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 the first of a two-part, two-hour 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. In the first hour we get at Ra about a rumored battle between him and Freddie Foxxx, take 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 to date. Check it out.
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 bump bump bump ba bump ba bump. They was rhyming like that but I was like 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 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.
Sure we could have stopped there and it would have been all good but this is Halftime kid. We got another hour with Ra coming next month where he talks more about Aftermath, another writing style, his family life and the concept behind the new album coming out called The Seventh Seal. See you next month!
Exclusive Rakim Interview @ Halftimeonline.com