Rakim Taps DJ Premier And Pharrell For New Album, Says He Doesn’t Speak With Eric B.
On the strength of some genre-defining albums and a flow that birthed a thousand MC's, Rakim has a clear claim to the status of one of hip-hop's leading lights. But over a 25-plus-year career, and with a dwindling output that has seen him drop only three albums in the past decade and a half, there are a lot of unsolved questions and mysteries surrounding the original God MC—after all, what happened to his long-rumored and greatly-hyped album with Dr. Dre and Aftermath Records? What's the status of his legendary relationship with Eric B.? And, of course, the kicker—will Rakim be dropping a followup to 2009's The Seventh Seal, which featured the likes of Maino, Styles P, Jadakiss and Busta Rhymes?
On the eve of the 40th anniversary of DJ Kool Herc's seminal block party in the Bronx—which he spoke about alongside DJ Premier, Big Daddy Kane, and others—Rakim hopped on the phone with XXL to answer all of those questions and more, how he keeps things fresh in 2013, and why he'd like to work with Timbaland and Pharrell. —B.J. Steiner (@doczeus)
On His Recent Projects
"I’m working on an album right now. It feels good. I feel like I had a lot of responsibilities with the last album with everything that was going on and being the album was so late. I still felt like I had that responsibility to let out what was going on the last few years. With The Seventh Seal, it was a conscious album, and the album I’m working on now, I can have fun in the studio and do good hip-hop songs, so I’m kind of having fun with this one. I’m only a few songs deep. I’m reaching out to a bunch of producers. I just got in touch with a lot cats and we trying to get the chemistry together and whip up something nice that's a bit Rakim and that’s somewhat today and again, it’s just some good hip-hop music. We also working on a couple of anniversary albums to put out [some] of the old music that made me who I am today.
"I like to kind of keep it a secret [who I'm working with] because you never know—I might do twenty songs and pick fifteen. At the same time, it’s good that people know what I’m doing. I’m speaking with people like Pharrell. Of course, some of the old cats that I was dealing with on the old records—Premier—and some of the new cats that’s doing they thing. I want to make sure that the album is me, but it has that 2013 - 2017 feel.
"[Who I'd like to work with is] a big list because I never work with a lot of people. I was always by myself in the studio. I did very few collaborations as well. When me and Eric was coming up, it was a different time. Each group kind of did their own production and years later, people started venturing out. There’s a lot of people as far as producers. Timbaland, I always would love to work with him. He’s a real talented cat. There’s a lot of MC's out there that I respect. You never know—you might find a couple of those collabos that I’ve been meaning to do on this album."
On Lyricism In Hip-Hop Today
"Right now, it’s depending on what you listen to. I tell a lot of people that hip-hop seemingly went worldwide 10 years ago, 15 years ago and in every little town that you can probably find, hip-hop is there now. I think it’s young in a lot of places. When we first got into it in the Bronx, it was “a hip, hop, the hippie, the hippie to the hip hip-hop and you don’t stop,” you know what I mean? And I think as time went on New York matured and that raised the bar. But you know, a lot of other cities are just getting it, and they are not gonna be as experienced with it as we are at this point. So they are going to start where we started at—“A hip, hop...” It sounds different because it’s their language, but it’s the same thing. I think it’s young in a lot of places and they are having fun with it.
"I think what makes a great lyricist is somebody that has a good understanding on life and what’s going on. They can play with words. They gotta be a wordsmith. I think what for myself that makes me the MC that I am is that I had a lot of music influence. I didn’t just start rapping. I played a musical instrument. I grew up so in love with music that it wasn’t nothing that I didn’t listen to when I was young. I think just understanding music and rhythms and different styles and learning how to incorporate that within your rhyme—because we’re not singing. There is only so much we can do with words. That’s where the different rhythms and different styles come in. I think incorporating that melodic style in your rhyme—I think that it kind of sticks with people. It makes it where they can see the difference between just somebody that’s rhyming and somebody that’s putting words together and making art with it."
On His Unreleased Project With Dr. Dre
"I think what me and Dre was trying to do...I think it’s evident that we were trying to take his production, which is some of the best production in hip-hop, and try to use my rhymes, which we feel is one of the best styles in hip-hop. and combine them. But I think we never really got on the same page that we needed to be on because we realized how different we are. What he wanted me to do was kinda foreign to what I’ve been doing. It was a little baffling at times wondering why he wanted me to take certain routes on certain records. I think if we would have got it done, what the world would have is just a perfect partnership of beats and rhymes where you hear rhymes implementing off rhythms and seem like beats were made just for me to do what I do. We were trying to get that marriage where we could make it work, but I think the subject matter, we couldn’t get on the same page.
"You know, Dre was a gangster rapper. He wanted me to do gangster-type music, which was Dre’s formula, and it worked for him for many years. I guess he felt like, 'If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.' I think where I came from I was like, 'I’ve been there, done that.' I already was thinking something else as far as making a dope album the way that people like you expect it.
"[I] just [wanted] a dope album where we highlighted artistry and not so much stereotypes of hip-hop. You know what I mean? I don’t feel like I gotta talk about the bad things that happen to me for the album to be a success. How many times I went to jail? That’s not my formula, that’s Dre formula, that’s what he do. In a perfect world, man."
On His Relationship With Eric B.
"[He's] not my enemy but we don’t really speak. I don’t wish him no bad luck, but I don’t call him. Nah, nah, [no new music]. I guess Eric B., with what we went through...I’m a loyal dude, and you know doing certain things, especially when you are breaking bad with people, you gotta keep it 100 with that person. And it was a couple things in business that I felt that he didn’t handle right that left a real bitter taste in my mouth. Instead of lashing back or doing something stupid, you learn to mature or back away from it, but you promise yourself that you never let no B.S. happen again. Or you never let no person like that close to you, again. It’s one of them things. I wish him the best."