Rakim has long been touted as one of the most influential MCs of all time. But even with all the accolades, the New York rapper hasn't forgotten his humble beginnings.
On his third solo album-and first effort in nearly a decade-"The Seventh Seal," due Nov. 17 on his own Ra Records, Rakim says he hopes to "put some love back in New York."
"The majority of this album has that melodic New York sound-I just tried to make it a good, all-around New York album," he says. "That's why I did songs like 'Euphoria,' with [New York rappers] Jadakiss, Busta Rhymes and Styles P-I wanted to make sure our presence was felt."
1. You're about to release your first album in almost a decade. Why did you choose the track "Walk These Streets," featuring newcomer Maino, to reintroduce yourself?
Maino is an artist that I feel walks what he talks-you can tell what he raps about and what he's been through is very similar. You've got a lot of rappers that rap about what they've heard or seen, but I think Maino is one of the rappers that has actually lived it. He has credibility. And that's one of the things I wanted to point out with this album: There's nothing fake on this album. I wanted to make a real album and at the same time show some love to the people I got respect for and vice versa.
2. Which rappers are authentic and excellent right now?
3. Speaking of New York, what do you think of critics claiming the Big Apple isn't holding its weight in terms of the genre these days?
New York is kind of all over the place with its sound right now. Overall, I think the substance of hip-hop is a little shallow and I think listeners and consumers realize that. We need to get back to a little more consciousness-to the essence of hip-hop, not just partying and negativity.
4. What's to blame for the current state of hip-hop?
Radio plays a big part. Before, labels were able to predict what would be a hit or not, but these days, radio has so much control and power that labels sign acts based on what radio will play. It's unfortunate because a lot of it is politics instead of talent. Everyone is trying to make money, and the genre is being manipulated by money. You have a lot of material out there, especially from New York, that should be getting airplay, but then you have powers that be that push that to the side. If your label puts a lot of money behind your project, then you'll hear your music on the radio. Otherwise, it's a struggle.
5. You signed your last deal in 2000 with Dr. Dre's Aftermath label. Why did you decide to walk away from it three years later?
One of the main reasons why it didn't work out for me and Aftermath is because I felt my music should sound one way and they felt it should sound another. But, I learned a lot from watching Dre, and when I left California, I knew it was time for me to get my own label. I was fortunate enough to team up with Montana and Tuscan Villa for distribution and to be able to drop my album myself.
6. You released your first album, "Paid in Full," in 1987 with your former partner Eric B. Considering your long career, do you feel you get your due?
I feel like I deserve a little more credit. There are certain things that I wish people knew-certain things that I feel I started and certain things that I'm responsible for. Sometimes you wish people knew where a certain style of rapping came from or who was the first one to say whatever. That isn't always the case, though. Hopefully, I can get back to where I start setting trends again. Even more, I hope I make that happen with this album.