Rakim’s melody


One of my recent books was Sweat the Technique by Rakim. Reading it prompted me to go back to the “quartet of classics” by Eric B and Rakim (they released four albums together before breaking up). Aside from the occasional track, I never really gave these albums a proper listen, my hip-hop addiction starting just a few years after they disbanded. This book changed all that and all I can say now is that I get what all the fuss is about.

I’ve read or heard plenty of people say that Rakim was the “God MC” and the blueprint for rappers that followed him but I didn’t really get it until I finally heard his lyrics.

The other thing that blew me away is that in the early days Rakim did a lot of his own beats as well as the lyrics. Eric B did some but also a lot of times just did the scratching and they got some beats from others but to a large extent it was Rakim. That’s amazing.

I can feel the influence of Follow The Leader in so many of my favorite MCs and producers.

The samples for the beat on Mahogony are just so good.

One of many stories that stand out in the book is where Rakim describes making the song My Melody on their first album Paid In Full. The thing about Rakim was that he had a really calm, laid-back delivery that was really different from other rappers at the time.

“Years before […] I would rhyme all amped up because that got me heard in that loud outdoor environment. Plus, that was the way most people did it in the early days. That was the style of Run-DMC and LL Cool J. They kinda shouted on the mic as if they giving a pep talk to a football team before the Super Bowl. It sounded forceful and tough. I respected those MCs, but I didn’t want to sound like that. I wanted to be more thought-provoking, and if people were going to really hear my ideas and the intricacies of my rhymes, it was better to have a calmer delivery. I had to yell in the park, but when I went into the basement studios, I saw that I could rhyme without yelling”

The problem was, this wasn’t what people were expecting, especially the pioneering generation of hip-hop that was helping Rakim (a teenager in high school at the time) get started. His delivery was too different, too calm.

“”I like the lines, but try to put more energy into it.” After the fourth take, he said, “Maybe if you stand up it’ll have a little more energy.

He was starting to annoy me. I said, “Yo, I could stand, I could sit, it don’t matter. It’s gonna sound the same.”

“I put a good deal of effort into intentionally changing my delivery, and over time I taught myself how to remain calm while I rhymed. With that, I sounded like no one else and I loved that. So when Marley asked me to do it with more energy, he didn’t know that he was side stepping into a journey I’d been on for a while. I knew the sort of MC I wanted to be, and I wasn’t going to let anyone, not even the great Marley Marl, change me.”

Rakim came from a musical family and learned music-making at a young age, so you might say that he kind of knew he was on the right track, but still, his journey to becoming the ultimate MC and love he shows for his craft are beyond impressive.

The book opened a door for me I hadn’t seen before.

Respect, Rakim.

Comments welcome!

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