Real Rap Stories

S1 E5 | FULL EPISODE

Rakim

Hosted by James Billings, Real Rap Stories is a five part mini-series delving into the origin stories of some of hip-hop's most influential characters. Follow along as these hip-hop pioneers, family and friends discuss how they obtained success in a music genre that was still in its infancy. From the lyricist to the dancer, this series shows how each artist contributed to the hip-hop genre.

AIRED: July 29, 2020 | 0:11:59
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TRANSCRIPT

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What's up, everyone?

And welcome to a brand-new episode of "Real Rap Stories."

I'm your host and hip hop historian,

James "Kraze" Billings.

Now, in 1986, hip hop was transformed

and brought to a whole different level.

The group that did that was Eric B. & Rakim.

Rakim single-handedly took lyricism

to the other side of the map, changing hip hop forever,

cementing his place as one of the best.

Known for songs like "I Ain't No Joke,"

"Paid In Full," and "Check Out My Melody,"

this episode highlights the very career

and contribution of The God MC.

Let's take a look.

We was putting music together with scratches,

a beat machine, keyboard, and the saxophone.

Nobody else was even thinking of nothing like that.

We didn't even have a four-track recorder at the time.

So, one day I brought my turntable over Griff's house,

and this was like, I think, 1978.

I brought my turntable over Griff's house.

I forgot what we was doing,

but I guess I was showing him how to mix,

and we was listening to records.

He had some jazz tunes in the basement.

I remember I saw his brother's Rhodes keyboard, electric piano.

I was amazed at that thing and all of the records

that his mother had in the basement.

And we decided to, you know,

go run to the store to get a beer.

At that time, we was getting quarts of beer

'cause there wasn't no 40 ounces.

It wasn't made yet.

And when we got back, my turntable was spinning,

and I said, "Griff, who was touching my turntable?"

And Griff said, "Nobody, man. Nobody comes down here."

And then we heard some noise, and it was this little dude.

[ Laughs ]

He running up the steps, and Griff chased him.

We was gonna beat him up.

And it was Rakim, his little brother.

Billings: William Griffin Jr.,

also known around his neighborhood as Pop,

but to the world as Rakim,

started his musical quest early.

Coming from a family of musicians,

Rakim's influence was all around him.

Growing up in a East Long Island neighborhood called Wyandanch

is where he got things started.

Before exposing himself to the world as Rakim,

he was down with a crew called the Love Brothers.

That was Rakim at 10 years old messing with my turntable,

which is why today I say my turntable

was the first professional turntable Rakim ever seen,

[clears throat] 'cause he was 10 years old.

Let's face it.

So, time went on, and me and Blass,

or me and Griff,

we started recording these breakbeats.

We had this drum machine, a saxophone,

and somewhere we got a keyboard,

and we was making music

with scratches, beats, sax, and keys.

We was producing music on cassette tapes.

We couldn't get our hands on, like,

a four-track recorder or nothing like that.

All of that stuff was a little too expensive at the time.

We couldn't afford it.

So, you know, we just did our thing.

And there was a couple of other people

that was involved, like Nate Tinsley.

He would come over.

I think he came past my yard when I was out there deejaying,

and he was about 11 years old.

And I had him come in the yard and gave him a drum machine

to get him started on this music quest that we all ended up on.

Billings: How do you know William Griffin,

better known as Rakim?

Poppo Griffin.

Yeah, man, we went to school together from...

I mean, he grew up in Wyandanch, always lived right up the street

one way or the other from my mother,

you know, across over in north side of Wyandanch.

He lived right up the street there.

And then when he moved on to south side,

he lived right up the street from my grandmother,

so it was always a hood thing,

plus, you know, the music.

He was in the hood rapping as Kid Wiz,

Kid Wizard, with the Love Brothers.

When they got with Cool Breeze and the Love Brothers,

it was, like, you know, Cool Breeze had the system.

He had the popularity and the emcees, and it was no...

It was, like, that was a lot to deal with,

and Ra was probably like 13 maybe, barely 14 if that,

and that's where that crew was, like, just...

They took over the whole area.

Billings: After making his name

by being a part of the Love Brothers,

a young Kid Wizard would forge a friendship

with another Long Island emcee by the name of Biz Markie.

It was Rakim, myself, my man Scully,

my man Mike Mitchell,

and Biz met us out there, so, you know, we...

When we got in, it was a different perspective of a party

'cause uptown parties, you know, their parties are --

I won't say liver than ours, but it's a different feel.

So we was all in there, and we in there,

and we chilling, you know, and everything.

You know, Doug E. Fresh goes in there,

and, you know, you got

Rob Base in there before he made records

and had all the uptown cats that was,

you know, that was live -- Emanon, Kid West, you know.

So, you know, these cats we heard about,

but we never seen, so we was, like,

just playing in the cut. So, you know,

we noticed that it was, like, you know, some animosity

between, you know, like, like, like, like...

I wouldn't say animosity, but it was, like, tension

because anytime Biz would come into...

You know, he wants to take it over, so...

But this time, he was just chilling, so we was like,

"Okay. Alright. What's going on here?"

You know, we didn't realize at the time that Rob, like,

actually realized that Doug E. was here,

Biz was here.

So it's, you know, competition there.

So I get up there, and, you know, Barry B.

shoved the headphones in my chest kind of, like,

and I'm like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.

For real? Okay." Now I'm hot now.

I'm ready to cut it up on somebody.

Rob was, like, on some, "Yo, when I, when I...

Yo, when I...yo, let's go."

He jumps on the table,

on a small, little table,

and he goes...

He says one of his intros.

[ Rapping indistinctly ]

♪ Come on, Super B, let's dog the place ♪

♪ Yes, yes, y'all

Boom, I throw that record in, and when he...

All of a sudden,

he did the "seven MCs in a line" line,

and everybody was just stuck on stupid.

It was just like everybody was like,

"Yo, who is this dude?"

Billings: Soon after that uptown Harlem party,

Kid Wizard would take on a new moniker

embracing the Five-Percent Nation

and teachings of Islam

and would change his name to Rakim Allah.

Taking rap more serious, would make a demo.

After the demo was made,

a friend by the name of Alvin Toney

would introduce Rakim to Eric B.

Eric B. would take that very demo

to hip hop producer Marley Marl.

One day, I hear knocks at my window,

or at my door, rather, 'cause I lived --

my bedroom was on the second floor.

I look out my window. It's Rakim.

He's by himself.

I'm like, "What's up?"

And he's like, "Yo, you got to help me, man, Ak.

I got this melody in my head. I got to get it out."

Like, "You know how early it is, man?"

And he was like, "Ak, please,"

and I was like, "Alright."

Came downstairs, had my equipment set up

in the living room at this point, let him in,

and he started humming this melody. [ Laughs ]

Started humming this melody.

He was like, "Can you play that?"

I'm like, "Of course I can play that.

I mean, your brother taught me how to play the keyboard."

So I said, "It goes like this?"

And I played...

[ Vocalizing ]

That's what he was humming. And he was like,

the trick is, once we record the beat and the melody

and get a few minutes of that, we stop it, take the tape out,

put it in another tape player and then go to record that.

Over that, he was putting his rhymes.

And while he was doing the rhymes,

I was doing explosions off of records and scratches,

things of that nature.

Ra was like... We got in a conversation

a few years back, and he was like,

"Yo, remember when we went to the high school

up there in uptown?" I was like, "Yeah, man."

He's like, "Yo, that was... I'll always love Biz

for bringing us out there like that

because that showed me that I had it, that I had...

I was... It gave me so much confidence.

When I came from there, I was a beast,"

because we knew he knew that he could rhyme with anybody.

Then Rakim took one of those tapes,

one of those demos over to Alvin Toney,

who had Eric B. with him, and then Rakim and Eric B. took

one of those demos to Marley Marl.

And I guess they made the melody you hear on the radio

from what me and Rakim made, or me, Rakim, and Blass.

It was really what me and Rakim made with the scratches,

because I noticed that Eric B. copied all of my scratches, too.

Did them a little differently,

but it was pretty much the same elements.

They changed the sound of the melody.

I think I used a horn

and they used a whistle, something like that.

And, you know, basically, Eric B. was,

you know, coming around to all the parties

because he had a pass.

He was rolling with Alvin Toney at the time,

which he was the pass for everybody back then.

And he scouted.

You know, he was scouting all the emcees,

and, you know, they connected, and, yo,

when that record came out, let me tell you something.

Nobody understands the impact of that record

on the music industry, hip-hop-wise.

It was crazy.

It was like Rakim was on the Moon,

and everybody was on the ground.

Rakim is on the Moon looking down

on all the great emcees like,

"Yo, I just eclipsed you with one record."

And that's... It was, like...

Rakim is like the Jimi Hendrix of hip hop,

'cause when you heard Jimi Hendrix

and you was a guitar player,

you didn't want to play it no more.

Billings: Eric B. and Rakim would go on to dominate

the golden era of hip hop,

releasing four albums

and a ton of hit singles.

Rakim has been revered

as one of the most prolific writers in hip hop

and has influenced a generation of emcees.

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