Rakim talks about how hip-hop’s past relates to its present

"You gotta understand what it is and you gotta respect the history, as well as the present." - Rakim

Currently, creating music is easier than ever. Artists can find inspiration within seconds once they log onto any social media platform. However, that access can actually dilute the talent that’s out there since so many artists trying so many styles are surely going to tread on each others’ skills. Due to that, a living legend in hip-hop believes the artists of yesteryear deserve more credit that they actually receive.

Rakim spoke to the Breakfast Club about why he respects older MCs from his era over today’s. It isn’t because he’s another grumpy old timer wearing nostalgia glasses; but rather because the effort it took to craft art before modern technology required much more imagination.

You know, a lot of people today they could put on the TV, look at brothers and see, kinda learn, how to rhyme or bite somebody’s style or bite somebody’s concept and now they got it,” said Rakim.

Back then they was creating that from thin air; they wasn’t bitin off nobody. They didn’t know, there was no manual how to do it, there wasn’t nobody teaching em, them brothers crafted and shaped this genre that we got right now from thin air, so I give them the utmost respect.”

Even though his rhymes back in his prime could be considered grimy, the veteran MC acknowledges getting older and the responsibilities that come with that can make a person dissect today’s music a little differently.

I got a daughter and I remember when she was becoming of age, when she could understand and she started to sing along to rap records and things of that nature, I remember driving in the car and a song would come on and I gotta turn it down or turn the station and it was like the same song that I was rockin to yesterday, but my daughter’s sitting here now, so it was one of them things where it started to put things into perspective of how demeaning a lot of our music is,” he said. “Now it’s almost like it’s numbed down to where it’s okay.”

A major part of hip-hop music is the culture that surrounds it. It can usually lead to people pursuing a career in rap based solely on that. For the God MC and his contemporaries, it also served as motivation to do something with their lives and provided a sense of identity for the youth – something that was lacking in New York during the 1970s and 1980s but is present with today’s artists.

I think in the urban communities, at that time, we really had nothing to look up to, nothing to give us a boost; we really had no outlets or anything man,” said Rakim Allah.

Hip-hop came along and, you know, you had people in the street rhyming like they felt good about theyself. They was saying rhymes and biggin theyself up, even biggin they hood up no matter what it looked like. It just gave us a sense of [culture].”

Ultimately, the O.Gs of hip-hop took that sense of belonging and used it to further their movement. It obviously worked, considering hip-hop is currently one of the world’s most popular genres of music. They were able to do this because to Rakim and his peers, hip-hop went further than the music – it became their lifestyle. They were able to apply it to their line of thinking which in turn would help them hone their craft.

Hip-hop back then…nothing in the hood mattered. You wanted to dress hip-hop, you wanted to dance hip-hop, you wanted to talk hip-hop. It just took over and it gave us discipline and it gave us a sense of pride. I know that’s what it did for me,” said the I Ain’t No Joke rapper.

I think that helped me calm down and get to know myself too because…in the beginning I had to learn who I was first before I could relate to somebody and get somebody to agree with something that I was sayin. It took me a while to understand that but once I did, I understood that we was all basically tryna do the same thing don’t matter if it was just, you know, come up, if it was just you tryna survive in the hood or if you’re just tryna make a better way for yourself. It was all basically the same and once I realized that I was able to write a little better.”

Sage wisdom to live by. Hopefully that mentality continues with future generations.

Throughout the discussion with CTG and company, the legendary rapper speaks about his origins as a rapper, his upbringing, staying true to his sound and not conforming to the gangsta style of the 90s/00s, what went wrong with his time at Aftermath, the impact the 5% teachings have had on him, ghostwriting, how he crafts his rhymes, his past beefs, his book and a whole lot more.  The full ~1 hour interview can be viewed below.