MC Serch Says He Was Once Asked To Write Lyrics For Rakim (Video)

3rd Bass released two gold albums between 1989 and 1991. Twenty-nine years ago this month, Def Jam Records released The Cactus Album, a full-length debut from the New York City collective of MC Serch, Prime Minister Pete Nice, and DJ Richie Rich (aka DJ Daddy Rich). The first single from that would-be gold LP was “Steppin’ To The A.M.” (embedded below). Along with 3rd Bass, the song was produced by The Bomb Squad at a time when they were expanding, following tremendous acclaim with Public Enemy.

In an interview with VladTV, Serch reveals that the song (which reached the Top 5 on the Rap charts), began as a verse written for Rakim. He even spits his verse in the way that it was referenced for the microphone deity. “It was meant for Rakim, correct,” Serch says to DJ Vlad. ” At 1:30, he continues, “So first of all, we were writing the lyrics for Rakim. I got a call from Lyor [Cohen]; he was managing us. He was basically like, ‘Look, Rakim is in a bit of a [rut]—he got a bit of writer’s block. I know you’re cool with Eric B. Could you write some lyrics and maybe get him jump-started?'” Cohen was working at Russell Simmons’ management company, who was also handling the careers of Eric B. & Rakim. The New York City duo had released Paid In Full and was at the time slowly working on 1988’s Follow The Leader.

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“So, Rakim—even to this day—to me, is the greatest MC of all time. Like, period. So, it was a tremendous honor to be asked to write anything for Rakim—to write a word for Rakim, let alone a song. So it was easy for me to get into his mind-frame and think about, okay, how would I want him to [sound] and how do I see him? I saw him in my head with [the Paid In Full Posse members] Supreme and his crew, and them steppin’ to the a.m. I was like, ‘Oh sh*t, yeah, steppin’ to the a.m., that’s dope.” At 2:30, the Far Rockaway, Queens MC spits the song as it was first written for Rakim.

“[The lyrics] were pouring out of me,” he recalls. At the time, Serch had released some solo singles on Idlers Records, including “Hey Boy.” The next day, Serch went to Rush’s Lower Manhattan offices to see Lyor. “We conference in Eric B. Lyor goes, ‘Eric, I got your homeboy Serch on the phone. Serch wrote a song for Rakim. Serch, I’ll turn it over to you.’ I said, ‘Hey Eric, Lyor asked me to write something. I did; it’s called “Steppin’ To The A.M.” I said “Ready in the intro…,” and I hear click, and the dial-tone. Thirty seconds later, the receptionist—our home-girl Denice says, ‘Lyor, Eric B is on line 2. He wants to talk, just to you.'” Serch was asked by the receptionist to wait at the Rush lobby.

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“I’m sitting there six hours. She takes me to [Lyor Cohen’s second-floor office]. Lyor starts screaming on me, ‘Yo, why didn’t you tell me you had beef with Eric B.? Why didn’t you tell me that he can’t stand you?’ I’m like, ‘Yo, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Me and Eric hung out in the Latin Quarter, I got one of the first copies of “Eric B. For President” on white label, that’s my man, we used to drive to Long Island together.’ He’s like, ‘Oh no. Yo, you almost cost me a client. They’re about to quit [Rush Management]. Eric’s furious.’ But all I know from my side is three weeks later, Follow The Leader was done. So I don’t know if I was a motivating factor or not, whatever the case may be.” “Eric B., to this day, hasn’t talked to me. Like, won’t speak to me.”

Serch points out that he does not believe any artist has ever written for Rakim. “Just the thought of writing one word for Rakim [is the] greatest moment of my career. Period. The greatest moment of my career. Just for someone to think that I might be good enough to write the lyric for the greatest MC of all-time…I could’ve been shot in the head the next day, and I would’ve had the greatest career of my life.” Serch also calls Eric B. & Rakim’s “I Ain’t No Joke” the greatest Rap record ever made.

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“Steppin’ To The A.M.” became 3rd Bass’ breakthrough. Notably, some years later, Serch and Rakim shared the mic during a cypher at an episode of Yo! MTV Raps. In the ’90s, following 3rd Bass’ final album, the gold-certified Derelicts Of Dialect, Serch would manage and executive produce Nas, an MC who had spent some time hanging around Eric B. & Rakim, especially the group’s producer, Large Professor.

In 2007, MC Serch released sessions from 1994 as a compilation. On that LP are some previously unreleased mid-’90s 3rd Bass records. As recently as 2013, the New York City trio has performed reunion shows.

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#BonusBeat: 3rd Bass’ “Steppin’ To The A.M.”: