Rakim laid down the law in hip-hop: “No mistakes allowed.” Why shouldn’t the same be true for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Well the voting members made a big mistake when they failed to induct the God MC.

Written by Touré (@Toure)

I'm sad but not surprised that Eric B & Rakim did not get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. I don't know if they'll ever get in, which is a travesty. I'm on the nominating committee and I take my work there seriously. I am one of a few people who love hip-hop and help represent it to the general body and help them understand who they should choose. We're doing the best we can, but you can only lead a horse to water.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame considers groups 25 years after their initial release so we are working our way through the early recorded phase of hip-hop history. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five are in. Run-DMC is in. This year, the Beastie Boys got in. Not in: Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, LL Cool J, and Eric B & Rakim. This is not a good track record or a good omen for the future. (I imagine Public Enemy will have an easy time getting in next year but whither BDP or N.W.A or De La Soul?)

 

The anti-hip-hop bias held by many who are knowledgeable about music is staggering. I think some are unaware of who's who within hip-hop and others are disdainful of hip-hop as an art form. In 2011, this position is disgraceful and intellectually fraudulent.

 

Rakim, to me, is a glaring omission. As most reading this know, you cannot tell the story of hip-hop without Eric B & Rakim. They are seminal. So the story of hip-hop told by the Hall will have a gaping void until that's remedied.

We are told, within Hall business, that "rock and roll" is to be understood as the broadest definition of that term, basically as modern popular music, so hip-hop is unquestionably in the purview. You needn't hold a guitar to get in the Hall, by definition.

In practice things are different: the anti-hip-hop bias held by many who are knowledgeable about music is staggering. I think some are unaware of who's who within hip-hop and others are disdainful of hip-hop as an art form. In 2011, this position is disgraceful and intellectually fraudulent.

I have asked more than 100 rappers over the years who's the best MC of all time? Rakim's name comes up far more often than anyone else's. (Tupac, Big, and Jay-Z are also mentioned quite a bit and sometimes Andre 3000, but no one nearly as often as Rakim.) The MCs understand that Rakim is a crucial figure in the history of hip-hop, one who advanced the art form further than any one else after him.

In a way all MCs are descendants of Rakim. His tonal innovation is critical: before him MCs tended to yell or shout or use their vocal chords in a relatively harsh way. Rakim ended that as a necessity by introducing the talking style of MCing that was not harsh on the vocal chords.

 

Rakim was relentless in giving us multi-syllabism (rhyming three and four syllable words) as well as internal rhymes. These innovations have been subsumed into the culture as normal, in the way Marlon Brando's acting innovations have been universally adopted.

 

Rakim told me that he got great resistance to that style when he first began working with producers but he persisted because that's the style he felt was right for him. He also insisted upon a more densely philosophical approach to lyricism than ever before seen. And he greatly expanded the complexity of the specific act of rhyming.

Rakim was relentless in giving us multi-syllabism (rhyming three and four syllable words) as well as internal rhymes. These innovations have been subsumed into the culture as normal, in the way Marlon Brando's acting innovations have been universally adopted.

Rakim is a massive figure in the history of hip-hop, which we could delineate as BR (Before Rakim) and AR (After Rakim). He's also an MC whose music remains viable and influential. His exclusion from the Hall of Fame says much more about the Hall's inability to evaluate hip-hop than it does about Rakim because there is no metric by which one could argue that he and Eric B. should not be in.

The Rock Hall is not yet as important in music as the sports halls of fame are in their worlds, but it does matter at some level. But if the Hall is to become that important then its decisions must be seen as just and as recognizing the history of music properly. Rakim's legend status became unimpeachable the day he nominated his DJ for President. The Hall speaks poorly of itself by not embracing Eric B & Rakim.