Hip hop and fishing: Not the most ordinary analogy partners, certainly. But, today, Rakim--who has been dipping big in the hip-hop stream since his 1987 debut, Paid In Full--wants to talk bait, tackle and technique: "I know I can't save the world," he says from a tour stop in Austin. "But I think I can teach people how to fish."
Rakim, after all, believes it's as much about technique as it is choosing the right lures. He's picked wisely, too: Rakim has three gold records and several of his singles, from "Eric B Is President" to "Microphone Fiend," changed hip hop with their free flow and dynamic lyrics. But now, The God MC says his fellow rappers should think a bit more before they spit.
Rakim points to the 1996 and 1997 deaths of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls--as well as recent hip-hop losses, from the death of Busta Rhymes' bodyguard Israel Ramirez and the murder of D-12's Proof--as signs that fellow anglers should be reading the waters more carefully: "We need to respect our music a little more and know that it's art. And know if somebody say that they Superman, for the person who's listening, not to take it so personal."
As too many self-proclaimed men-of-steel MCs have found out too late, bullets don't bounce from a Superman persona. When rappers call gangsta status, Rakim says, they throw down a challenge, and some listeners are willing to test the assertion. He doesn't think it has to be that way: "Hopefully, man, we can get enough rappers to have some conscientious lyrics and enough people to start listening to 'em to know that there is a change, or they can make a choice."
Rakim hopes his long-awaited The Seventh Seal is a step in that direction. Based on Revelations and complete with a long-rumored NAS collaboration, the record is meant as a wake-up call for hip hop. He plans to release two singles before the album lands in January. Some fans may be disappointed with the absence of former partner Eric B. Rakim now runs with DJ Kid Capri: "Kid is like a DJ's DJ. He got the voice, he got the whole package."
To ensure that hip hop gets a new crop of MCs who meet his high standards, Rakim--who runs the RA Records label--held open auditions for openers for selected dates on his current tour. "Hopefully, I can find somebody for my label, and present 'em to the world," he says.
One style you won't find wading his label's waters, though, is gangsta rap. "A lot of the young artists tryin' to get a deal don't have no choice but to go up there and give the label what they want, the gangsta music," Rakim says. "It's not like they letting artists be artists and original and individual artists. Everybody gotta be doing basically the same thing."
But Rakim thinks that, with his line still well in the water, there is hope. "We just at a point where the tables are turning as far as the sound of hip hop, and the majority rules right now," he says. "Everybody do what they do, and I think we'll be all right."
Rakim plays the Cat's Cradle Wednesday, Sept. 27 at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $25. Brother Ali opens.