One of your favorite rapper’s favorite rappers is Rakim. If it isn’t, then get a new favorite rapper.
The hip-hop innovator is now 28 years removed from his first big single as the emcee half of Eric B. and Rakim, and yet his name is still mentioned as one of the greatest ever on the microphone.
Everyone from Jay Z to Nas to 50 Cent has been said to have been influenced by Rakim, but he’s still in the studio today, working on a new album, rethinking that “master plan” that kicked off “Paid in Full.”
amNewYork caught up with the Long Island native as he prepared for the Masters of Ceremony show at Radio City Music Hall.
A few years back, you recorded a song with Nas, Kanye West and KRS-One called “Classic (Better Than I’ve Ever Been).” What makes an emcee “classic”?
What I try to do is deal with the past, the present and the future. I want to capture the moment, but in a way that years later it can take people back to a certain time. If you stay true to yourself and know who you are and what you do, that makes an artist classic.
Hip-hop has grown so much since you started, and what is considered hip-hop has expanded similarly. What are you thinking when you hear all the ways that the original art form has changed?
This was what we wanted from the beginning. We wanted rap to be huge, in every household and in every conversation. I have to accept that as it’s grown as a genre, it now has many different styles, just like R&B did. It’s good for it to grow. It would have been good if it could have stayed underground and grown to be as lucrative as it is now, but I don’t know that it could have done that. ? [Now] you can watch TV and cereal commercials are full of hip-hop. When I saw the Kool-Aid man come in with a fat gold chain, that did it for me.
What is it that keeps you going?
Love from the fans and my love for hip-hop. As soon as I feel like I might want to do something else, I’ll do a show or meet a fan, and that’ll remind me that this is where I want to be.