“Changing the game” is an expression used to describe exceptional individuals who have transformed and elevated their particular field or occupation.
Hip hop great and rapper Rakim (William Griffin Jr.) is a game changer in rap music. Known as one of greatest MCs of all time, he pioneered the complex lyrical rhyme pattern that transformed rap music in the 1980s.
Rakim’s slow “flow” (rap style), clever wordplay and metaphors were a shift from the more simple commercial rhyme patterns of Run- DMC or LL Cool J at the time. His lyrical imagery and unpredictable off-the-beat multisyllabic rhymes had other rappers and listeners calling this new style “flow.”
Rakim formed the Eric B. & Rakim duo with producer DJ Eric B. The pair’s first album Paid in Full was named MTV’s greatest hip hop album of all time. The album produced six classic singles: Eric B. Is President, I Ain’t No Joke, I Know You Got Soul, Move the Crowd, My Melody and Paid in Full. The album shot up the billboard charts.
“I ain’t no joke, I used to let the mic smoke and slam it when I’m done and make sure it’s broke,” Rakim rapped on I Ain’t No Joke.
On Move the Crowd, he spitted, “how can I move the crowd first off there no mistakes allowed.” You Got Soul also had heads bouncing: “You know I got soul that’s why I came to teach those who can’t say my name.” The album went gold and certified platinum in 1997. Rolling Stone listed the album #227 on its “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.” Time magazine dubbed the album among the 18 albums of the 1980s that were included in its “All-TIME 100” albums.
Follow the Leader was the duo’s second album. Rakim delivered lyrical fire with tracks such as Microphone Fiend, No Competition and Lyrics of Fury. “I was a fiend before I become a teen … like a gremlin feed me hip hop and I start trembling,” Rakim would spit on Microphone Fiend.
The album was groundbreaking for its broader musical sound. At the time, most rap artists were heavily sampling James Brown music. The album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
In 1990, the duo released their third album, Let the Rhythm Hit’Em. In this album, Rakim’s lyrics touch on more serious subject matter. Musically, the production ranges from soulful to hard-edged. In the Ghetto and Mahogany are songs that deal with the Black social experience and Black love. The album received The Source magazine “five-mic” rating, a rarity few albums have received.
In 1992, the pair released Don’t Sweat the Technique, their fourth and final album together. The single, Know the Ledge was featured on the film Juice, starring Tupac Shakur. Eric B. refused to sign the record label release contract for the song, which led to a long court battle between the two musicians, according to Wikipedia. The two ended their partnership after that.
In 1996, Rakim dropped his solo album The 18th Letter, still displaying his spiritual and lyrical diversity. The album debuted #4 on Billboard 200 and was certified gold. Next, he released The Master to rave reviews, but it sold poorly.
This left the God MC, as he was known, searching for a record label. In 2000, he was signed to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment. But due to creative differences he left Aftermath. Later, some said that Dr. Dre wanted Rakim to write about killing people, while Rakim wanted to write about resurrecting someone.
This issue could have some truth to it. Rakim’s music showcased lyrical superiority over other rappers, as well as his Islamic faith, not the promotion of guns and drugs. Rakim was introduced to the Nation of Islam as a young adult and later joined The Nation of Gods and Earths (also known as the 5 Percent Nation). This is where he chose the name Rakim Allah, shortened to Rakim.
In 2009 he released The Seventh Seal using some tracks he made with Dr. Dre. Holy Are You and Walk These Streets were songs that allowed him to get back to his spiritual roots. The Seventh Seal title was a reference to the Bible and the coming Apocalypse.
“When you look at hip hop, I want to do that: to spit fire and take our best from the ashes to build our kingdom,” Rakim said in an interview with Billboard. “To recognize all the regional styles, conscious lyrics, the tracks, underground, mainstream, the way we treat each other.
“Lose the garbage and rebuild our scene,” he added.
While rap music today is shifting back to simplistic rhyme patterns in sing-song auto-tunes, Rakim unleashed a whole generation of lyricists that followed in his footsteps including the Wu- Tang Clan, Tupac, Nas, Jay-Z, Eminem and a host of others.
His music reflects the unthinkable in rap music: not once did he cuss or use the N-word— imagine that. That’s why they call him the God MC.