I remember the day I was handed a copy of Don’t Sweat The Technique by Eric B & Rakim. I was only 12 years old. An age where puberty is the biggest concern, but mine was, on that day “How quickly can I learn the words to the songs?!” Some jotted down the names of boys they liked in their maths notebooks. I obviously never felt the need to do that, for the obvious reasons. I wrote names of bands I loved and ideas for my own songs. I could recite the words to certain songs immediately but I couldn’t recite you a simple maths equation. Languages had my full attention. Hip Hop was a language at that age that I understood more than anything.
I walked through school playing Don’t Sweat The Technique on my portable tape player. It had a tendency to chew up tapes, so I had to be extra special with this one as it wasn’t mine. I still played it over and over. I was hearing something I hadn’t heard before. It opened up the floodgates to a love for a style of music that, although I may not follow it now- the love will always be there. I cannot connect to the current state of Hip Hop. Anything after 2004 seemed to just be, well, crap really. Something died within it. I’m not sure what.
As much as I probably should write about Eric B & Rakim, I just really want to focus on Rakim. When I was getting into Hip Hop I wasn’t sure what I was going to be steered towards. Was I going to fall for Gangsta rap or was I going to go towards something more laid back? With a love already cemented in the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, it was obvious that the latter was going to be the way I went. I couldn’t (and thankfully so) relate to seeing friends being murdered or thrown in prison. I could relate to disliking the state of the world and where I was living. Hip Hop made me want to change everything, Hip Hop gradually made me feel okay with wanting to want more from life. I think Punk made me go get it. Both are equally as important to me.
Rakim probably has one of the most distinctive and influential voices in Hip Hop. If it wasn’t for him, a lot of the rappers past and present may never have picked up a mic. His laid back approach and his soul-touching lyrics just made him an immediate icon. He had something that no other has ever had. He never sped up, he never resorted to violent lyrics to be respected. He used his intelligence to get his point across. He freed your mind when you listened to him; he made you want to learn more about the world. As thankfully, where you were at the time you first heard him- isn’t the place you will always be. Rakim was influenced by Jazz, which I think really did mold his technique. His voice was a form of guidance. Whether solo or with Eric B; everything he said just made you think.
Rakim has been involved in Hip Hop since he was about 18 years old; he may not be as active as he once was within Hip Hop but he is someone who is continuously referenced. What I loved about Rakim was his way of incorporating religion into his lyrics. I’m not a religious person, but I enjoy hearing people’s stories as to why they believe and what God they believe in. There’s something obviously above us, but I choose something more spiritual. It is important to believe in something, because maybe one day, it might be the only thing you have left. The way he puts his knowledge of Islam into his music is beautiful. He portrays it in the way it truly is- peaceful and kind. It’s a shame those with closed minds cannot see this.
Rakim’s wordplay is something that many have obviously tried to copy, but never quite got there. Don’t mess with perfection is probably the message you can take from that. He never bragged about this and that; he encouraged you to learn. He’s the opposite of everything you hear now. No one else has ever really come close. It is obvious the likes of Talib Kweli, Common and Mos Def have been influenced heavily by them. I guess that’s why I’ll always regard those three as being exceptional in what they do. I think Mos might be the closet to perfecting everything Rakim did. By this I mean, when I listen to Mos I just want to learn something new. I don’t care what; I just want my head to be filled with as much knowledge as possible. I’d rather a rapper list Philosophers that have influenced them than someone reeling off designer brands. That I can relate to. Intelligence will always overrule. Rappers like Rakim will be mentioned in 20 more years from now. No one is going to care about certain rappers that are coming out now. I don’t need to name names.
Many regard Rakim as a teacher; you cannot help but agree with them. He taught many how to pick up a mic and just speak from the heart. To touch on subjects many want to shy away from because it doesn’t bring in money. I’d always choose having a free mind than wanting to have as much money possible. Materialism is something I’ve never got my head around, and probably never ever will, thankfully.
If I never heard Don’t Sweat The Technique I’m not really sure what my relationship with Hip Hop would be like. Rakim is one of the very few rappers who have left a lasting impact not just on Hip Hop, but Music in general. His relaxed approach and thought-provoking lyrics made him more than “just a rapper.” His words connected the listener straight away; within each song there was always something there to relate to. I couldn’t sleep the other night, and BET’s Hip Hop Awards from last year were on, he received the I Am Hip Hop Icon Award. An award he rightfully deserves, but let’s be honest- an award doesn’t sum up just how great he is. His music does that alone. He is New York’s finest. He’s the embodiment of Hip Hop. He is Hip Hop in its truest form. Rakim IS Hip Hop.