William Michael Griffin Jr., better known by his stage name Rakim, isn’t just a rapper; he’s a revolutionary artist who changed the game of hip hop forever. Born on January 29, 1968, this American rapper became one half of the golden age hip hop duo Eric B. & Rakim. Acknowledged as one of the most influential and skilled rappers of all time, Rakim’s impact on the genre is undeniable.
Now, let’s look into why Rakim is such a transformative figure in hip hop. Before Rakim, the landscape of MCing was vastly different. He raised the bar for MC technique, introducing internal rhymes and multisyllabic rhymes. It was Rakim who showed the world the possibilities of sitting down to meticulously craft lyrics, a stark contrast to the more improvisational styles and simpler rhyme patterns of the time. Rakim’s legacy includes a shift from old school flows to more complex ones. Kool Moe Dee put it best when he said, “Rakim is basically the inventor of flow.” Rakim’s influence extended beyond his lyrical prowess to the very vocabulary of hip hop.
The partnership of Rakim and DJ Eric B. resulted in four groundbreaking albums: “Paid in Full” (1987), “Follow the Leader” (1988), “Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em” (1990), and “Don’t Sweat the Technique” (1992). His solo career, with albums like “The 18th Letter” (1997), “The Master” (1999), and “The Seventh Seal” (2009), further cemented his status in the hip hop world. “Paid in Full” was even named the greatest hip hop album of all time by MTV in 2006, and Rakim himself ranks high on lists of the greatest MCs of all time.
Rakim’s early life set the stage for his illustrious career. Growing up in Wyandanch, New York, he wrote his first rhyme at the tender age of seven, initially about Mickey Mouse. His aspirations once lay in football, where he excelled as a quarterback in high school. However, after meeting local DJ Eric B., Rakim’s path veered towards music. Known then as Kid Wizard, he made his first recordings in 1985 at Wyandanch High School.
His connection with spirituality, particularly through the Nation of Islam and The Nation of Gods and Earths, influenced not only his personal life but his stage persona. Adopting the name Rakim Allah, he was often referred to as the “God MC,” a nod to both his skills and his spiritual beliefs.
The duo of Eric B. & Rakim, which began in 1985, was a force to be reckoned with in the music industry. Their influence was so profound that they were nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. Their debut album, “Paid in Full,” was a monumental success, followed by the equally impressive “Follow the Leader.” Rakim’s sophomore peak continued with this album, receiving widespread acclaim and marking a high point in his collaboration with Eric B.
However, like all great partnerships, Eric B. & Rakim eventually parted ways. Their final albums, “Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em” and “Don’t Sweat the Technique,” showcased Rakim’s evolving sound and deeper, more mature themes.
Rakim’s solo career began amidst legal issues and a period of low visibility. His debut solo album, “The 18th Letter,” released in 1997, was a commercial success. He continued to collaborate with other artists, like the Art of Noise, and released “The Master” in 1999. A stint with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment record label in 2000 promised a new album, “Oh, My God,” but creative differences led to Rakim’s departure from the label and the album’s indefinite shelving.
Rakim’s journey continued with “The Seventh Seal” in 2009, a comeback album that featured a mix of spiritual and conscious themes. While the album received mixed reviews, it highlighted Rakim’s unrelenting commitment to his art and message.
The later years of Rakim’s career saw continued performances and collaborations, including a notable team-up with Linkin Park in 2014. He also hinted at new music, maintaining his relevance in the ever-evolving world of hip hop.
His reunion with Eric B. in 2016 was a momentous event for hip hop fans, signaling not just a nostalgic return but the possibility of new creative endeavors from the legendary duo.
Rakim’s artistry is characterized by a complexity and depth that was unprecedented in the early days of hip hop. His style, influenced by jazz and his relaxed, stoic delivery, broke away from the high-energy approach of his contemporaries. His lyrics often focused on his own skills and Islamic faith, marked by complex internal rhymes and literate imagery. His influence is evident in the works of numerous artists who followed him, from GZA to Eminem.
Rakim’s legacy is enshrined in the annals of hip hop history. “Paid in Full” is not just an album; it’s a milestone in the genre, influencing the sound, flow, and potential of hip hop. Rakim’s skill as an MC and his innovative approach to lyricism have inspired a generation of rappers, leaving an indelible mark on the culture and music of hip hop.
His journey, from a young kid writing rhymes in Wyandanch to a revered figure in the music industry, is a testament to the power of creativity, innovation, and resilience. Rakim didn’t just rap; he transformed the very fabric of hip hop, elevating it to new heights and setting a standard that still resonates today. As we look back at his career, it’s clear that Rakim is not just a rapper; he’s a legend, an icon, and a true master of his craft.
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