Rakim interview

Eric B. (right) and Rakim. Photo from the group's Gold compilation album.

The iconic Rakim Allah will rock the mic at Harrisburg’s Dragonfly nightclub on Dec. 19. Rhymefest (co-writer of Kanye’s “Jesus Walks”), windchiLL, J. Bair, M.I.H. and others will open up for the celebrity wordsmith. With gems, such as “Paid In Full,” “I Ain’t No Joke” and “Juice (Know the Ledge),” Rakim raised the bar for lyricism while schooling the youth with his 5 Percent Nation teachings.

Your bus broke down on Nov. 14, so you rescheduled your concert for Dec. 19. I heard you only had to reschedule one other concert in your career. Is that correct?
In 20 years, it probably [has] been more than once before, but yeah, this one here was a first. First sign of trouble was in New Orleans about a week earlier when we had a hurricane bearing down on us—a hurricane in New Orleans. The new album, The Seventh Seal, references the apocalypse and all, but I’m gonna try to hold out until at least 2012, so we decided to pull out and head north.

We got to the bus at 2 a.m. and ending up sitting for eight hours while they took care of some electrical problem. We headed north, and things were cool except the rain followed us all the way up. When we pulled out of Richmond to come see you dudes, some sensor shorted. And the bus just died. By the time the replacement bus showed, it was 1 a.m., and we were still four hours away. I try to never postpone shows—even performing after close family members pass and once drivin’ through a blizzard to get to the SXSW festival, but every once in a while it happens.

You will be another hip-hop legend who has performed at Harrisburg’s Dragonfly nightclub. (KRS One and Biz Markie have also appeared there.) How important is it for you to perform in cities with a smaller hip-hop market?
It’s a blessing to have fans everywhere, so I try to get to as many spots as we can. It’s always cool to come on stage in New York and see 20,000 fans at a festival, but there is also an energy to those other rooms that don’t fit quite as many. And in my experience, some of the smaller markets have the best [places], the loudest crowds and the most dedicated fans who bring an excitement because they might not get a lot of tours coming through. When I started, you couldn’t even book shows outside of four or five major cities. Now hip-hop is global, so we get love everywhere we go.

You’ve met Harrisburg-based rap artist J. Bair. What do you think about him?
Bair’s a cool dude.  Like I said, hip-hop is worldwide now, so you can find great talent in what some might think are unexpected places. But everywhere’s got a ’hood and experiences that come out of it that can light a fire under an emcee, so if dudes keep grindin’ and expanding their talents, don’t expect nothing to hold them back.

How are album sales doing for The Seventh Seal?
We debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard hip-hop charts and held No. 2 on iTunes, so that was cool. This is the first project I’ve done as an indie with my label Ra Records since [the Zokia indie label] 20 years ago, so there’s some different math to success. Even for the majors you’ve got different math.

It’s been a minute since anyone came out and did 10 million records, and the business has changed a lot in the last 10 years, even 10 months, so we’ve adapted with it. You look at a lot of ways to get music out: games, movies, Internet exclusives, ringtones, all of that. And you can do different sorts of deals like in Italy for example where we may be partnering with a major newspaper, taking an all-in fee and letting them include it as a bonus CD with their paper, getting the music into many more hands.

What’s your favorite song of your career and why?
That’s not an easy one, my dude.“Juice”—that’s one of my favorites especially when I’m touring [because] it’s real upbeat to perform live, and it was one of the first times I started using 3rd person characters to tell a story. There’s tracks off the new joint, “Still in Love,” “How to Emcee,” and “Holy Are U,” that I’m digging cause they are fresh and speak on how I’m feeling right now. “Ghetto,” “Lyrics of Fury,” “Casualties,” “Mahogany,” “Saga” … if I keep going, I’ll never narrow it down.

Describe the state of hip-hop today?
There’s good and bad out there right now on lots of levels. You have that worldwide audience, and that success is good. But then sometimes you got people chasing after short-lived trends to achieve that success, and that will kill us in the end. You’ve got a lot of regions you are starting to see mature. . .move out of the all-the-time-party rap and add some consciousness to their lyricism. But it hasn’t infiltrated quite yet. You got much higher levels of production. . . full orchestras if you want them, big R&B hooks, ya know, but sometimes that overshadows some of the melodic tunes, the lyrics or just that classic raw boom-bap that we gotta keep feedin’. I think we’ll do aight.

You’re one of the best lyricists that ever picked up a mic. Some new school artists, such as Drake, focus on wordplay and a good musical production. How do feel about that?
Thing you gotta realize is I’m a fan of hip-hop first, so to see it constantly get pushed forward is a really great thing. I listen to just about everything, some more than others, and Drake doing his thing and doing it well. The main thing is taking what you do best and doin’ that. Not trying to do what the guy down the block is doin’, even if he is No. 1 on the charts right now. That was one of the things I had to think about long and hard on for The Seventh Seal album . . . taking a few years to put it out. Should I try to do what’s the flavor of the day like a lot of producers were trying to get me to do, or should I do Rakim? I chose to do Rakim. You tell me what you think.

Interview by Leon Laing. Special thanks to Jon Hart (of M.I.H.) for arranging the interview. Doors for the concert open at 9 p.m. Phone: 717.232.6940.

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2 Responses to “Rakim interview”


  1. 1 Jamal Chase December 20, 2009 at 11:13 am

    I would like to give a shot out to my cousin J Bair for never giving up and not even letting a snow storm stop him from doing what he gotta do. God bless everybody that opened and Rakim for doing they thing. Sorry I missed out. One love


  1. 1 Rakim will still perform « vigoronline Trackback on December 20, 2009 at 12:40 am

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