Rakim is widely revered as one of the greatest MCs in Hip-Hop history. However, as the lyrical legend continues to speak about his career in a new light, he may also deserve recognition as one of the culture’s great producers.
Earlier this week, Rakim stopped by HOT 97’s Ebro In The Morning to promote his new memoir, Sweat The Technique: Revelations On Creativity From The Lyrical Genius. Per usual, Rakim Allah dropped some gems. He touched on many aspects of his career, including time with Dr. Dre, his famous musical aunt Ruth Brown, and influence from Grandmaster Caz, Melle Mel, and Kool Moe Dee. Perhaps most notably, the Wyandanch, Long Island legend opened about his work behind the production boards.
Around the 28:00 mark, Ebro Darden asks Rakim about how his beat selection process works and how involved was he for every track he every rhymed on. The R states, “[The] Eric B. & Rakim catalog—I may have done 80% of the music myself. [In the] early years, I didn’t know how to sample. Peace to my man Patrick Adams, he was the engineer. He’s a big producer and songwriter, but I would go to the studio with a crate full of records. Pat’ looped the beat [and] put this bassline on it, put these horns on it. Back then, I was grabbing samples from these different records. Luckily, Pat knew how to tune the samples. So if I put a horn on it, he made sure the horn was on key with the baseline. Earlier, I had Patrick Adams on that first album, and he facilitated a lot the music the right way.” Patrick Adams worked on Paid In Full and went on to work on 1988’s Follow The Leader.
The production credits on Eric B. & Rakim albums has been a subject of debate. Producers including Large Professor, 45 King, and the late Paul “C” McKasty are among the names said to be responsible, despite credits reverting to the group. In a recent Breakfast Club interview, Rakim credited Paul C. with teaching him things, and with producing “In The Ghetto.”
While speaking to Stretch Armstrong & Bobbito’s What’s Good last year about Paid in Full, Rakim described his input on the sounds. “At that point, you know, [I was] fresh out the street, fresh out the park, fresh out the basement parties and things of that nature. [In] 1985, I was, you know, considered like, you know, a B-boy MC. I liked rhyming off of break-beats. A lot of the songs that we picked was joints I used to rhyme off in the park. Paid In Full, I used to rhyme off of Dennis Edwards’ [‘Don’t Look Any Further’] all the time.”
At Ebro In The Morning, Rakim credited collaborator Pete Rock for his input on the God MC producing 1992’s “Juice (Know The Ledge).” At 37:00, Rakim recalls how, after viewing the crime-thriller, he was asked to do the title track to match the on-screen action. “I just seen [Juice], and I got the whole idea of what I just seen in my head. Maybe a week before that, I went shopping. I used to do my little record shopping and I would play my joints, listen to them, and then I would take the good ones, and put them at the front of the stack. So I get back to the crib and I know I got that stack waiting. I pulled the record out. First record.” Rakim, an avid Jazz fan since childhood, mimics Nat Adderley’s “Rise, Sally Rise” bassline. “I started looking around the room like, ‘this sh*t is too easy, man.’ [I] took the record off [and] looped the beat up. I had the [Emu Systems] SP12 in the crib, and you only get like 12 seconds [of sample time]. Pete Rock taught me how to manipulate it. Sample fast, and then slow it down. What up, Pete! I ain’t forget, kid,” Rakim salutes.
At 29:00, Rakim tells Ebro In The Morning about that Jazz foundation. He recalls, “My moms and pops would play a lot of Jazz in the crib. I noticed young that Jazz didn’t have to have words on it to give you a feeling. I always knew that music is supposed to feel. So when I was picking records, I would listen.” Rakim describes the different feelings he got from those records. If they were evocative, he’d sample them. “I always like writing to records that attracted me to it right away. Sometimes it wasn’t the popular choice that I guess was the universal sound. [Instead], I would pick abstract beats, [and] that brought ‘the abstract’ Rakim out.”
In addition to rapping and producing, Rakim is a DJ. Back in 2016, Rakim showed off his DJ skills (embedded below) in a video paying homage to Jam Master Jay with DJ Hurricane. He also displayed his other competence at the Rock The Bells festival in 2010 during a few live shows.
#BonusBeat: Rakim DJ’ing: