The silent rapper

What the hell has Rakim been up to?
By BEN WESTHOFF  |  July 21, 2008

“I can’t watch a video, can’t hear a record, can’t do nothing without thinking about spitting 16.”

One of the most influential hip-hop MCs of all time, Rakim brought rap from its sing-songy beginnings into its late-’80s golden era with his dense lyrics and virtuoso internal rhyme structures. Together with DJ and producer partner Eric B., he fashioned classic albums like Paid in Full and Follow the Leader. But hasn’t released an album of new material since 1999. Although in the early part of this decade he worked extensively with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label, the pair split over creative differences, and nothing has come of the collaboration aside from one-off guest appearances. We spoke about his work on his long-awaited third solo album, The Seventh Seal, his relationship with Eric B., and his fears of becoming a hip-hop nostalgia act.

How close are you to finishing The Seventh Seal?
A little more than halfway done. We got a couple collabs we want to get done, and there’s a couple producers who we’re trying to wait for their schedules to clear up.

Will it include any of the Dre beats?
No. The Aftermath material is mostly about six, seven years old, and a lot of that has already been leaked out on the Internet. So everything is from that point on. The Seventh Seal is all new material I’ve been working on. Everything is top secret.

What do you say to fans who’re upset about the long wait?
It got to a point where I had to get my business situated before anything else. Once everything pops off and they see how big my label [Raw Records] is, they’ll see why it took so long. Then I can put out the album that I know they want me to. Right now, the major focus is The Seventh Seal, but I don’t want anything I do that feels valuable to not get heard. So because I have my own label, if I want to put out a mixtape, I can do it and benefit from it.

You haven’t traditionally played a lot of shows. Have you begun to change your philosophy on that?
No doubt. Especially after we drop this album, I want to take it to the next level. Bigger buildings, a bigger stage production. But what can I say? I’m a modest cat, man, and I don’t like to wear out my welcome mat. I feel like me doing shows with new material is important. I don’t like the people to feel cheated, and at the same time I don’t really consider myself an old-school artist. So for me to go out continuously and perform without new material, I would fall into the old-school category.

What current younger artists do you think owe you a debt?
I look at the game overall, and some things I like and some things I don’t, as with anything. You’ve got rappers taking it to another level as far as the economics is concerned, and keeping the music alive. The Dirty South, they’ve been playing a big part in keeping rap alive. I try not to get caught up with what I feel artists have learned from me. Because after a while you start looking to see who you influenced, or see if they use one of your styles, or see if they use your cadence. You know what I mean? After a while, you start looking at every artist as if they’re your kids, and I don’t like doing that. Those that admit that I influenced them is a better vibe to me. It’s a better blessing than me assuming I influenced them.

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