A New Video Argues Methodically For Why Rakim Is The Greatest MC Of All-Time
For many, the greatest MCs of all-time hailed from the 90s. Names like Tupac, Biggie, Nas, Andre 3000, Jay Z and Eminem are often cited, and rightly so. Each is among the most gifted poets to pick up a mic, doing so in his own unique way. When Ambrosia For Heads held its months-long competition to address the question of who is the GOAT, millions of knowledgeable readers weighed in, ultimately choosing Em.
One thing that often gets overlooked, or at least downplayed, in these discussions, however, is context. While many MCs have razor sharp lyrical skills, there’s a lot that must be attributed to those who originate. A new video makes a methodical argument that, when set against that backdrop of context, Rakim is the God MC.
Jayquan, the video’s narrator, asserts that there are 3 things that made Rakim a top-tiered MC: 1. rhyme patterns, 2. cadence/flow and 3. a vocabulary that was illustrative and extensive. Over the course of the video, Jayquan cites a number of examples to support each criterion, beginning with rhyme patterns.
Before even exploring Rakim’s rhyme patterns, Jayquan gives credit to the MC’s predecessors who shaped his style. Specifically, the narrator cites Grandmaster Caz and Kool Moe Dee for expanding rhyme patterns from rhyming one word with another to rhyming a word with multiple words. That technique, which is commonplace now, allowed Rap to go from nursery rhyme simplicity to the complex wordplay that continues today. Rakim iterated on that technique, both by rhyming multiple words with multiple words, but also by rhyming several words within a phrase. Quite simply, he fathered the rhyme style that has prevailed for 30 years, among lyricists.
Jayquan describes flow as the way the rhymes are delivered. A number of rappers are able to string together complicated word structure, but the method of delivery is what separates the good from the great. Tupac was never seen as the most complex lyricist, however his cadence–ability to weave through a track–was impeccable. Rakim’s flow was innovative and completely unique, when he arrived on the scene. In fact, he himself says it was influenced by John Coltrane’s playing, rather than another MC.
For vocabulary, Jayquan discusses both Rakim’s expansive and cerebral command of words, and his ability to paint pictures with his lyrics. As an example, he cites the lines from “Follow The Leader” where Rakim says “So follow me and while you’re thinking you were first/Let’s travel at magnificent speeds around the universe/What could you say as the earth gets further and further away/Planets as small as balls of clay/Astray into the milky way, worlds out of sight/Far as the eye can see not even a satellite/Now stop and turn around and look/As you stare in the darkness, your knowledge is took.” Still mind-blowing nearly 30 years later.
The video is filled with rare photos of Rakim, throughout, as well as a healthy smattering of Rakim classics. For Rakim fans and students of Hip-Hop, generally, this is enjoyable.