The musician and Hip Hop legend—hailed as the greatest MC of all time and compared to Thelonious Monk—talks with Ingram’s Lead Content Manager Nicole Robinson-Hamilton about his new book, Sweat the Technique: Revelations on Creativity from the Lyrical Genius, his 30-plus-year career, and more.
Nicole: How did this book deal come about?
Rakim: I have been actually wanting to write a book for a while, but I have been pushing it back. I never thought that I was interesting enough, but I finally figured out a way to make it interesting, to make it more about my career then just my life.
N: I read the book and listened to the audio, because you know that’s how we do. I was real interested in your three keys:
- Feeling the vibrations of the music
- Believing in your originality
- Competing only with yourself
How did that philosophy come to be and how you do express it?
R: The more I study, understanding the world and understanding what music really is, I was able to go a little bit deeper with expressing it. I guess I was a little numb to understanding it, but vibration is in everything, including us. We are a vibration. To understand that is more serious than just music. It gives me a deeper love and understanding. The more I understand, the better I can interpret it.
N: I read about your 1st battles. Who are you mentoring and taking to battles?
R: I have a few artists that I’m trying to put the Rakim touches on. And right now, I’m just trying to get everything together. Learning how to produce someone else is a little different from doing myself. Just learning how to express myself (as a producer) and be a little more open. Sometimes my pick of music or whatever may not be exactly like somebody else. So, I am learning how to let my artist make my own way and help them along the way. I think that is the best way to do it. I always say to artists don’t let nobody change you. If you are a real artist and feeling from your heart, that is what you are supposed to be speaking through, and if somebody doesn’t get it, then that situation is not for you. I’m learning to practice what I preach.
R: Yes, I’m just waiting. I like to, umm –
N: – a sneak attack.
R: Yeah. I like to set everything up right, you know what I mean? I feel it’s important to set everything up and make sure that it’s right.
N: With the publication of the book and audio, you know more people are going to be coming for you.
R: Yes, I hope so. I’m ready for that.
N: At the creation of your career, you started as a teenager and you had a NY point of view. But you have traveled and been in the game for over 30 years. How have your thoughts expended not just with travel but with age?
R: I think with time I definitely got more mature. Not only that I got a better understanding of life, of who I am, but even a better understanding of what I am supposed to be doing. I understand my path and it’s a blessing to experience what I been through and translate it to someone else and hopefully they can be inspired.
N: As a teen, did you see yourself here—book signings, 30-plus-year career, traveling the world?
R: I had no idea. I was just having fun and enjoying music. I played instruments in school growing up, which allowed me a perspective to being able to experience music the way I did.
N: You have an unbelievable amount of humbleness, genuineness, but confidence. How can you speak that kind of balanced into some of our young people?
R: A couple different things they have to understand. I think the humbleness – I was taught that through my parents. I was taught to be respectful to them and to respect myself. After studying [I learned] one of the best words for anyone striving for some kind of righteousness is humility. Confidence comes from my upbringing, the people I been around, what I been through. I had to work my way up to it. You get to a certain point and can’t nobody tell you nothing. There are a few things I think people as artists realize – being grounded in life first will make them a better artist. If they really value the things they should, it will show through their work.
N: I get that so much the way you talk about your mom, your dad, and [your wife] Felicia and them just grounding you, because this world is messy, but you always had all of that to come home to. And I think a lot of times people think, “I did this by myself. I got this by myself.”
R: That would be ignorant, especially in my situation. My wife stopped working when I got my record deal. She trusted that what I was doing would be lucrative enough and she stayed home and took care of the kids forever. I would not have been able to do what I did without that support system and feeling good making sure I’m doing the right thing. I always wanted to be there for my kids. I didn’t want them to learn about me from a magazine. I used to fly home every weekend to make sure I was there. I think having your life and priorities in order, it pours over into your artistry. They go hand-in-hand.
N: One more question about your artistry—you visualize your set before you go out. You want talk about the process of how you are manifesting through visualization.
R: It took me a long while to get comfortable with who I was on stage. Coming up in a time when there was so much energy on stage and here I come with a laid back style, I barely danced. I used to always feel like I was supposed to do something but after getting more comfortable and learning how to let my music express what I do on stage, I kind of adapted, letting the music speak for me and tell me what I’m supposed to do. And I can’t dance, but I got a mean two-step. I think I’m at my best when the audience is feeding me that energy and I give it back.