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Meaning of the song ‘When I B On Tha Mic’ by ‘Rakim’

Released: 1999

Yo, we’re about to get deep into “When I B On Tha Mic”, a defining track from the God MC himself, Rakim. This joint is a vivid portrait of Rakim’s reality – a gritty portrayal of life on the streets coupled with an unshakeable faith in his lyrical prowess.

The chorus, with its repetition of “(I’m internationally known) (When I B on tha mic) (Hardcore, real ill niggas)”, underlines Rakim’s stature in the game. He’s not just a local phenomenon, but a force recognized globally. His reference to “real ill niggas” paints a picture of the hard, uncompromising street life that fills his verses, putting you right in the middle of the concrete jungle.

Throughout the first verse Rakim paints a vivid image of the fast life – the allure of fast money, “Dough getters, fifty ways to make figures,” club culture “Thugs be sipping Hennessey and bubbly,” and the pursuit of power “the goal is to be one of the top-ranked soldiers”. His line “Knock it down lumberjack style, baby, extra wood” is a double entendre, referencing his sexual prowess and his ability to face challenges head on, going at them like a lumberjack would.

When he drops “How about some hardcore, yeah we like it raw for sure” in the second verse, Rakim shouts out to the raw, unpolished aspect of hip-hop that rejects commercialism and complacency. He gives props to the DJs too, “Hands is mad quick like he mix with magic, Spin it back and forth and grab it” who are integral to the heart of hip hop – their ability to make the records fly under the radar and create a vibe that everyone in the room feels is vital to the culture.

The final verse cements Rakim’s place in hip-hop, flaunting his lyrical prowess “Pull out the heat and use my technique to speak”. The line “They hold Ra’s events in different continents” underscores Rakim’s global influence, whilst “Put my lyrical contents in monuments” alludes to the lasting legacy of his rhymes. It’s Rakim, the oracle, flaunting his ability to see the future in his lyrics, “I can see the future when the God write rhymes”.

By the end of the joint, you feel Rakim’s resilience and enduring relevance in the game. After all, in his own words, “This is strictly for my listeners on the corners at night And the sisters that be keeping this right, when I b on tha mic” – No cap, this track is timeless, and Rakim’s mastery of storytelling and lyrical flow is on full display from start to finish.

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