Happy Birthday Rakim. The God MC Turns 50 Years Old (Video)
It is a milestone month for legendary MCs. On January 14, LL Cool J celebrated his 50th birthday. Two weeks to the day after, Rakim also reaches this important mark. Fifty years ago today (January 28, 1968), the master lyricist was born William Michael Griffin, Jr. in New York, and changed the art of Rap ever since. Also, Heads should not underplay Rakim’s production accomplishments and low-key DJ skills either.
A great way to honor the Long Island, New York legend is through the Foundation Lesson series video focused on Rakim. In explaining why Ra’ is “The God MC,” Jayquan, the video’s narrator, asserts that there are three things that make Rakim a top-tiered MC: 1. Rhyme patterns, 2. Cadence/flow 3. A vocabulary that was illustrative and extensive. Over the course of the 25-minute 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 Cold Crush Brothers’ Grandmaster Caz and Treacherous Three’s 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.
2018 represents an interesting season in Rakim’s decorated career. In the last year, he celebrated the 30th anniversary of benchmark album Paid In Full with Eric B. There has been reported discussion about the revolutionizing duo taking their reunited act on the road.
The D.O.C. recently revealed that he hopes to make a collaboration with Rakim. In terms of new music, in mid-2016, Ra’ teamed with Stephen Marley and Kardinal Offishall for “So Unjust.” The MC has not released a project since 2009’s Seventh Seal.
Happy born day, Rakim—and many more.
Additional Reporting by Parfit.