Today marks the 49th birthday of one of Hip Hop’s all-time greats, the legendary Rakim. Born William Michael Griffith on January 28th, 1968, Rakim rose to prominence in the 1987 as part of one of Rap’s first super-duos, Eric B. & Rakim. Their debut record, Paid In Full, featuring hist such as title track, “Move the Crowd”, “My Melody”, “I Know You Got Soul”, “Eric B. Is President”, “I Ain’t No Joke”, is unquestionably one of the genre’s landmark albums. Their Gold follow up, Follow The Leader, is also highly regarded among Hip Hop purists, with standout tracks including the title track, “Lyrics of Fury”, and “Microphone Fiend”. Eric B. & Rakim would drop two more records together, 1990’s Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em, and 1992’s Don’t Sweat the Technique, before parting ways.
Rakim’s solo career to date has spanned three albums, 1997’s The 18th Letter, 1999’s The Master, and The Seventh Seal in 2009. Featuring standout singles “It’s Been A Long Time”, and “Guess Who’s Back”, The 18th Letter has thus far been Rakim’s most successful solo effort, having debuted at #4 on the Billboard charts on its way to certified Gold status. That said, though his career, both as part of Eric B. & Rakim and as a soloist, has had its peaks and valleys, one thing that has remained at an absolute apex throughout has been Rakim’s lyrical proficiency. Simply put, as far is lyricism is concerned, Rakim changed the game.
Before Rakim, Hip Hop had become accustomed to couplet-heavy rhymes performed with a high-energy delivery. Seminal 80’s Hip Hop acts such as Kurtis Blow, Run DMC, Public Enemy, and LL Cool J often incorporated these techniques. Others however, such as Big Daddy Kane and Rakim incorporated a more laid-back approach. Rakim’s melodic voice and smooth delivery made him stand out sonically. His rhymes were also more complex than what was common at the time.
He utilizes a lot of inside-rhyming where he rhymes multiple words and phrases within the bar (measure), versus the more traditional technique of the rhyme occurring at the end of the bar. He also popularized polysyllabic rhyming, or rhyming multiple syllables versus constraining what rhymes to just one sound (i.e. rhyming “cat” with “hat” versus rhyming “nothing funny” with “but the money”). He was also one of the first to extend rhymes beyond the end of the bar. His imagery is vivid, his voice is infectious, and his rhymes are always potent. The end result is a legacy comparable to very few in Hip Hop’s history.
As such, Happy Birthday salutes are in order to a true God emcee, The Master, Mr. 18th Letter himself, the R, Rakim Allah. To celebrate, below are some choice bars from one of Hip Hop’s greatest, truest, and purist emcees. Enjoy.
“Move the Crowd”
How can I move the crowd? First of all, ain’t no mistakes allowed.
“Know The Ledge (Juice)”
Shells lay around on the battleground.
Dead bodies are found throughout the town.
Tried to put shame in my game to make a name.
I’m a put it on a bullet, put it in your brain.
“I Ain’t No Joke”
I ain’t no joke, I use to let the mic smoke.
Now I slam it when I’m done and make sure it’s broke.
I take 7 emcees put ’em in a line.
And add 7 more brothers who think they can rhyme.
Well, it’ll take 7 more before I go for mine.
Now that’s 21 emcees ate up at the same time.
The invincible, microphone fiend Rakim.
Spread the word, ’cause I’m in,
A smooth operator operating correctly.
“Guess Who’s Back”
Yo, my rhymes and lyrics, find spirits like a seance.
Since fat Crayons, I write and display chaos.
My plan is damage, the diagram to where the jam.
I take advantage, until the crowd go bananas.
What a rush I hear cuts then I lust to touch.
Microphones get clutched by the illustrious.
Word spread I inherited, many ways to say the unsaid.
Born with three 7’s in my head.
“Paid In Full”
Thinking of a master plan.
‘Cuz ain’t nothing but sweat inside my hands.
So I dig into my pocket, all my money is spent.
So I dig deeper but still comin’ up with lint.
So I start my mission, leave my residence.
Thinkin’ how could I get some dead presidents.
I need money, I used to be a stick-up kid. So I think of all the devious things I did.
I used to roll up, this is a hold up, ain’t nuthin’ funny.
Stop smiling, be still, don’t nuthin’ move but the money.