Hip-Hop legend Rakim, widely regarded as one of the most influential and most skilled MCs of all time, recently interviewed with David Samuels (contributor to The Atlantic) in his Connecticut home. Rakim welcomed Samuels into his home and talked for hours about Kanye and Jay-Z, the evolution of hip-hop, and how he wrote some of his greatest songs.
Check out excerpts of this one-on-one discussion:
When I listen to the artists that I love, from Nas to Kanye West, when I hear that interior voice, of a rapper creating self-aware characters with complex emotions in rhyme, I hear you. And some of those artists are name checking you and quoting you, and some of them are not. But they all heard you as kids and then took what you did in their own direction.
I definitely was reaching for that unique sound and a style that I could call my own. I was always a laid-back, subdued person, and I just try to let that speak through my music.
I traveled across the country watching Jay-Z and Kanye’s Watch the Throne tour. I went to eight different cities to feel the audience and watch their relationship evolve. And they’re both amazing artists, right? But Jay-Z’s a guy who makes $80 million a year off his huge talent, and he raps about his private jet. There’s lines like that in Biggie, right, where he’s flossing. But when he did it, it was like, “I got my honey on the Amtrak with the crack in the crack of her ass.” It was distinctly unglamorous.
Now, Jay-Z and Beyoncé together, they’re worth almost a billion dollars, from the strength of their own huge success. That’s money that no sane person can comprehend.
Music was just inspirational. I don’t care who listens to it. It inspires us to be better, think better, you know what I mean? I love Jay-Z, I love Kanye and I praise the way he’s been able to bring more business out of the jungle. In my era, it was just a pen and a pad of paper. But now, it’s like we can kind of monopolize with this thing. So I’ll praise him for that.
Jay-Z, when he first came out, he was from Jaz-O, you know what I mean? He was spitting. So who created the monster? We don’t know if the artist creates it, or the listener, or the media starts creating it.
Kanye thinks his music means something, and that intensity that he brings gets him into trouble.
At the end of the day, you’ve really got to appreciate an artist that’s really outspoken and feels like his music can change the world. Don’t even go to the studio if you don’t think that your music’s going to do something. You’re wasting your time and my time.
You feel that in the award shows stuff where Kanye has these episodes, right? It’s because he’s passionate. If a lot of us don’t take it that serious, then it’s not going to be serious no more. People say, “That was his opinion, but he was so passionate about it,” like that’s bad. You’ve got to say, “Well, really?” We need that. We need the media to know that some of us are really passionate about music.
Tell me how you and Eric B met.
One of my football buddies, [Alvin Toney], we grew up together, and one day he came to the house and knocked on the door. And Alvin, he was like a real street person. He wasn’t a flashy dude back then. He was a halfback on the football team, a hard-nosed cat. You know what I mean?
So I go to the door, and I see somebody standing there with a fur coat on. And I didn’t like people bringing unknown people to my house because I was small and, I was like, ‘Come over here with nobody, man. Come by yourself.” So I open the door and I’m like, “What up, guy?” He’s like, “Yo! I know you don’t like me bringing anybody, right?” I’m like “Yeah.” “Well this is Eric, he’s trying to look for a rapper. He knows Mr. Magic, Marley Marl such and such. He asked me who the best rapper out here was and I told him, you.”
Very true…Rakim was and still is considered the greatest MC ever! To read the full interview, click here. Enjoy the video below: