Make ‘em clap to this! The god MC himself, Rakim, is here on WCS to take part in our HipHop50 interview series. Our own Todd “DG” Davis once again delivers big time! Read below!
First things first, this year (August 11th) marked the 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop — What exactly does that mean to and for you?
It’s a complete trip and I’m enjoying every moment of it. You have this thing that started real local up in the Bronx when I was just a kid. By the time I hit my early teens, it was all anyone was talking about across the city and out in Long Island where I grew up. Flash to today, and it’s global dominance. The culture permeates every walk of life worldwide. I’m not saying the originators didn’t have a far reaching vision…but who could have expected this.
To quote the late, great The Notorious B.I.G., “You never thought that Hip Hop would take it this far!” — Was this something that you ever could’ve imagined?
I don’t think I had limits on what Hip Hop could be, but when I started I never thought it was my career. I still count blessings everyday that we’ve gotten to the place we are.
What are some of your fondest, most stand-out moments / memories from your lengthy tenure in this thing called Hip Hop?
There’s too may to choose from. Doing my first Arena tour with L when I was a teen and coming full circle back out with him this year is a moment. Getting in the studio with everyone from Pat Adams to Pete Rock and Large Pro or Swizz to Dre to Jazzy Jeff. Speaking at Harvard with Dr. West …But it’s probably the one-on-ones with the fans that stand out or in DC to the Congress. …But those moments stop me dead cold are when someone comes up and shares how you touched their life. That’s what keeps me going.
That said, what are your future plans and / or goals throughout the remainder of 2023, going right into ‘24?
We got some nice ways to roll through the rest of the Anniversary year. There’s some more shows and some more specials, but if it was one thing. …Our friends Ben and Feicia Horowitz have started a non-profit and are working with Quincy Jones, Nas, Steve Stoute and others to get it launched in November. The goal is to directly provide some financial stability to some of the pioneers who may not have shared fully in windfall that came from what they created. They wanted to call it The Paid In Full Foundation, so they reached out to ask me to participate. I think it’s going to have a big impact in years to come.
Switching gears here, what exactly do you want people to get from your music?
I want them to see boundaries can be pushed. I want them to go back and listen to the lyrics again and again. I want them to get inspired to walk their own path and never follow because if I hadn’t walked mine, we wouldn’t be doing this interview.
On a more serious note, are you happy with the current state of Hip Hop?
There’s things we need to work on. We always need more conscious lyricism. We always need to expand and elevate what we do in the studio and on the stage. But one of my big issues with Hip Hop got pushed to the side this year. For the first time, I can remember the whole culture is really giving the accolades to the originators. Up to now, I think we were the only music genre where the new generations paid no mind to the elders. I truly believe the Anniversary changed that. I hope it’s not just a moment.
What do you feel has and will continue to be the key to your longevity?
I just stick to my purpose and stay on my path. I’m not chasing a trend. When we put out those first albums, I was focused on being me and being original. I was focused on spreading a conscious message, most innovative way I could think up. If I can keep that, keep my underground roots, then hopefully people will always say better or worse I was authentic.
Do you have any other outside / additional (future) aspirations, maybe even completely away from entertainment?
HA! That’s a broad question. In entertainment, I definitely want to look at scoring films. To this point, I’ve mostly contributed tracks but with I started my life training classical and jazz compositions…and I think I could bring that with a Hip Hop essence to the screen. Bigger picture, it’s just about creating innovative content in all forms for the ever expanding distribution platforms. Outside of entertainment, I’m working toward bringing financial literacy programs to our community and culture. It’s early in the works, but we have made some inroads with big partners and continue to figure out how I can create the best impact.
What’s an average day like for you?
This year’s been non-stop Touring, but when I’m home it’s family life first. My brothers and sisters, my kids and my grandkids…they all live close by, so the mornings begin together. I might go out and cut the grass a little later and then I hit the studio I built in a barn on the property. Even if I’m not in the booth, it’s my place to write and reflect.
Please discuss how you interact with and respond to fans…
I try to give my fans as much love as possible when we see each other in person. I’m not heavy on the social media, but I’ll always stop and hear someone’s story, take a picture or sign an autograph. The stories people share are really the fuel that keeps me going. …Could be the boost I need to hit the stage or the inspiration to hit the booth. A lot of my motivation comes straight from their energy.
What is your favorite part about this line of work? Your least favorite? And, why?
I love to rhyme and I love to perform…and people seem to love it when I do. And then, I get paid enough to provide for the ones I love. …What’s not to be happy about?
What advice would you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
You can follow my advice but not my footsteps. The most important thing you can do is stay true to yourself. And that’s not just for hopeful entertainers, that’s for everyone. If you find your purpose and stay with it, you’ll achieve a great life. I could have gone left and chased trends. I may have even soared a little higher for a minute if I did, but I doubt it would have lasted the almost 4 decades it has. Followers fade, Leaders endure.
Looking ahead, say five or maybe even ten years from now, where do you see yourself?
Well I might not be touring as much, but I’ll still be loving Hip Hop, still looking to elevate and expand my craft and my creativity. We’ll see what the universe blesses us with.