Follow the leader
Rakim laid lyrical groundwork for today’s rappers
As a leader in hip-hop’s golden age during the 1980s and ’90s, Rakim is a lyrical architect who paved the way for today’s rappers. He is is credited with defining and refining a lyrical style that filtered substantial subject matter through complex rhyme schemes.
Rakim’s intricate lyrics add a dimension of intellectualism based on religion, philosophy, metaphysics, astrophysics and technical skill.
Upon the debut of 1987’s “Paid In Full” by MC/DJ duo Eric B. and Rakim, Rakim’s innovative technique became the blueprint for emcees to follow, including Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon, Jay-Z and Nas – dubbed The God’s Son of hip-hop and hailed as the second coming of Rakim.
With three classic albums under his belt, and now nearing three decades first emerging on the scene, the original Microphone Fiend (born William Michael Griffin Jr. in 1968) continues to be revered as a hip-hop legend, despite sparse album releases and a highly publicized cancellation of a much-anticipated album with superproducer Dr. Dre.
Tentatively titled “Oh, My God,” the album was shelved three years after Rakim signed with Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment, with both Rakim and Dre citing creative differences as the cause for the split.
After a 10-year hiatus, Rakim returned with 2009’s “The Seventh Seal,” released on his own Ra Records.
As the title suggests, the album explores the significance of the number seven, especially in spiritual and religious context, as Rakim ties together themes from the world’s major religions and uses that imagery as a metaphor in hip-hop.
The number has been a constant in Rakim’s lyrics, as he says on the “Seventh Seal’s” lead-off single, “Holy Are U,” “Seven letters in all three of my government names.”
In a 2007 interview with Billboard Rakim said:
“The seals are from the Bible – Revelations and the coming of the Apocalypse. But Islam, Judaism, Christianity – all have a version of the same events. The Lion of Judah breaks the seven seals one by one, each imparting knowledge and inflicting catastrophe, ending with seven trumpets announcing the end of times. After the Apocalypse, God rises from the ashes to recreate the Kingdom, taking only the greatest elements from the past with them. When you look at hip-hop, I want to do that: to spit fire and take our best from the ashes to build our kingdom; to recognize all the regional styles, conscious lyrics, the tracks, underground, mainstream, the way we treat each other. Lose the garbage and rebuild our scene. I’ve always tried to insert consciousness and spirituality in my records, interpreting the writings of all cultures and religions and how they apply to life in modern times.”
Or, as Rakim puts it in rhyme form: “I told you who God is, but you ignored me like most of the prophets/Jesus, Solomon, Abraham, Moses and Muhammad/I showed the scholars, we’ll fulfill the broken promise/I speak the truth to predict the future like Nostradamas/Like Revelations, I’m hoping my quotes reveal/The seven spirits of God when I open the seal/Interpret the Holy Qur’an, these flows will guide you/Translate the Torah, and decode the Bible/Warn the elders in the mosques, masons, and the law/The seven churches and synagogues, it’s the Renaissance.”