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Rap Biographies: Rakim

Rakim (full name Rakim Allah, born William Michael Griffin on January 28, 1968 in Wyandanch, Long Island, New York) is an African-American rapper. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential rappers in hip hop history, and as having revolutionized hip hop lyricism with his complex flow, elaborate metaphors and rapid delivery. The nephew of R&B star Ruth Brown, Rakim became involved in the New York hip hop scene at a young age. He joined the Nation of Gods and Earths, taking the name Rakim Allah, in 1984.

Griffin was surrounded by music from day one, and was interested in rap almost from its inception. At age 16, he converted to Islam, adopting the Muslim name Rakim Allah. In 1985, he met Queens DJ Eric B., whose intricately constructed soundscapes made an excellent match for Rakim's more cerebral presence on the mic. With the release of their debut single, "Eric B. Is President," in 1986, Eric B. & Rakim became a sensation in the hip-hop community, and their reputation kept growing as they issued classic tracks.

In 1985 he met the Queens-based DJ Eric B, with whom he soon formed a musical partnership. Eric B. and Rakim subsequently became one of the most well-known and influential groups to emerge from hip hop's so-called "golden age" of approximately 1987-1992, with many of their tracks becoming hip hop classics, including "Follow The Leader", "Paid In Full", "Eric B Is President" and "Microphone Fiend." Prior to Rakim's arrival on the scene, hip hop rhyming had still had strong ties to rapping's roots in improvisatory toasting, being in very regular meter and rhyme scheme (Run DMC, Kurtis Blow, etc), with simple lyrics and a steady and heavily prounounced rhythm. Rakim, however, introduced the idea of a rapid, continuous, free-rhythmic flow, based around multisyllabic and internal rhymes; a flow he says he tried to model after the saxophone's instrumentation in a jazz song. The All Music Guide's Steve Huey wrote in the early 2000s that "Rakim's flow is smooth and liquid, inflected with jazz rhythms and carried off with an effortless cool that makes it sound as though he's not even breaking a sweat. He raised the bar for MC technique higher than it had ever been." Rakim's use of metaphor and elaborate phrasing (in contrast to previous hip hop's relatively simple lyricism) was also heavily influential, with Pitchfork Media critic Jess Harvell writing in 2005 that "Rakim's innovation was applying a patina of intellectual detachment to rap's most sacred cause: talking shit about how you're a better rapper than everyone else. He was the supreme exponent of rapping-about-rapping."

Eric B. & Rakim broke up in 1992 after releasing four albums. Due to legal wrangling over royalties and his contracts with both his record label and with Eric B, Rakim did not release a solo album for another five years. He returned in 1997 with The 18th Letter, which included collaborations with DJ Premier and Pete Rock; released in two versions, one of which included an Eric B. & Rakim greatest hits disc titled The Book of Life, the album was fairly well-received critically and was certified gold. In 1999, Rakim released The Master, which was considerably less successful than its predecessor, failing to crack the Top 50 on Billboard's album chart and receiving mixed reviews.

Rakim was signed to Dr. Dre's Aftermath Entertainment record label in the early 2000s, for work on an album tentatively titled Oh My God. The album underwent numerous changes in artistic direction and personnel and was delayed several times. While working on the album, Rakim made guest appearances on numerous Aftermath projects, including the hit single "Addictive" by Truth Hurts, the Dr. Dre-produced "The Watcher Part 2" by Jay-Z, and Eminem's 8 Mile soundtrack. However Rakim left the label in 2003 and Oh My God was indefinitely shelved, a result of creative differences with Dre.

On April 27, 2004, Rakim was arrested regarding an outstanding paternity matter from 2001. The rapper said he was unaware of the warrant, but he agreed to pay $2,000 in child support for his 14 year old son. He was released the next day but due to the warrant, that night's performance opening for Ghostface of the Wu-Tang Clan at the Roseland Ballroom was canceled.

Rakim claimed to be working on a new album in 2004 but as of 2006, it has not been released. Recent rumors have claimed that he is planning to sign to Talib Kweli's label, fueled by their collaboration on the track "Getting Up Anthem Part 1". While nothing came of the rumors, Ra has stated he is still considering the label as distribution.

In a concert in 2006, Rakim claimed again to be currently working on a new album, scheduled to be released in the spring and provisionally titled The Seventh Seal. The album will be released on Rakim's independent label Ra Records, for which he is also currently scouting other artists.

Apart from possibly Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., no other rapper has such a large personal legacy in hip hop music as Rakim. As music journalist has observed, many recent rappers (both underground and mainstream) acknowledge a huge debt to Rakim's innovative style; some of his more prominent fans include Saul Williams and Nas, who dedicated a song to Rakim, "U.B.R. (Unauthorized Biography of Rakim)", on his album, Street's Disciple. Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Will Smith, Lil Wayne and Eminem have all also acknowledged a great deal of respect and admiration for his work.

His lyrics have been interpolated or parodied by other rappers on numerous occasions, including by Eminem ("I'm Back", "The Way I Am"), Method Man ("Fuck Them", "N 2 Gether Now"), Kool G. Rap ("Where You're At"), Canibus ("2000 B.C."), Mos Def ("Love"), Lil Wayne ("I'm A Dboy") and Timbaland ("Try Again"). Rakim also made cameos in the Juelz Santana video "Mic Check" and the Timbaland & Magoo video "Cop That Disc". Rakim was named the number 4 greatest hip hop MC of all time by MTV. Eric B. and Rakim's classic album Paid in Full (album) was named the greatest hip hop album of all time by MTV.

Although he never became a household name, Rakim is near-universally acknowledged as one of the greatest MCs - perhaps the greatest - of all time within the hip-hop community. It isn't necessarily the substance of what he says that's helped him win numerous polls among rap fans in the know; the majority of his lyrics concern his own skills and his Islamic faith. But in terms of how he says it, Rakim is virtually unparalleled. His flow is smooth and liquid, inflected with jazz rhythms and carried off with an effortless cool that makes it sound as though he's not even breaking a sweat. He raised the bar for MC technique higher than it had ever been, helping to pioneer the use of internal rhymes - i.e., rhymes that occurred in the middle of lines, rather than just at the end. Where many MCs of the time developed their technique through improvisational battles, Rakim was among the first to demonstrate the possibilities of sitting down and writing intricately crafted lyrics packed with clever word choices and metaphors (of course, he also had the delivery to articulate them). Even after his innovations were worshipfully absorbed and expanded upon by countless MCs who followed, Rakim's early work still sounds startlingly fresh, and his comeback recordings (beginning in the late '90s) only added to his legend.
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