William Michael Griffin Jr. was only 18 years old when he met Eric Barrier and the duo recorded “Eric B. Is President,” the first in a string of landmark recordings in which Griffin, a.k.a. Allah, revolutionized rap lyricism. Eric B. & Rakim made four albums together, including the classic debut Paid in Full, before disbanding the group, and Rakim has continued to burnish his legacy with a solo career.
Rakim expanded hip-hop’s vocabulary and its musical possibilities, with esoteric word choices and nods to the MC’s own intellectual interests and Islamic faith, creative flows and heavy use of enjambment (to say nothing of Eric B.’s pioneering use of James Brown samples). Much of Rakim's reputation stemmed from the authority in his voice, the flawless rhythmic punch of his delivery. But the words he rapped, while often tied to boasts of his prowess, often contained gravitas and wisdom.
In the two decades since parting ways with Eric B., Rakim has continued to record and tour the world as one of the most respected MCs in history. His 1996 solo debut, The 18th Letter, hit No. 4 on the Billboard 200, he scored a worldwide radio smash with his guest verse on the 2002 summer jam “Addictive” by Truth Hurts, and his latest album, 2009’s The Seventh Seal, was critically acclaimed. He continues to rip stages, with memorable performances including a 25th anniversary performance of Paid in Full with the Roots in 2011, and a concert this May at SOB’s in New York that included a surprise appearance from Busta Rhymes.
Rakim is your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper. He made an immediate impact on peers like Big Daddy Kane, making everybody step up their game and usher in the golden era of New York rap. He created a bridge from early lyrical greats like Melle Mel to later legends like Jay Z. Every rapper who tries to combine big ideas with complex flows, from Nas to Kendrick Lamar, bears his unmistakable influence.
This summer, Sprite is unveiling 16 limited edition collectible cans featuring iconic hip-hop lyrics from Drake, the Notorious B.I.G., Nas, and Rakim. While you crack open a cold can of inspiration, here are 16 life lessons that can be found in Rakim’s revered catalog.