Interview: Rakim Talks About The Making of "Follow The Leader"

Interview: Rakim Talks About The Making of "Follow The Leader"

I really think that’s the difference—how much you invest in each song. That’s why I think a lot of people are frustrated with the fact that you never put out more records. But, it seems like that had a lot to do with the fact that you put so much effort into each song.
Word up. I think that too. It got to a point where it seemed like there were always set backs and something going wrong. If it wasn’t me and Eric B., it was the label changing their staff. It seemed like there was always a setback. So after awhile, I just felt that things were taking place the way it was supposed to. 

Did your relationship with music change?
Nah, not at all. That’s something I’m gonna love forever. I grew up around it. I think it was my first love, even before sports, when I was a little baby my mom would play it. That was my first love. Still to this day. It’s crazy, I wish I had more material out there as well, it’s one of the things where as I'm closing up my legacy it’s one of the things I wish I did more of, put more records out. Things happen for a reason and you gotta live with it. 

Tell me about “Lyrics of Fury.” What was in your mind when you came up with that? Did you hear the record first or did you come up with the concept before that?
Yeah I came up with the concept. That was a George Clinton record that my brother Stevie Blast played. He used to play the keyboards on a bunch of my albums. But when I was coming up young, we would share rooms and he would play a lot of George Clinton. I came up on that as well. There was this one song he used to play, which was “No Head, No Backstage Pass.” But the sounds of it, man. I remember after I started rapping, I heard it again one time, but I didn’t have access, and I was just like, “Wow, that would be a crazy sample.” It just sounded so mean, nah mean?

 

You have people coming up in the game that aren’t scared to change it up, like Kendrick Lamar. I love the fact that he’s doing what he’s doing.

 

Finally, I went through my brother’s collection when he came back and left his records there. My mom had this big wall in the basement so he brought everything back and put it on the wall. I found the record and sampled it up and the sound of the record is what made me come up with the concept. It just sounds like one of the meanest samples that I had heard at that point.

Especially when you’re doing an album, you want a couple records on there that you can air out. I always look for one, on the other album it was “The Punisher.” I always have one on there where I can beast out. Let all that aggression out. I never like to point one MC out, but I would just say something and let all of them know, that was my way of doing my thing. 

That’s what made you famous, that "seven MCs in a line" line.
Word up. We used to battle back in the day and it was always you against one. After you win a couple of those, you’re like, “I could take on a crew!” It’s that snowball effect. But I started writing my rhymes like, “I don’t have to concentrate on you. That shit you said in your rhyme was cute but I ain’t even thinking about that. This dude over here, you ain’t even ready yet.” So my thing was that I was just writing rhymes and if somebody feels a certain way about it then good, that’s what I want. 

One of the things that made Bob Marley great was that not only was he an incredible lyricist and performer but he grew up in a moment in Jamaican music where he sampled everything. He was born just at the right time to capture ska and one drop and every time the music changed he was born in the right time. When I look at your career, I think about the fact that you were born at the time where hip-hop was coming up and corporate America hadn’t gotten its grips on it yet, but it was past the basic level of the house parties and park jams.
No rules yet. 

So you were a part of what was creating the next thing. What do you think was particularly special about that time? Is there anything you feel like should be brought back into the music?
I think what was special about that time is what we just mentioned. There was no rules, we were free to express ourselves. I think originality was really big too. Everybody wanted to do their own thing and show what they could bring to the table. So there was a lot of creation going on at that time with the game too. I definitely think it was a good time for me cause I was able to come and express myself on what I wanted to do without no bars or no boundaries. If I wanted to flow for 52 bars, then I flowed for 52 bars. That was that.

I think what was good about that and what I think we should bring back is take some of the cookie cutting out of the game. Everything don’t have to be the same format and when somebody does something different we don’t have to look at it like something else. As long as it’s in that hip-hop vein, we have to understand that the brother wanted to express himself like that.
When I was coming up, there were certain artists that kind of made you cram to understand what they were on. Stevie Wonder, whenever he came out, was totally different from what everyone else was doing. When he came out with “Isn’t She Lovely” and all that, it was so different and profound, it was like, "Yo this don’t sound like what we listen to on the radio everyday at the time!" But it was so musical and talented that it was like, “Wow.” And I think that now some people are scared to step out of that cookie cutter. But, again, you have people coming up in the game that aren’t scared to change it up, like Kendrick Lamar. I love the fact that he’s doing what he’s doing. 

I love that record.
He reminds you of California, but he doesn’t rhyme like nobody from California. He’s not doing the same style. He has his own style, he’s doing different things, and he’s not doing the cookie cutter way you’re supposed to do a song. So hopefully that will change and people will start saying different is good. That brother is different with his stuff but it’s still in the vein of hip-hop. So maybe people will say different is good, people will accept it. People are rhyming different, and bringing a new style. So big up Kendrick. 

I think we can end it like that. But I wanted to thank you for something specificaly, because I remember the last time I interviewed you, the first question I asked you was, "Who is God?" And you'd said that you don’t really do interviews because you say, “Look, understand me on my record.” Then when the record came out, you had a song “Who is God?” And that was one of the illest records I ever heard, particularly because you answered my question so fully.
Thank you, man. It’s hard to do that in an interview. People used to always mix my words up, so a lot of times I didn’t like speaking on complicated conversations. No doubt my brother. 

Thank you for the time and keep doing what you’re doing. You’ve saved a lot of lives, I could tell you that for real.
Thank you, that’s what keeps me going. Hearing the feedback that people appreciate what I do. Thank you too, my brother.

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