At 49 years old, William Michael Griffin, better known as Rakim, still remains the quietest person in the room. After obliterating what was left of the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival stage this past Saturday (July 17), the “God MC” graciously thanked everyone on his tour bus for allowing him back to his safe haven: the stage.
For over 30 years, Rakim has been lauded as hip-hop’s premier MC because of his flawless execution on the mic, deemed by his peers as hip-hop’s prototype. He exuded every attribute needed to eviscerate his opponent in the booth. Swagger, wit and delivery were the ingredients needed for him and Eric B. to whip up their magnum opus Paid in Full in 1987. Earlier this month, Rakim and Eric B., took center stage at New York’s Apollo Theater to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their classic album.
As his devotees showered him with adoration during their comeback show, he humbly absorbed every drop and used it as motivation the following week at Brooklyn’s Hip-Hop Festival. For Rakim, the fans’ love was exactly the remedy needed to restore his faith back in the culture that he helped built.
In an exclusive interview with Billboard, the “God MC” talks about his forthcoming comeback album, celebrating three decades of Paid in Full, and why JAY-Z is an inspiration to him.
What was it like for you to perform alongside Eric B. for the 30th anniversary of Paid in Full earlier this month?
Yo man. The Apollo. 30th Anniversary. Eric B. and Rakim. You know, I’ve been performing and doing things for a long time, man, but to be in the building and have all my peers that I love and respect come through and show me and Eric B. love was amazing. You can’t really explain it, but the energy was definitely in the building and I felt the love. I definitely appreciate it. I salute everybody that came down to help celebrate it. As far as the fans and my peers that came down to perform, I love y’all man. Thank you.
Let’s stretch back and talk about your favorite studio session from your album Paid in Full.
Oh wow. I think “Lyrics of Fury.” The way that record materialized, man, it was real. I guess for myself, I also learned [a lot] writing that song. I was young in the lab at the time. I was 17, 18 years old and you know, I learned how to work in the studio. Everything I did on the Paid in Full album and those first three albums, I wrote everything right in the studio. But doing that song, it taught me to reach outside the box and don’t hold back from music in that nature.
What were your thoughts on JAY-Z’s 4:44 album?
I didn’t get a chance to hear the whole album yet. I heard a couple of songs, but you know, I remember JAY when he first started up until this day. I’m a fan of JAY-Z, from the negotiating table to the booth. I like what he’s doing and I like how he’s trying to grow with it inside. He’s trying to push the envelope. At this point, he inspires me to do what I do again — whether it’s business, or the mic, too. The joints that I heard, I love what JAY do.
I can’t front. That’s my dude. Big up JAY. Keep rocking and do your thing.
Your last album was in 2009 with The Seventh Seal, but after being able to get on stage at The Apollo and then rock out with the crowd for the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, does it give you that itch to return back into music?
Oh, I got to, man. I have to.
Are you talking about another album?
Yeah, I have to, man. I’m trying to get the chemistry together now. I’m reaching out to a few producers, and you know, I got some people on this album that wanna sponsor it. So I’m looking forward to it, man.
And you’re right, when you go to these shows and these places and you get that energy and love back from the crowd, don’t nothing match it. It definitely makes you wanna create. It makes you wanna get back into the saddle and do what you do. It’s a blessing, man. I count them every night. I love what I do. I’m still humble. I’ve been around for 30-something years. It’s definitely a blessing to get this love and be able to do what I do, man.
How many tracks have you been able to lay down so far in the studio?
Well, you know, I always lay tracks down. I got a little joint in my crib where I can [record]. But I got a couple joints and I’m just waiting to get the chemistry of the brothers going. Usually, I’ll do 25 [tracks] to get to 15 or 17. I’m just ready to get back into the studio and have some fun.
Are you going to try to get any features?
We got some special things going on. Like, I’m definitely doing one with the majority being myself. Being in the game this long, like with what we did at the Apollo, you realize that you get a lot of love, man. So I wanna make sure that I’m able to use some of that and be able to make some music with some of my peers that I love and respect.
A lot of people would love to see you and Kendrick Lamar do a track together.
It’s a blessing to be around this long and I’m still mentioned with everybody’s favorites. It’s a hell of feeling, man. [Laughs.] I just appreciate the love that I get and support from hip-hop. I’m gonna stay focused and do what I do. Hopefully, within the next couple of years, I can do some good things to help finish the legacy off right.