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Q+A    Rakim

Rakim was named No. 1 lyricist of all time by Source Magazine, he’s received the coveted BET Lifetime Achievement Award and has been nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His 1987 debut album, “Paid in Full,” is consistently listed among the greatest hip-hop albums of all time by outlets such as Rolling Stone and MTV. In this brief interview Rakim talks about the contrast between the golden era hip-hop he helped create and the tendency to follow the leader in modern-day rap.

IJ: What do you think about where hip-hop is now, considering where it came from?

R: Hip-hop is like anything, you gotta let it evolve into what it has to be. I think back to my era, it was more conscious but we had a chance to live with it and have fun with it. You know, we had the whole “hip-hop the hippie the hippie to the hip hip hop, a you don’t stop the rock,” you know what I mean? We had fun but then we went conscious with it. We have to give these other cities that are young with it a chance to have fun with it and grow with it and mature with it and understand the power that it holds. We have to respect that journey.

IJ: It seems like there was more diversity back then even though there were only a handful of rappers with record deals. You had EPMD, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Slick Rick and LL Cool J all on the same label with totally different styles. Now everybody is an emcee and they can make a whole album with their phone, but most are talking about the same thing: sex, money, guns and drugs.

R: Everybody is caught up in the majority thing. You can blame it on who you want to blame it on, but we all have to pick our own road. Once the consumers realize they are getting the same food from different restaurants maybe they’ll start complaining.

IJ: You were here before and after hip-hop hit the mainstream, how has your audience evolved?

R: When I perform at shows I see people from 50-year-olds to 15-year-olds. That makes me realize that rap is a genre now. It’s not just music from the urban community or the ghetto. Now everybody is grasping on to it and it has broadened my horizons and my audience. Before it was mostly people who were going through hell in the streets. Now it’s young kids who want to get involved with hip-hop and understand the history.

IJ: What do you think about hip-hop’s association with violence?

R: You have some rappers that live it, some that seen it, and some that heard about it. It’s usually the ones that heard about it that glorify. The rappers that seen it and lived it, they are the ones that speak on it and tell you what they’ve been through or seen. But the one that heard about it will blow it out of proportion and before you know it he’s sold 2 million copies and the people think this dude’s a gangster. There’s a lot of misrepresentation but the kids are starting to see through it. They know when it’s just talk or entertainment. We just have to know how to present it without glorifying and glamorizing it.