fronting. It’s Rakim Allah man he know who the fuck I am man.
Halftimeonline: Haha. That’s Freddie Foxxx though so I had to bring it out there.
Rakim: Yea, man they were doing shows around the way. They were holding it down for there town and we was holding it down in our town. The town wanted to see us do it. We were at every park jam jumpoff, house party jumpoff, and backyard jumpoff. Ask Foxxx where was they at. We only seen them at the roller skating rink and shit like that nahmean. I can’t even believe the nigga Foxxx had the fucking audacity to fix his fucking face to say some shit like that. And Eric B came to the hood and asked Alvin Toney who the nastiest motherfucker on the mic was and Alvin Toney brought him straight to my crib. I didn’t hear about Freddie Foxxx or none of that shit back in the day because Foxxx wasn’t ferocious like that. Foxxx had two other cats that used to rhyme with him. They were a good group but Foxxx wasn’t ferocious like that baby pa. Alvin Toney brought him straight to my crib and I was like Al who the hell is this? Word up.
Halftimeonline: Now we gotta talk about you and Eric B since you mentioned him. Throughout the years it came out that you did the bulk of the production and of course all the emceeing. My question is what did Eric B actually do? What did he bring to the table for the group?
Rakim: Eric B knew Magic and Marley Marl so when he came to my crib he was saying he knew Magic and Marley two big radio personalities in NY. “The Melody” was already done. I had the beat and we did at my man’s crib so it sounds different because Marley used different equipment. I had the beat and rhymes for “The Melody” done. I had made a little tape so when I go to college I could put my tape in and let it pop. When he brought Eric to the crib I let him hear that same tape. Then Eric was like he could get us a deal and I was like duke I don’t want no record deal. Then he was like it could be Eric B featuring Rakim so that way you don’t have to sign anything. That’s why the first record was Eric B. featuring Rakim because I didn’t have to sign anything. But when it took off it was only smart of me to sign that contract so my paper can come right to me and not have no ‘go get your money from Eric B.’ shit. But yea I did most of the beats, like 90% of the beats. I used to rhyme off the Dennis Edwards bass line in the park all the time. So I had the bass line and Eric B came and put the beat under it which was butter. I Know You Got Soul he put the beat under that one. These were records I used to always rhyme over. For “Eric B 4 President” he put the “Over like a Fat Rat” bass line on that. I didn’t understand it till now that Eric B. had the radio touch. I was just coming with raw shit but he had that radio friendly shit that kinda got us over and crossed us into the radio and universal markets. He did a couple of things but most of those beats were me.
Halftimeonline: Just out of curiosity I know that back then it was the norm for cats to not be credited but he was credited with producing most of those songs. Was that something you knew about just rolled with at the time?
Rakim: Yea. What I was doing was trying to stick to that teamwork. You do the beats and I do the rhymes. At the end of the day they respected him, even though he wasn’t doing the beats, for doing his half of the job which made the group that much bigger. Back then all I cared about was rhyming and making beats. That was my trade, my hobby. I didn’t really care about who made what or who they said got the credits for this or that. I wish I paid a little closer attention to the business side back then but everything worked out good.
Halftimeonline: You mentioned football and I’ve always heard how you were planning on going to college and playing football and everything. I know it took a definite side trip when you started emceeing but did you ever get a chance to dedicate yourself to school and do you ever think about what it would have been like if you would have went and experienced that whole school experience?
Rakim: I never went to college. I think about it a lot. I can’t watch a game without thinking where I would have been if I had ga head and went to college and pursued my career. Things happen for a reason. I think half of our life is written out for us and things happen the way their supposed to happen. I think rap was a better move for me but football’s been my love since I learned how to walk. I was gonna be a running back or quarterback. That was my life. That was it but things happen for a reason. I wouldn’t trade this in for nothing.
Halftimeonline: Since you so deep into it who are you rooting for since you aren’t on the field?
Rakim: I’m a NY diehard fan man. NY Giants and you see what the Knicks been doing I’m a Knicks fan too so you know I’m a loyal fan. Giants are looking pretty good this year we got Demps from ya’ll. They needed some help on the defense so hopefully that will be the missing link and we can get some things popping. They did good last year too so big up to the Giants.
Halftimeonline: I’m a lil worried about the Knicks with Isaiah taking the bench man. That’s kinda scary.
Rakim: Haha. I seen it coming though man. I used to watch him stand off to the side of the bench. If I was the dude I’d be up in the spot sitting in a comfortable chair watching the game. But Isaiah loved it too much and you could tell by how close he was to the floor that he was gonna be sitting in the coach’s chair. I hope they do what they do. I’m gonna stick with them again.
Halftimeonline: One of the questions I’ve always wanted to ask you is about the competitiveness between you and Kane and how everybody wanted you guys to battle. I heard you had at least six bars for him on “Let the Rhythm Hit Em” but you took them off. What were those bars man? I gotta know.
Rakim: It’s foul man. What happened was Eric B’s brother Amp Live hung out with Kane and G Rap. We all hung out back in the day but Eric’s brother knew them personally. I was hearing things in the nigga record and had people coming back to me like Kane trying to get fly boom boom boom. I don’t tell people what I’m gonna do but when I went to the studio it was like a done deal. I had like eight bars, two of the bars are still in the song but the other six are gone. After I did it Eric B’s brother took the tape and played it for Kane. Kane called me from his crib and was like yo Ra I heard the joint man it’s not like that. I know people are trying to tell you I’m saying this and people are telling me you are saying this but it ain’t like that. So I took the shit out but I think the last two bars were “rippin your ass in half / now who gets the last laugh.” But yea I had a lil something in there for Kane and it goes on today too man. A lot of rappers say little slick shit and sometimes they are speaking about the person they are trying to get at but when their confronted they be like it ain’t like that. The majority of the listeners are gonna put one and two together the way they want anyway. That was part of the game. Like you said it was real competitive and everybody wanted to be that dude.
Halftimeonline: I know they tried to set up a battle with ya’ll one time but what would it have taken for ya’ll to go head up back then?
Rakim: I think they called me up when they were doing a pay per view joint. I think I was like fuck it give me fifty thousand. It was supposed to be me and Kane and a couple other people. It is what it is and it was what it was but when you look at things today some of it was a little childish but at the end of the day everybody wanted that throne. Sometimes I sit back and look at it from a bigger aspect than hip hop. You look at R&B singers they weren’t battling man. If this dude was doing his thing and he had the number one album this year they wouldn’t try to battle him. They would just try to make a good album on their next one. Hip hop has always been competitive and always had that getting at you type shit but I always try to be mature about the shit. That’s the reasons I took the bars out of the joint. There’s room out there for all of us. Get your money and as long as nobody is stepping on my wad then we’re good.
Halftimeonline: We talked to O.C. and he was talking about how artists feed off each other and when somebody writes a hot line it makes you go damn let me go back and write mine. I think with ya’ll it was just at the height of that because ya’ll were real fierce with the competition that it made everyone step their game up. Did you ever hear a joint from somebody and be like yea ok…
Rakim: No question man. I’m a fan. I’ve always been a fan of hip hop and there are cats out there that I admire. It’s like damn near every couple of months you hear something and be like oh ok and be like yo duke I’ma holla at you I got something to do at the crib man and you go and hit the notepads. It still goes on now but back in the day it was more from an artistic standpoint where you were playing with words and trying to get the illest word that had the most definitions and the most syllables. Now it’s more on a witty thing where people are using a lot of idioms and shit. I just gotta go with the flow. It’s a little different for me now. When I think of the words I used to put together and what people are doing now they aren’t really messing with the words. It’s just slang and who can say some fly shit but it ain’t really like who can get the biggest syllable word or find the word nobody fucking heard of before.
Halftimeonline: How would you describe your writing style? Do you jot down ideas or whole verses? Matt (Ra’s manager) told me you was writing from the bottom of the paper up to get over writer’s block. What’s the science behind your writing?
Rakim: Yea J with me it’s like I don’t believe in writer’s block for one. I never fixed my mind to believe in that shit because half the shit we do is psychological anyway. If you start thinking some shit you’re damn near gonna believe that until it comes true. You say you got writer’s block then you gonna sit there and be like damn I got writer’s block. I’ve been writing rhymes for so long I got like five or six different ways I write a rhyme. It might be from the last word in the verse to the first or sometimes I sit there, toy with it and I might come up with sixteen of the illest words I can and write the rhyme to fit in. That’s just when I’m fucking around or when it’s a little slow for me and I’m not in the mood to write I know how to force it out. I’ve been writing for so long I got a lot of different ways to write. Everything becomes too normal after a while. I’ve been writing for so long it’s like how could I do this different. How can I make it seem like I’m not writing a rhyme today. Those are just some things I do. People bug out when they see me grab a paper and start writing from the bottom. People be like what are you doing? Just slow down. By the time I get to the top I’m done. They like done with what and I be like this is sixteen bars. I just wrote a rhyme nigga. It’s crazy man.
Halftimeonline: So you’re saying you write the rhyme backwards?
Rakim: Backwards bruh. What started me doing that was because whenever I write a song I see the whole song anyway. Sometimes I see where I want to take the song and wind up at the end and come back to the beginning. I don’t miss nothing and everything is good. Everything I thought of is incorporated in it. A lot of times I used to have ideas and start writing from the beginning and get to the sixteenth bar and I ain’t even put half of the shit that I wanted to put in the verse. Sometimes you start flowing and shits starts adding on to whatever cipher you’re dealing with. Meanwhile you got all of these thoughts in your head and you don’t get enough time to put them down. That’s another reason I started writing from the last word to the front word. It’s methods to the madness. Sometimes I can’t understand it or explain it but it is what it is.
Halftimeonline: I know cats are gonna want to hear more about this. So you said the other thing you would do is think of the sixteen illest words and write the rhymes around those words?
Rakim: Word up. Another thing is when I write I get to the point where I slow down and I gotta go back into the world and live nahmean. Go to the club or go to the block or go hang out and things start coming. So writing like that whenever it was slow or there was nothing exciting or inspiring me I would sit there and think of sixteen or twenty-four ill words or twenty-four words with crazy syllables where I could play with the words and make the shit sound crazy. There’s so many different ways to write a rhyme its stupid man. I don’t understand why the majority of the rap game sounds the same.
Halftimeonline: When I was 19, I heard you talking in an interview about how you messed around with jazz. You said one of your favorite artists was Thelonius Monk. He saw visions when he wrote songs so it’s funny how you just mentioned you see a whole song before you write it. So do you still mess with the saxophone?
Rakim: Oh no doubt. I ain’t played one in a couple of years but I think that had a lot to do with my rhyme flow. Playing the sax and then enjoying jazz music man. It’s like I learned how to find words inside of the beat. Back in the day rappers were <making sounds> bump bump bump ba bump ba bump. They was rhyming like that but I was like <making more sounds> bababa bump bump babum ba babump bababa bump. The syncopation and the pauses is all from knowing music, playing the saxophone, listening to John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk and the crazy shit they were doing. I just tried to incorporate that into my rhyme flow. That played a big part in my flow.
Halftimeonline: There was always a lot of knowledge in your records and nobody was incorporating lessons the way you were at the time. Did you consciously aim at having these tracks teach these particular lessons and not be too preachy or were you just doing what came naturally?
Rakim: Just being natural. I started studying in ’85 and got knowledge of self and started spitting. What was going on was taking the understanding of what I was reading and applying it with my life and applying it with my rhymes. Subconsciously, Islam took over me so it was like eighty or ninety percent of the fabric of the person I was. What I was studying and what I was learning sucked me up to the point where when I started reading and I’d find something out the first thing I’d do is tell you. I felt like I just found some shit and was like look at what I just found. It came more natural to the point that I felt that was my calling. That was my job.
Halftimeonline: How did you come into knowledge of self? Who was the person that put you onto the lessons of Islam?
Rakim: It’s kinda crazy to explain. I met this kid when I was in like 9th grade. To make a long story short the brother was stranded in my town and needed train fare to get home. Me and my man were little dudes. We were coming up the street and he asked us for change but the way he did it we respected the dude as a ghetto gentleman. Me and my man ain’t have no money but we dug in our pocket and gave this nigga some train fare based on the way he asked us and his ways and actions. When I was talking to this dude I didn’t know this dude had knowledge of self but the way he was speaking captivated us. He was using Islamic words and things that we had never heard of. We respected that shit and from then it was always in the corner of my mind. Then when I got into high school I started seeing a lot of the Gods in the school so it was like a collective thing. I was seeing the Gods in the school and the light that they were shining. You would see them in a cipher and everybody wanted to know what they were speaking about. Everybody wanted to stand around so it was just on that light. I never had one enlightener because a lot of enlighteners try to teach you and give you their understanding. So I just took my time, stayed around the Gods, stayed reading, got my hands on all the literature I could and just taught myself.
Halftimeonline: You said you converted when you were sixteen what did your mother think about that?
Rakim: It was a process with my moms because when I first came home and said my name was Rakim she said what’s Rakim? I started explaining it to her and then when I got to the point where I said I’m God I’m sure you know the look she had on her face. Haha. But what was lovely about it was when I was young back in the day we didn’t have a 100 TVs in the house. If you wanted to watch TV you went and laid on your moms floor. So I used to get up on Sunday mornings and watch a little TV with my moms. She used to watch this church thing on Sunday. One time we were watching Oral Roberts and Oral Roberts was telling a story and he was like I was at the house and me and my wife was sitting at the piano and I ran my fingers across the ivory. So I stopped and looked at my moms and was like why didn’t he say nothing about the black keys? So she started watching her little son become more aware of shit and conscious of shit and starting to get wise. But it took a while for my moms to start calling me Rakim. It went from making sure I got the garbage out everyday and feeding the dogs where she started seeing that I was taking care of my responsibilities and trying to mature with it. She started respecting it once she seen I was getting more mature and doing what I was supposed to do becoming a man. After that she started calling me Ra man and it was a beautiful thing. My moms is strictly Christian but once I got knowledge of self and started reading she used to love when I would sit there and tell her some of the things that I learned. It gave her an open mind to where she started believing in the most high. That’s what she started calling it after awhile. She took the name off of it because she used to tell me it’s the same God but it just has a different name. So she called it the most high. It was beautiful man. My moms passed away last year. So going through that and getting that respect from moms was gravy on the potatoes man.
Halftimeonline: As a 5 per center after you leave this body what do you believe happens to you? Is there a particular path or paradise?
Rakim: This is one of the things that’s like a personal feeling that people have. I will say this though we came into the world as a thought. Your moms and pops thinking about getting together that’s you. Them being like we gonna go and have a good time tonight you know what I’m talking about. That’s the beginning of you right there. So we came into the world as a thought and then we went into the liquid phase as the sperm. From that we got a body and we came into this life. I think when we leave here it will just be another transition we’ll go through. The physical was never the best part of the body. So I feel that when we leave here I think it’s just another transition and whatever it is I hope I’m prepared for it.
Halftimeonline: How does it feel to be in the game and you got guys making songs about you? You got Nas doing the Autobiography of Rakim and I remember a while ago seeing a lady on TV with poetry for Rakim and she was 20 or 30 years older than you.
Rakim: Yea Ms. Sanchez she was a poet back in the day. I saw that shit man that’s a beautiful thing. I met her too. She’s a real nice lady.
Halftimeonline: What were the thoughts going through your head when you heard the song Nas made about you? A rapper making a song about another rapper.
Rakim: Yea a rapper making a song about another rapper that don’t happen right because they got too much pride and shit. That’s what I got off of it right off the top. Like wow dude really reached out and showed me some love. Like we said rappers got too much pride for some shit like that. Dude met me, took some time off and showed a lot of love. When I seen him and we spoke about it. It was a little sketchy for me in the beginning because I’ve always been a private person and a lot of that was shit that I didn’t tell the world so I felt if anybody was gonna tell the world I should have been the one to tell them that. At the same time the positive overweighed the negative.
Halftimeonline: One thing I noticed when you stepped onstage last week was that you look like you haven’t aged a day. What is it that you do to keep the same form that you have?
Rakim: I’ve always been a picky eater but I’m not the healthiest eater. When we were going on tour we were eating fast food every night. Before I started rapping and touring I weighed about 160. But by going on the road every night eating fast food, performing every night, partying and drinking I started gaining weight immediately. But I try not to eat too much beef. I try to eat healthy. Wifey stay steaming up some shit for me. I just try to eat as good as possible. I don’t work out too much. I just do some pushups when I feel the right hook is getting a lil weak.
Rakim: I don’t work out too much and it’s wild because it bugs me out. I don’t take vitamins or none of that shit but I do still look kinda young so I give that one up to moms and pops.
Halftimeonline: I remember you saying you felt hip hop needs order but where do you think hip hop went wrong?
Rakim: That’s a good question man and the answer is so crazy. We lost the connection between the entertainment world and the neighborhoods. Before we were talking about the neighborhoods and art was imitating life. Now life is imitating art. Brothers are running around saying they killers or they trying to sell a key and these young dudes are trying to live that. They fabricating different situations in rap and these young kids are bringing it to life. That’s why shit is so crazy now. It might take a while but I think the rap game is the people that can do it. We’re all role models more than athletes because athletes don’t wear clothes like the kid in the hood and they don’t walk and talk like the kids in the hood. We’re closer to them than anybody because they can look at us and see them. I think if the rappers can open our eyes and see how this is deteriorating the hood and not only the rap game there are subtle things that can be done and said that can make people say word is bond this is kinda stupid man. I don’t like knocking gang members but there is nothing in the hood for them. They got people in the hood that show them love which are their lil homies and they feel that’s what they got to do. I hope in the future they could be like this shit ain’t cool. Hopefully the rappers can start to open the eyes in the neighborhoods and communities. If anybody can make a change it’s the rappers. So I’m gonna stand up and take my responsibility and see what I can do with my next album.
Halftimeonline: What do you think of people who are saying hip hop is dead? Nas is supposedly titling his new album that.
Rakim: I’m glad they started saying that because what they’re really saying is rap is dead and rap is killing hip hop. It’s not hip hop no more it’s rap. I’m glad they are finally seeing it because that’s what it is. If we don’t take control of our art and start showing we are artists and it’s not just gunslingers, killers and crack dealers then they won. It’s a bold statement but I think people need to read between the lines. Hip hop will never die but rap is killing hip hop and if we keep that shit going the way its going it will be like pop. It won’t be hip hop no more just watered down rap. It’s a bold statement. A lot of times people put out a phrase and let you figure it out but hopefully with what Nas did he’ll have a song on there explaining what he meant and people will open up their eyes like you’re right it is more watered down and commercial shit. Hopefully we get back to the raw essence of hip hop again.
Halftimeonline: On a completely different topic what type of reaction do you get when you walk into the supermarket?
Rakim: I get the Martian look all the time even in the hood. I walk down to the shopping block and people just look at me with their mouth open man like what are you doing out here and I’m like I’m trying to get a pair of sneakers duke what’s good? What are you doing [and I’m like] I’m hungry I wanted some juice and I needed some bread. Me and my girl was buggin the other day because I go up in the supermarkets man. I do me. I got one of the illest crews in NY but when I travel it’s mostly me and my girl, me and my kids or me and one or two of my dudes but the majority of the time its just me. I go up in the supermarkets and people always go what are you doing here and I go I’m hungry in a sarcastic but nice way just to let them know yo I’m human too man. And after I leave here I gotta go to the drug store and get some toiletries. It is what it is but I do me and I think people respect that. They see me out in the hood by myself or with wifey and I don’t have no bodyguards. I got a crew but I don’t have them with me. They respect that because it’s crazy right now where everybody can’t leave the house without a bodyguard. It’s ridiculous man.
Halftimeonline: What do you think about your influence on the rap game when it’s so apparent and everyone constantly says it? You’re like everyone’s favorite rapper’s favorite rapper.
Rakim: Sometimes I feel I’m the luckiest rapper in the world. And you know I’m not a flamboyant artist. I never tried to crossover or be in the public’s eye everyday. I’m laid back with it and at times I wondered if I was doing the right thing promoting myself staying back a little bit and coming out when I felt that I had too. But when I get all the accolades and hear the things people say it just puts it all together for me man. It’s a blessing. Sometimes I can’t believe half of the love that I get.
Halftimeonline: As fans we can listen to artists and be like oh I can see that he’s influenced by this cat or that’s Rakim or that’s Kane right there you can hear it in their flow. But you obviously know your style better than anybody in the world. When you’re listening are there times when you listen to certain artists and be like oh I know I influenced this cat.
Halftimeonline: Just being real who are some of the artists where you sit back and listen and be like I know he studied me?
Rakim: No doubt man. I don’t want to put nobody on blast but in the beginning it’s like somebody telling you somebody looks like you and you’ve been looking in the mirror your whole life and nobody looks like you. Same thing with me. People would be like yo he sound like you and the first thing I used to think was the voice but after a while I realized they wasn’t talking about the voice it was the influence. I could sit and listen to certain rappers and it could be their flow or the way they’re trying to say some shit and sometimes I’ll be like he took that whole thing and twisted it around. So you know it’s definitely times when I hear little shit here and there or somebody taking something that I did. I kinda feel like James Brown did when we was jacking him for his shit. I gotta look at it as a compliment. You like what I do or what I say and I have to appreciate that shit.
Halftimeonline: I know half the time it has to be flattery but other times you gotta be like come on man! You like the 15th dude that’s jacked me. Give me my check.
Rakim: Haha it’s all love I gotta take it as a compliment.
Halftimeonline: We always talk about you on an emceeing aspect but obviously you put in a lot of work on the production side. How did you start out producing?
Rakim: Dabbling in music and being in music when I was young I had my own view of what I thought music was whether it was jazz, r&b, or hip hop. Once I got into hip hop it started with telling the DJ put on the Pointer Sisters “Yes You Can Can.” Then it was like put this record on cut the beginning of the break and then put the second break on and go back to the beginning of it. What was going on was me producing the track and then taking the track and putting it together like yo put on “Get up and Dance” and cut up the beginning and then after you hear me say this then throw on the beat and that was formatting right there. It went from that to making beats. I had a little more freedom when I started sampling because you could actually do what you wanted to do. That took me as a surprise because before I went to the studio with Eric B I was just rhyming in the parks. I wasn’t putting together beats like that but I knew what I liked to rhyme to. It shocked me how easy it was for me to put together beats. Find a drum that sounded similar to a sample or find some horns from a different record to go with the sample. It was fun and at the same time surprising the way it was all popping off. That kept it extra fun.
Halftimeonline: With that these were major records you were doing production on on all of your albums with Eric B but you took a step back on the production side on your solo albums. What was it about the solos that had you not wanting to do as much production as you had in the past?
Rakim: At that point the label felt things were changing and they wanted to put the album in producer’s hands. At the time there were a lot of freelance producers starting to spring up. Before that a lot of crews were handling their own production. Then you had a string of producers that started to come out that weren’t attached to an artist so that was big then and the label felt that times were changing and they wanted to put other producers in charge of the album. That goes to show you what major labels do to the artist. So to the young artists that are checking out this interview when you come in the building with your guns don’t take them off. Keep your guns on and don’t let anybody tell you how to load your guns or bust ya guns. The only reason I’m using gun terminology is because I want you to stick to your guns man. Ya’ll love the gun play and gun talk so much this is the one time when you handle ya business stick to your guns. Do what you do don’t let the label tell you to do something else.
Halftimeonline: Our readers would kill us if we didn’t ask about the Dre situation with Aftermath. Obviously things didn’t go as planned. What were some of the things that started happening at Aftermath where you felt like this may not be a good situation?
Rakim: I’ve been doing this for so long I know what I like rhyming to and I know who I am so it got to the point where the production of the album wasn’t going the way that I wanted it to go. The thing is I’ve been doing this for so long and Dre’s been doing it for so long you have a set way of doing things and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I respect Dre because he’s got his M.O. but I got my M.O. too. It wasn’t working for me and I think neither one of us wanted to sacrifice which is good that’s what artists are supposed to do. They are supposed to stick to they guns. I didn’t burn any bridges over there. We’re still good. He said if I needed any production on this album to come holla at him but I call it trying to mix day with night. It don’t go.
Halftimeonline: After that whole Aftermath situation I’m sure you probably made some more connections being out there but at the same time a lot of time passed. You know people have been waiting and then to put in that time and for it to not to come to fruition where was your head at the end of that situation?
Rakim: I never liked writing some shit that wasn’t gonna be heard. Every time I touched a notebook it ain’t no just to write rhymes shit. Every time I wrote in the notebook I was planning on writing some shit I wanted the world to hear. When you’re out there and you waste all of that time and you spilled all of the information out of your head and put together this fucking book it gets to the point where I gotta start all over now. So that was the main thing with me doing all of our research and putting so much effort into saying what I felt needed to be said and then at the end of the day it’s like I’m not sure any of this shit is gonna be coming out. So I just tried to take a step back and try to find some good out of it. It’s like when the milk spill you can knock the fucking refrigerator down or you could just pick up the spilled milk. So I didn’t want to make it worse than what it was.
Halftimeonline: We were talking about the tracks you did at Aftermath. Were you planning on releasing those tracks, do you feel that they are too old or it’s not the message you want to put out right now?
Rakim: #1 they are like three years old and they already leaked a few of them out on the internet. [They leaked] “Welcome to the Hood” and “After U Die.” I forget the others but I think it’s like five altogether. As far as me putting it on my new album they are a little too old for that. You might hear a couple more on a mixtape or something.
Halftimeonline: I always hear a lot of artists talking about how location affects their writing like Wu Tang saying it when they went out to Cali. You being out there did you see any difference in your writing when you were doing some of the songs?
Rakim: Yea, what it did was give me a broader view of California. It really let me understand that rappers are separated. You got the dirty south sound, Cali got their sound but being out there it gave me a more of a universal look at hip hop because when you are out in Cali the radio is 85% west coast. It was a nice experience. It let me know what they are doing and how they are living. Hearing it on records is one thing but living out there when you are waking up and going to sleep out there you really start to feel their pain and feel their struggle and all that. I learned a lot out there.
Halftimeonline: There’s been a lot of talk about how things with you and Dre didn’t go the right way or go as planned but putting two artists like yourselves together in the room there had to be some magic happening even if it was only for one song. Were there some moments when you two were together where you like damn this is exactly what I came here for? If so what song showed that experience?
Rakim: Well I think that Truth Hurts joint for one. There were a couple other joints that we did where there was a feeling in the studio when you lay that sixteen down and the vibe in the room let’s you know what that sixteen bars was. There were definitely times where it didn’t get to the end of the tunnel. Even if it didn’t get to the end of the tunnel those were the goals we were trying to reach to get to that destination. It was definitely a good learning experience and definitely good times. Every time we got into the studio we had fun. You know what Dre like to do as far as the sound of music they create but it just wasn’t for me at the time. That was the only problem we had. He wanted me to go one way real hard but I’d touch on it and step back out of that. When you’re trying to please both sides of the fence at the same time you really can’t do that.
Halftimeonline: Obviously after that happened cats were like where’s Rakim? It’s almost to me that it’s similar to Tribe where the longer it takes for you to release something the greater the mystique grows. Do you ever think that people’s expectations will be so high that you may not be able to reach not what you feel would be good but what the fans are expecting?
Rakim: No doubt. That’s one thing that comes into the picture but I use that as fuel more than pressure. Sometimes I look at new artists trying to come out or trying to make their name and it’s like they’re coming into the game blind. They don’t really know what the world is going to expect from them and they really trying to get in where they fit in but me I almost got the red carpet. So it’s a little easier so I use it as good fuel. Like you said with Ra it’s like the longer it takes the bigger the mystique is. I use that like look dude they waiting for you, they still love you and want to hear you. So with that right there that’s all I need. Now coming out and you don’t even have a fan base I think that’s harder. I think if I was just coming out right now it would be harder for me to do what I do than to deal with what people expect who have an understanding of what I do. It’s a little easier.
Jbutters: When you came out onstage in Baltimore that’s the loudest I ever heard a crowd and I’ve seen practically everyone. We had never seen you perform so we were like we had to go but to see that happening and you haven’t put anything out and nobody cared.
Marcus: There was no introduction either. Kid Capri just put on one of the hardest beats I ever heard in my life and you just walked onstage and people was like oh shit!
Rakim: It’s love. I’m gonna tell you the truth it’s like I did BB Kings in January tore that up but that’s NY you kinda expect that. I did a few other shows in Central Park wrecked that shit but in the back of my mind I’m like damn I ain’t been to Baltimore in a while. I don’t even know what the vibe on Rakim is in Baltimore. That was one of the shows out of the two week tour that I was like when I go through Baltimore I want to leave a good impression. But when I stepped on the stage that’s what I mean bruh. It’s like that’s the welcome mat. That’s the key to the hood right there. It makes it a little easier for me to perform. It makes it a little easier for me to write and do what I do. That’s my goal right there and that’s my justice when I come out they make it easier for me. Please give Baltimore some love for me man because they definitely gave it to me. I’m gonna make sure I give them a special shout out on the album. That’s what it is.
Halftimeonline: It’s not like we saw a Rakim mixtape or things that people are doing in terms of marketing. Obviously, like you said you’re different and you don’t have to do little marketing ploys to keep your name out there but seeing how things have changed how come you didn’t approach it using some of those things?
Rakim: Well, some things are good for certain types of rappers. When 50 came out and did it you see every rapper trying to hit the mixtape circuit and it was almost like you had to do a mixtape before you get a deal. But like I said before whenever I sat down to write something it was never anything I took lightly. It was something that I’d want you, somebody in Japan, and somebody [over there to hear it]. When you do something and put your heart into it you and you think it’s that shit you want everybody that possibly listens to hip hop to listen to that shit. So I never wanted to do the mixtape circuit and 300,000 people hear it and that’s a chapter of my life and when I do another album I’m coming off of that chapter but the whole world didn’t hear that chapter so it’s like I would have to start over. I kinda write in sequences that I live through. So once I finish one album I know where to begin again. I never really liked the idea of doing mixtapes but at the same time it was a big thing a lot of people were doing it and it almost got to the point where if you didn’t touch the mixtape circuit it was like you didn’t care.
The djs were definitely supporting and in the beginning they were keeping everybody alive so it was only fair that they’d get a joint or a premier off your album or something. In my situation things are so crazy I just had to stick to my guns and get my business in order. That’s another reason why since I left Cali ya’ll ain’t hear nothing yet. The majors is what started it off but I don’t want come home back to the majors and basically get raped. So I came home and got a nice business plan together and started something different. We’re gonna kinda change the game with the way I’m doing the album. I don’t want to let too much out of the bag just yet but I didn’t go to the majors and I definitely didn’t go to the independents. We got major distribution so when it drops in NY it’s gonna drop in Japan. It’s major here. It took me a while to make it pop with the route that I took but everything is about together now. We just dotting the I’s and crossing the t’s. So hopefully in the next few months the world should hear the single and a month after that the album.
Halftimeonline: I know you don’t want to reveal too much about the situation but looking at where you’ve been at Aftermath to MCA and Universal how is this situation going to be different?
Rakim: Well it’s where every artist tries to position themselves. The money I’m gonna see for this project, I’m talking the deal that was put together, the money from every unit being sold is what I feel every artist should see. That’s what took it so long to make it pop. Cut the middle man out and you know what that means you gotta get that paper. The paper is about in place and once that’s done it’s on and popping. The difference is the money you can definitely say that.
Halftimeonline: Talking about the new album you said how each project represents a sequence of your life. Going back to the beginning could you explain what sequence you were in during each album and what sequence the new album represents?
Rakim: Right now you want to know where I’m at?
Halftimeonline: Well, I know you like to go from the end to beginning so either way you want.
Rakim: Haha. We’ll go from the top though man. In the beginning it was basically me introducing myself to the world, trying to make a name for myself and introduce my style to the world. At that point I was a young dude fresh out the streets, 16 or 17, when I wrote that album. I saw a lot when I was young. The first time I got arrested I was twelve years old. So my first album is coming from a young kid in the hood, getting knowledge of self and trying to find a different path. Once that path was dug then it was Follow the Leader. It was like yea this is what it is and this is what I’m doing. Everyone greeted me with open arms on the first album and it’s like this is what I’m doing so follow me. Not follow me but follow the lyrics. Follow me into a solo, get in the flow. I felt like I made a name for myself and the world accepted my style, then I took them a little deeper in Follow the Leader. After that it was doing different things in hip hop. My album after that was more of me introducing different styles and trying to concrete the path that I was taking as far as the righteous path. You could do hip hop, you could be a hard hip hop artist without going the other way. Back then it was pop not no killer killer shit. It was you could sell a couple records and keep your integrity or you could go pop and sell a bunch of records and be gone tomorrow. I was trying to stick to my guns at that point. At the same time me and Eric B was going through our little shit back and forth as far as what he wanted to do and what I wanted to do. I was trying to stay true to what I feel, what I started and what I felt the world definitely accepted me on.
Now we’ll take it up to The 18th Letter. Right there was the comeback. Letting the world know I grew a little bit and at the same time mature hip hop was good too. It was a little low in the hood its real low now. The hood don’t know what it is but back then it was a little more culturized. Everybody had a little culture with them. The Public Enemy fans, to the Rakim fans to the X-Can fans, to the KRS-ONE fans to Poor Righteous Teachers. There was a lot of consciousness in the air. I came back when the conscious level was low. I wanted to show that there is still consciousness in hip hop and at the same time reintroduce myself to the world that’s why we put the book of life with the 18th letter. With the Master at that point I feel that the game was so watered down that the label didn’t know what to do about it. They felt like I needed radio songs and more radio friendly with my studio work. At that point I felt like I had to make a change not knowing what the change was. The change I was supposed to make wasn’t towards that just to elevate my craft and futurize it. They had me doing some radio kinda shit and I kinda fell for it because the labels was on some Rakim is hard to work with, Rakim don’t want to do this and we can’t get Rakim to do that, he don’t want to do interviews nahmean. So I wanted to make myself a little more accessible and if ya’ll remember rap at that time it was Puff Daddy. You can tell I did not get on no Puff Daddy shit but my tracks was a little more friendly. I had to understand that what I was supposed to do then was get back into the lab and start digging through the crates and reinvent my tracks. Once I get the track I know what to do with it. With these different labels like MCA I did some things I felt I shouldn’t have done.
After that I went out to Cali to try and get with Dre to pop that off. My idea was to bridge the gap since Pac and Big left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. My thing was to try and bridge the gap and bring raw hiphop back. My main thing was I thought the last thing I’d have to worry about was tracks. Things didn’t work for a reason. I take the good with the bad and then I came back to NY and I really put my CEO cap on man. I had to go through the everyday phone calls and everyday questions and they would come back with ten more questions to get an understanding. It’s like talking apples and oranges to people because not everyone understands the record business. What I want to do right now is give hip hop back to the hood. Before it was a neighborhood thing where it belonged to the hood and the rappers were reporting and there were rules and parameters. Now it seems like the artist’s game. Now it seems like hip hop belongs to the people you see in the videos and radios. So I want to give it bring it back to the hood, make a statement for NY to put us back in our proper perspective, and of course let them know that Ra still spits fire. It’s something about this rap game that the older I get the wiser and more skillful I get. I think things are gonna change. I’m gonna take the age limit off of hip hop. It’s gonna be what they want. It’s hard to explain but I know what they want. That’s why me and Dre ain’t work out because I felt that they didn’t want me to do what I was about to do in California. I think I’m focused right now. Still hungry 20 06 no tricks in 06. The tables turn twenty years later where I’m doing an interview talking about the new album.
Halftimeonline: What can fans expect from the album in terms of who you’ve been working with and if you’re gonna get back into production?
Rakim: You know I can’t tell you what collabos I’m gonna do. I still believe in the element of surprise. That feeling of somebody getting the CD putting it in and being like oh shit! That’s the door to door salesman’s best shit when they can come through with something and wow a motherfucker. I’m not going to saturate the album with collabs but it’s a few people in the industry that I respect a lot that have been showing me love throughout the years that I want to do some joints with. People that are going to make a statement when you hear me with them. And a lot of big time producers have been showing me a lot of love. It’s gonna be something that they’re not going to expect but at the end of the day they’ll be like that’s what he was supposed to do.
Halftimeonline: You keeping it tight on us man!
Rakim: I believe in the element of surprise. And then it’s like sometimes you say I’m about to do a joint with Quincy Jones and then it’s like oh he gonna do a joint with Quincy Jones! Then when they hear it’s not what they expected. It’s a dope joint but they spent two months drawing a picture about what Rakim and Quincy Jones is gonna do. So yea the element of surprise of just throwing it in and hearing it and not dwelling on it for months is better. I think it’s better for the consumer too because they’ll be happier with it. It’s almost like Christmas man who wants to know what’s in the gift. Haha
Halftimeonline: That’s true I always think that when I hear people say something like oh imagine Jay-Z with dadada it will be a classic. It’s like you never know until you hear it. Just because you put two people together doesn’t mean it’s automatically classic. I never got that.
Rakim: Exactly. Me neither man.
Halftimeonline: Also when people say producer I think they only think beat maker. If you have a real producer who is producing the track then it’s the relationship between him and the artist that makes the ill track.
Rakim: Exactly. There are a lot of young brothers that you never heard of but they are coming to the meetings and to the studio with fire man. It’s like yo what did you say your name was bruh? It’s a beautiful thing. It’s crazy because a minute ago a big time producer would get $150K a track. Now you got these young producers coming in getting $2,500 and getting triple platinum joints so the price for tracks is coming down. The hip hop game is so crazy it moves around and changes like slang in the hood. One week the word could be good and in the next week it’s like yo duke that shit’s not good. That shit don’t even mean what you think it mean now man. It’s a good thing though because I think what we need to take advantage of is changing the game like that. Every time someone come out with an album don’t change the whole style up but don’t do what they are expecting. Surprise them. That’s another thing yo rappers are scared to bring new styles out. There’s so many different ways we can be flowing but everybody chooses to flow the generic way. Majority rules but it opened up that’s why I like people like Kanye. He do whatever track he want to do and flow how he want to flow on it and he ain’t talking the everyday bang bang and kilo. A lot of people live it and grew up around it but if you do 15 records on your joint all 15 don’t have to be the same shit.
Halftimeonline: Ok so we not getting any collabs and we not gonna know any producers…
Halftimeonline: What about some concepts? Can you give us at least one concept for maybe a song where it’s like the normal cat wouldn’t flip it like that?
Rakim: Aiight, the name of the album is The Seventh Seal. Are ya’ll familiar with what that means?
Halftimeonline: That’s in the book of Revelations.
Rakim: No doubt. What I’m doing is taking the Seventh Seal and making it relevant to hip hop and life itself. You see it everyday with the tsunamis and the earthquakes its evident man. The glaciers are melting, global warming, we at war, planes crashing into the jump off, the flooding that’s the seventh seal. I’m gonna make it similar rap and let them know the same thing and at the same time why the seventh seal is coming about. I’m gonna have some fun with it but at the same time I’m gonna open some people’s eyes. That’s the concept of my next album. So back to that hip hop is dead thing it’s like if it keeps in the direction its going, not saying that the Dirty South, East Coast, Midwest or Cali is killing it, but if everyone keeps saying it there must be some truth to the statement. We’re nearing the end. It feels like the same thing is happening to hip hop.
Halftimeonline: When you were going through the whole thing about Pac and Biggie leaving a bitter taste in people’s mouths, over the past ten years we’ve had some crazy shit happening like when the Game came out he had some shootings and the incidents with 50 Cent and Lil Kim. What’s your perspective on hip hop going in that direction?
Rakim: After a while you basically make the environment around yourself. A lot of the things that go on we can avoid some of it. A lot of the things we get into are situations through our lyrics. If I was the type that was like I dare someone to step to me, I got big guns, and whatever ya’ll want to do we can do it right that’s going to bring that attention to me. I’m walking through the street and somebody’s gonna say let me see what’s good with this dude cuz he talking all that crunchy shit. I bring that attention to myself if that’s what I ask for. That’s why I say a lot of this shit we do it to ourselves but it’s a sticky situation cuz brothers want to keep it hood but you gotta understand once you start making money you have to put things into perspective. Like me I was making money but still trying to hang out on the corner till 2 or 3 in the morning. I loved the hood and still love the hood but I had to realize like Ra you a rapper now you’re in the public eye. What was funny about it was when I was out there doing it people was like why he still on the block hanging out with everybody. Then when I stopped doing it, it was like oh he too good to come out on the block. You can’t win for losing. We’ve all been through it but its knowledge and experience. Some brothers experience certain shit and they have to start making different decisions. I’ve been through a lot of that and I try to keep myself out of the unnecessary bullshit. I got a family and I love coming home to them and I’m not gonna jeopardize that by talking shit to somebody I don’t know and somebody that ain’t taking money from the table. In other words its like I shouldn’t even be studying you but a lot of it jumps off. I just try to do me and stay out of harms way. If something comes at me of course I’m gonna handle my business but I’m not the type to provoke the bullshit so I don’t really get a lot of that.
Halftimeonline: We saw you on MTV with Nas talking about your style of dress and your jewelry. You were saying how you had another piece that was heavy enough so you could take it off….
Rakim: And beat the shit out of someone! Nahmean.
Rakim: My jeweler used to laugh at me man. I’d go get my chain specially made and I’d be like yo I want it heavy man. They’d be like but Ra its solid and I’d be like nah nah I didn’t say solid I want it heavy man. How heavy? I want it heavy enough so that when I take it off and smack somebody in the face with that shit and put it back on there’s not a diamond out of place. They would always laugh at me but that’s what it is. I used to get big rings and use them for brass knuckles man. Bong! How’d he knock him out with one punch? It was them big ass rings I had on.
Halftimeonline: I heard ya’ll would be wilding back in the days that your crew was not taking any stress on the road back then.
Rakim: Yea, it was kinda crazy man. Whether it was a dunk cat or somebody who didn’t understand and you’d have to straighten him up a little bit. It’s good though I been through all that and now when I go out I get so much love I gotta change my way of thinking. Sometimes you have your shield up and you got your game face on and somebody over in the corner keeps watching you. Eventually he’ll come up to you and he’ll be like peace. But back in the days it wasn’t like. That cat over in the corner who was scheming would try and rob you later on so you had to react.
Halftimeonline: I guess that was another thing Eric B. brought to the table. He was ready to throw the hands.
Rakim: Yea, nahmean.
Halftimeonline: Twenty years later somebody is like I got punched in the face by Rakim.
Rakim: Haha yea like wow. Hopefully he looks at it like that and don’t come back and try to get revenge on me. It definitely went down a few times man.
Marcus: Yo did you really hit Special Ed? I heard some niggas saying that when I was in the 6th grade.
Rakim: Nah. I seen him at this party in Queens for one of the O.G’s who used to run with the J-Team. He was a big time cat. We was up in the little spot and I was in there with like 2 people and Special Ed came through with like 15 people. Something happened that I ain’t like and I confronted him which was kinda crazy cuz he had 15 people with him and I was by myself. It was a misunderstanding and he told me that wasn’t what it was and everything was good but I never swung on him. Matter of fact I seen him in Cali a few times. That’s my man he’s good peoples.
Marcus: I always wanted to ask you that question.
Jbutters: Something I always wanted to ask was I always heard cats being like Rakim made smart moves with his money blahzay blah and I heard like Rakim owns like two or three apartment buildings. Any truth to that?
Rakim: Nah, nah I had a couple different cribs. I was online for a brownstone for a while but I never owned my own apartment building. I always tried to manage my money smart. I got a good accountant, Bert Padell. In 86 or 87 he met my moms and pops. He’s a good cat. He doesn’t just care about how much money I was making but how I felt everyday and how my family was doing. He really cares for the person as well as the artist. He made sure I made good moves. I only made x amount of albums in 20 years and to still be living comfortably. A lot of people and friends look at me and be like yo Ra how do you do it? You don’t go on tour every year and you don’t make an album every year, you chill with your family and watch TV. Everyone else is out on tour getting that money. But I managed to do my thing right with the help of my accountant and I’m still comfortable. Twenty years and I do nothing on the side. I never sold drugs. A lot of people used to think I was that dude but I never sold a crumb. I used to always be upset with that. I’m one dude and when I make my bed I lay in it but don’t stereotype me. Never sold a crumb to this day and I don’t do nothing on the side. As far as work I don’t have any other hustle, no rim shop or nothing. Just pro tools and a motherfucking notebook and I manage to do what I do. It’s a blessing.
I learned early in the game when I had $15,000 stereo systems in my car in ’86. They weren’t even making them like that. I’m telling them I need two 15”s and two 18”s in the Jeep. They had to cut out a sunroof in that motherfucker. Back then a $15,000 piece was bananas. Only the drug dealers were going and getting $10,000 and $15,000 pieces back then. I was spending 15 on pieces, getting 20 pairs of sneakers and 30 Gucci suits but over time you gotta fall back and start learning how to manage your money. You have to learn how to take an allowance. It might sound crazy but you put your money up and take out a little every week. You put yourself on a salary instead of getting $7,000 this week, $20,000 next week and $5,000 the week after that. Take a $1,000. You got your toys, you got everything and your money under your mattress. Break it down and have a salary to take care of you and your family and stretch that money.
Halftimeonline: You mentioned family and I believe you have kids. What’s Rakim’s kids life like and what is the response when you are up in the parent teacher meetings? Like teachers who are in their upper 20s and early 30s came up on you. I could just see you asking how your kid is doing in class and the teacher is like yo that Paid in Full album is classic son!
Rakim: Since kindergarten G wifey would try to choke em out. It’d be like Ra’s kid did this or Jabbar did this. That’s my two sons, I ain’t have to go up there for my daughter yet she’s the good one, so you got to go up to the school. I’m like cool. It’s for a couple reasons. I sacrificed a lot of my career for them. Even when I was out on tour I used to fly home on the weekends to be with my girl and be with my family to see my kids grow up and just be there for them. When they started going to school it was like that too whether it was homework or if I have to go up to the school I was there. One of the things I wanted the teachers to understand is that I’m not just no rapper. I’m not sending my son to school and don’t to give a fuck about what he’s doing up here. Whenever there was a problem they seen me right up in their face. It was a good thing because sometimes they think rappers don’t really care about their kids’ education. My son plays football so I coach a couple of his teams. My youngest son just started playing last year and I assistant coached for one of his teams. I try to be there as much as I can. I also want to kill the stereotype. I want them to respect me as a man and a father first and then if you like hip hop go buy my album.
Halftimeonline: Do your kids realize how much of an icon you are in hip hop?
Rakim: My oldest son just graduated yesterday. So it took a while because they were young back when I first started and when I started chillin they were just coming into the age of loving hip hop and watching videos and going to school hearing kids saying boom boom boom. They older now and they see the interviews and the people that speak about me. I take them with me and they hear people saying things and now they really understand what it is. What’s crazy is their classmates will ask them do you see your father all the time? They be like my pops is at the crib right now. I see my pops everyday and that’s what I wanted. I didn’t want my kids to not know me and come up and just be like my dad’s a famous rapper. I really wanted to be there for them and the shit worked. Sometimes it normalized things to the point where they didn’t see Rakim, it was just like that’s my father. They didn’t see me as a rapper. I’m so regular around the crib. I was telling my daughter how she brought the calmer side out. I enjoy being around them, making them laugh, watching TV with them, the fun shit, the little shit. I love it man and they realize the sacrifices I made. They see interviews with people saying I never got a chance to be around my father because he was always on the road or whatever it was and they respect the fact that I sacrificed to be around them and they didn’t miss me one bit.
Halftimeonline: Word up that’s how it should be. More parents should be like that. But I could just imagine the looks when you’re up in the school though.
Rakim: Yea, when I go up to the office its funny. When the kids see me going up in there they be like yo did ya’ll do something? Yo is your son aight? Is your daughter aight? I’m like ga head man everything is good. Its cool man I enjoy it.
Halftimeonline: One thing I had to ask was we were backstage at the show when you were coming out and this cat bear hugged you…
Rakim: Oh yea the big god. Word up. That’s fire right there. I love to see when people are real passionate about what they feel and what they say.
Halftimeonline: His wife was even nodding her head like he was speaking the gospel. I was like this dude is never gonna let Rakim go.
Rakim: Word, my people be getting upset sometimes when people be doing that but I understand man it’s a lot of love. I’d rather that right there then for a motherfucker to let me walk by. But it’s been crazy man. Sometimes I be with wifey and a girl will just come over to us and be a little over the top but we both know what it is. I just try to let the person know they are really reaching right now without them seeing that in my face. You gotta let the fans shine their glory the way they want. It’s like I have a million bosses and my job is to make them happy. My whole thing is if it wasn’t for people like ya’ll and people like them I wouldn’t be me. I love every minute of it.
Halftimeonline: We are trying to see who has the craziest fan story. The leading one right now is Kool G. Rap when the dude came up to him and said he’d kill for him. What’s the wildest thing a fan has done when coming up to you?
Rakim: I think on more of a respect level when I went to Japan somebody came up to me and started crying man.
Rakim: That shit is like wow. They were just crying man.
Halftimeonline: That’s some Michael Jackson shit.
Rakim: Yea man. If the motherfucker would have fainted that would have been all I needed right there. I took it probably the same way G. Rap took it when dude said what he said but it let’s you know how the fans look at you and how they feel about you man. It makes you appreciate what you do.
Halftimeonline: We already talked about how a lot of emcees say you influenced them, you got people crying, and overall saying how you changed the game. If you could step out of yourself and be an unbiased fan who is knowledgeable about hip hop what would you say is Rakim’s influence on the culture?
Rakim: I’d say he brought consciousness to the game and to the hood and at the same time revolutionized hip hop as far as different styles and things of that nature. That’s one of the things I strived for so I hope that’s what they see.
Halftimeonline: You were talking earlier about your different writing styles. You named a couple including the one where you wrote your rhymes backwards and the other where you picked the sixteen illest words and wrote a rhyme around them. What are some songs where you can say this is a song I did this style to?
Rakim: Aiight, let me put you up on another style. Back in the day I would split the paper with two lines down the middle of the paper which left me with three sections. I would rhyme in all three sections in every bar. So not only was I rhyming at the end, I was rhyming on the first part of the rhyme, the middle part of the rhyme and the second part of the rhyme. Then when the second bar come the words would rhyme with the first part of the bar before that, and the middle would rhyme with the middle nahmean. This is how I started creating different styles and different rhyme forms and shit like that. I’ve done so many joints like that I don’t even have to split the paper anymore. It became like just knowing what I had to do. If I spit this on this bar I know what I had to do on the second bar to make it rhyme. That’s how I started creating styles man just drawing lines on the paper and putting rhymes in each section. If you take that right there and you go back to the crib or you’re at the crib you can play it and you’ll hear me rhyming in and out of the rhyme.
Halftimeonline: For the most part you and Eric B. did your own thing but being that you were into consciousness and making a difference how come you weren’t on Self Destruction? Did KRS not get at you?
Rakim: That’s funny man. I don’t think they hollered at me or they hollered at Eric B. and he didn’t say anything to me. I don’t think they hollered at me man and you know I was a little bitter with that shit because I felt I had something to do with bringing consciousness in hip hop to the table. If I’m not mistaken when Public Enemy came out they had a joint called “The 98s” right and they weren’t really on the Public Enemy thing. I came out and did what I did in ‘86 and then you know people started running with it. Then when it comes time to do something they didn’t holler at me so I was a little bitter. At the same time a lot of reasons I didn’t do records with people is because I never wanted their light to reflect on me. If I did a joint with somebody and they said they was in the hood or whatever and a year later come to find out this dude was not who the fuck he said he was or he played himself in the worst way it would be like but damn Ra did a joint with him. I didn’t want to get too close to nobody so with that there they didn’t holler but it was a couple cats in there, most of them I loved, but at the end of the day they do what they do and I do what I do. I don’t have a problem with it but everybody who knows at that time knows they were trying to say I was responsible for gangsta rap too. So there was a lot of little industry shit going on at that time with what I was bringing. They thought I was that dude in the hood so maybe they didn’t holler at me for a reason. As time revealed itself I’m still in the hood, never got locked up for drugs and never got interrogated. That ain’t what I do. Being in this game if you are gonna sell drugs and make records too then as many records you make is gonna be as many people that know you sell drugs. We got the hip hop cops listening now. A lot of people that were speaking consciousness back then aren’t here now so I feel my shit is perfect here. I love Kris though he definitely contributed a lot to hip hop. I’ve been on tour with him and I know him as a person. He’s a good dude. I like Kris but they definitely didn’t holler at me for that man because I would have definitely did it.
Halftimeonline: Is it true that MCA gave you a million dollar deal after you left 4th and Broadway?
Rakim: Yea no doubt. We were the first rappers to get a million dollar deal. That right there being a young dude and seeing paper like that was real brand new for me. Luckily, I took everything in stride and not let the celebrity shit get to me.
Halftimeonline: How would you rank your albums and out of all the tracks you did if you want to know anything about Rakim what joint would you be like play that track?
Rakim: That’s a hard one. I think the best joints out of the ones I did was the 18th Letter.
Halftimeonline: What stands out about that one?
Rakim: I liked where I was at the time. It was a part of my life where I was comfortable with everything. On my first album I was inexperienced. I used to write my rhymes in the studio and go right into the booth and read them. When I hear my first album today I hear myself reading my rhymes but I’m my worst critic. That’s what I hear though because that’s what it was. I’d go into the studio, put the beat down, write the song in like an hour, and go into the booth and read it from the paper. Now even when I write I try to memorize it as I write it so I don’t need the book in the booth or so I can say it with feeling. I think on my first album I was inexperienced but my hunger and flow spoke for itself. On the 18th Letter I did a couple things on there. I don’t play a lot of my music but there are a couple of joints on there that stands the hairs up on my head and you know I’m bald headed man. It’s just work that was a long time coming and something that I always wanted to do. “The 18th Letter (Always and Forever),” that’s like one of my favorite joint to this day. The “Who is God” joint is always something I wanted to get off but I felt was a little too deep. The way that record is it’s not no throw it on in the club joint but I finally got comfortable enough to the point where this is what I’m doing and I have a statement to make and like it or not this is what it is. I think the 18th Letter was a little more focused as far as what I wanted to do coming out of all that turmoil. Me and Eric B. going our different ways and hip hop changing and going crazy. I finally got to the point where I was like this is what I want to do right here. Now the joint to personify Ra that’s a hard one. I like “Lyrics of Fury,” “The Punisher,” and “Juice.” The rugged style joints but I think maybe Ghetto man. It’s not real lyrical but as a person and an artist that kinda explains who I am.
Halftimeonline: And the new album is the Seventh Seal when is it dropping? You know once we put out the date cat’s gonna be like I got it on my calendar, don’t do it to me Ra!
Rakim: Yea, be like you crying wolf again. Haha. We are gonna drop the single in about two months and the album should be about a month after we drop the single. I don’t even know what the first single is going to be. I think I’m gonna go in the studio and do 20 and pick the best 15. Then after I get that I’m gonna sit back and listen to that 15 and see which one I think the single should be. I don’t try to go to the studio and make a single. I just do whatever I feel.
Halftimeonline: I think it will be good. When you started performing a couple of the new joints the crowd really took to them. So you know you’re going in the right direction.
Rakim: No doubt man. Thanks. Tell Baltimore I hope they like the new album and get ready because I’m gonna come through with a little tour when we do it, with onstage production and at least an hour and a half of Rakim.
Jbutters: What?! We were happy just with you and Kid Capri just rocking. I don’t know if you did Juice though.
Rakim: Yea, we did Juice.
Marcus: Yea, he did it. He was like I know how Baltimore get down.
Jbutters: That’s one of my favorite joints. I must have blacked out.
Rakim: That’s my shit right there. That joint right there is special. I did the track on that and I played the drums live.
Rakim: Word up next time you listen to that shit listen to the drums kid. I made the track and put a regular boom bap drum sample on it (makes drum sounds) and then I got on the drums and hit the (more drum sounds). That’s a special joint right there.
Halftimeonline: I heard you watched the movie before hand and that’s how you came up with the whole joint.
Rakim: Yea no doubt. They let me go up in a little room and see the movie. It was funny I was living in Manhattan downtown on 19th street. So when I got to the crib, me and wifey, she knew I was zoning in the cab. When I got to the crib I had my studio in a little room. I went straight up into the room and found the sample. The bass line. I took the bass line and put the regular drum sample underneath that shit. Half an hour later I had the lights off because I was in there zoning. Wifey came in I was like turn the lights off and close the door back. About an hour later I came out of there with three verses man. It was crazy. That was that shit right there.
Eric B. & Rakim Albums:
Paid in Full (1987)
Follow the Leader (1988)
Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em (1990)
Don’t Sweat the Technique (1992)
The 18th Letter (1997)
The Master (1999)
The Archive: Live, Lost & Found (2008)
The Seventh Seal (2009)
I’m not a regular competitor, first rhyme editor
Melody arranger, poet, etcetera
Extra event, the grand finale-like bonus
I am the man they call the microphonist
With wisdom, which means wise words bein’ spoken
Too many at one time watch the mic start smokin’
I came to express the rap I manifest
Stand in my way and I’ll veto, in other words, protest
MC’s that wanna be dissed, they’re gonna
Be dissed if they don’t get from in fronta
All they can go get is me a glass of Moet
A hard time, sip your juice and watch a smooth poet
I take 7 MC’s put ’em in a line
And add 7 more brothas who think they can rhyme
Well, it’ll take 7 more before I go for mine
Now that’s 21 MC’s ate up at the same time
Easy does it, do it easy, that’s what I’m doin’
No fessin’, no messin’ around, no chewin’
No robbin’, no buyin’, bitin’, why bother
This slob’ll stop tryin’, fightin’ to follow
My unusual style will confuse you a while
And if I was water, I’d flow in the Nile
So many rhymes you won’t have time to go for yours
Just because of applause I have to pause
Right after tonight is when I prepare
To catch another sucka duck MC out there
‘Cause my strategy has to be tragedy, catastrophe
And after this you’ll call me your majesty