September 2007 Interview: Rakim

Rakim is a Hip-Hop legend. Born William Griffin 1968, he became a member of the Nation of Gods and Earths and took the name to Rakim Allah in 1984. The next year, he linked up with a brother by the name Eric B and the rest is history. Rakim revolutionized Hip-Hop, introducing complex lyrics, cadence and metaphor into his rhymes. A true wordsmith, he basically coined popular phrases “dead presidents” “master plan” and “Pump up the Volume, Pump up the Volume”. Rakim, welcome to Blackademics!

Pierce Freelon:
There’s a lot of knowledge in your rhymes, where’d you learn all of this stuff that you know, what books are your reading?

I started studying back in ’85 just trying to get a better understanding on back then what I though was normal. I kinda veered off into Islam and it’s a beautiful thing for me, man. As far of what I read, the base of it is Islam. Once I started reading that, it let me know that I had to venture out and get as much knowledge as I could, you know what I mean? from all four corners. You never know who you’re going to come across, if it’s Christian if it’s Buddhist, so my first goal was to make sure that I could show and prove who I was to any one of the different religions or cultures. And that just stemmed into getting more literature on different genres of life and things of that nature, whatever i could get my hands on, man. There’s a lot of books that I read like, Science of the Mind. It’s crazy man, I got books at the crib that’s so old, when you open it up, dust fly out, pages is falling apart.

That leads perfect into my second question. You introduced me and a lot of other people who are fans of Hip-Hop to the Nation of Gods and Earths, Five percents. Why is it so important to infuse the spirituality into your rhymes and music?

I don’t know man, it was just one of them things.. You know how sometimes, you go through the hood, and somebody tell you some good shit that just popped off, and nobody in the hood knows about it? You feel like you the dude with the giant diamond, like “yo! look what I just found, or yo guess what I just heard!” Well that’s how I felt when I started studying. It was like, yo I couldn’t wait to tell someone. You know what I mean? And to this day, it’s like I read a book or something and when i come up with that jewel, and it’s like, “damn, how i’mma tell em this shit” because before it was like.. i don’t want to say it was simple things, but before it was more like i guess things that i felt that we should know. But now it’s deeper than that. A lot of it is over our heads, so its hard to try to know what I have to hold onto and know what I should pass on. It’s still going to be the same thing. Whenever I come up with a jewel or find something I just can’t wait to tell somebody, if it’s my girl, my kids, my A-alike, or a stranger on the street that may bring culture or something about religion, or anything you know what I mean? I can’t wait to throw them darts. It’s a lovely thing.

Okay, my last question. You speak about the Black Man so highly, some say that seeing you as a representative for Hennessey might compromise that. How would you address that?

I address that to you, to them the same way I would address it to anybody else. This is reality, it’s 2007 and this is Hip-Hop. And it’s to the point now where it is what it is. People are going to do what they’re going to do. So i don’t want to sound like the generic commercial but if they’re going to do it, then why not do it responsibly. And I think that’s why they called me to do the ad. The name of the ad was “never blend in.” It was trying to at least show originality, or be you. that was, like, what I got from it. And like I said, I’m rap, I’m Hip-Hop. When I go to the club, everybody in the club is drinking Hennessey, or everybody in the club is drinking Patrone or Moey. I’m not going to say it goes with Hip-Hop, but it goes with the club. So that’s where I’m at, then that’s where I’m at. Even over that, some people look at me like yo, Rakim, you a rapper, you study Islam, and some people don’t feel it’s like alright for me to rap. Some people looking at the little thing -Hennessey- it’s bigger than that, man. But being that I’m somewhat of a conscious rapper or a positive rapper, it don’t affect me that much, man. But I’m human, man. I’ve been placed in the wilderness of North America amongst the beast and I’ve got to the survive. I don’t cross no fences to do it, but you know I’m in the belly of the beast.

Word, well we here with your brother, i appreciate that.


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