Rakim grew up in Long Island, New York where he developed much of his rhyming talent. The nephew of R&B star Ruth Brown, Rakim became involved in the New York hip hop scene at a young age. Eric B brought Rakim to Marley Marl’s house to record "Eric B. is President." Marley and MC Shan personally knew Eric. However, they didn't know Rakim, who was fresh out of high school at the time, was on his way to college, and left to record with Eric B.
When Rakim turned 16, he joined The Nation of Gods and Earths (also known as the 5 Percent Nation), changing his name to Rakim Allah .
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In 1986, Rakim started to work with New York-based producer-DJ Eric B. The duo—known as Eric B & Rakim—is widely regarded as among the most influential and groundbreaking of hip-hop groups, due in no small part to Rakim's technical abilities. The duo’s first single, "Eric B. Is President" (#48, 1986) b/w “My Melody,” was a success and got the duo a contract with the fledgling Island Records sub-label 4th & B'way. The duo’s next single, the smash “I Know You Got Soul,” sparked early debate on the legality of unauthorized, uncredited sampling when James Brown sued to prevent the duo's use of a fragment of his music. It also established Brown's back catalog as a hip musical mining ground for a new generation of hip-hop programmers. Their first full album, Paid in Full, was released in 1987. causing a stir in the hip-hop music world due to its novel sound, approach, and subject matter.
Eric B. & Rakim broke up in 1992 after releasing four albums. Due to legal wrangling over royalties and his contracts with both his record label and with Eric B, Rakim did not release a solo album for another five years. He signed with his good friend at the time DeShamus "Q=BOB" Sallis of Q=BOB Records but the label folded shortly afterward. He then returned in 1997 with The 18th Letter, which included collaborations with DJ Premier and Pete Rock; released in two versions, one of which included an Eric B. & Rakim greatest hits disc titled The Book of Life. The critical reception of the album was positive, and it was certified gold. In 1999, Rakim released The Master, which received very good reviews as well.
Rakim was signed to Dr. Dre's Aftermath Entertainment record label in 2000, for work on an album tentatively titled Oh, My God. The album underwent numerous changes in artistic direction and personnel and was delayed several times. While working on the album, Rakim made guest appearances on numerous Aftermath projects, including the hit single "Addictive" by Truth Hurts, the Dr. Dre-produced "The Watcher Part 2" by Jay-Z, and Eminem's 8 Mile soundtrack. However, Rakim left the label in 2003 and Oh, My God was indefinitely shelved, a result of creative differences with Dre. Rakim signed with DreamWorks Records shortly afterward, but the label closed its doors shortly after that.
Rakim claimed to be working on a new album in 2004 but as of 2007, it has not been released. Recent[when?] rumors have claimed that he was planning to sign with Talib Kweli's label, fueled by their collaboration on the track "Getting Up Anthem Part 1." While nothing came of the rumors, Rakim has stated he is still considering the label for distribution.
Rakim is currently[when?] working on a new album, scheduled to be released this year[year needed], titled The Seventh Seal, based on the passage in the Book of Revelation. According to Rakim, he is taking the seventh seal and "making it relevant to hip hop and life itself." As of now[when?], no official news on what label is handling the distribution for the album.
While performing at the Showbox, in Seattle, Washington, on November 4, 2007, Rakim announced that "The Seventh Seal" would be released on February 7.
Rakim also made cameos in the Juelz Santana video "Mic Check," the Timbaland & Magoo video "Cop that Disc," and the Busta Rhymes video "New York Shit." Eric B. and Rakim's classic album Paid In Full was named the greatest hip-hop album of all time by MTV. Rakim was engaged in a lawsuit with reggaeton performer R.K.M (formerly Rakim) over the use of the name "Rakim". Rakim won the rights to the name. Recently, Rakim was featured in an All-Pro Football 2K8 commercial. Rakim will be doing a collaboration album with KRS-One called The Greatest Featuring The God MC and Kris Parker.
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Rakim pioneered a practice previously unknown to hip-hop called internal rhyming. Already an important aspect of traditional poetry, where rhymes could be found throughout the bar of a lyric which added to the rhythmic complexity of the song:“ I keep the mic at Fahrenheit, freeze MCs, make 'em colder/The listeners system is kicking like solar/As I memorize, advertise like a poet/Keep it goin', when I'm flowin' smooth enough, you know it's rough
—Eric B & Rakim: “My Melody” ”
Instead of two rhyming syllables within two lines at the end of the lines, as we would find in the older hip-hop style displayed above, we have 18 rhyming syllables in just four lines. Rakim also introduced a lyrical technique known as cliffhanging and popularized the use of metaphors with multiple meanings. His songs were the first to really impart hip-hop music lyrics with a serious poetic device sensibility. Eric B & Rakim went on to produce three more successful albums, all now considered hip hop standards.
Prior to Rakim, hip-hop music lyricism was usually rather simple from a structural standpoint and the ideas it expressed were easy and direct.
Many hip-hop artists (both underground and mainstream) acknowledge a huge debt to Rakim's innovative style. He is given credit for popularizing the heavy use of internal rhymes in hip-hop—rhymes that are not necessary to the overall rhyme scheme of the verse, but occur between the endpoints of lines and stanzas, serving to increase the alliteration, assonance, and emphasis of the rhyme. He is also credited for the jazzy, heavily stylistic, seemingly effortless delivery of his lyrical content.
Tupac Shakur also pays homage to Rakim in a song called "Old School."
On his Street's Disciple album Nas dedicated the song "U.B.R. (Unauthorized Biography of Rakim)" to Rakim.
Raekwon of Wu-Tang Clan also dedicated a tribute to Rakim titled "Rakim Tribute," which was released on DaVinci Code: The Vatican Mixtape Vol. II in 2006.
50 Cent also makes a reference to Rakim on his hugely successful collaborative effort "Hate It or Love It" with The Game. Fifty rhymes, "Daddy ain't around, probably out committing felonies/my favorite rapper used to sing Ch-Check out my melody," referencing Eric B. & Rakim's classic hit ¨My Melody."
Kurupt references Rakim on Snoop Dogg's debut album, Doggystyle. On "For All My Niggaz and Bitches," Kurupt says, "Who's jokin'? Rakim never joked, so why should I loc? now that's my idol...."
Ghostface Killah gave props to Rakim in the end of "Paisely Darts," by saying that he is better than every artist except for Rakim, referring to him as "the older god".
Eminem has also paid tribute to Rakim's style as an inspiration and references lines from My Melody in his song “I'm Back”.
Jay-Z paid tribute to Rakim in his 2007 hit “Blue Magic,” where he states: "Eighty-seven state of mind that I'm in/I'm in my prime so for that time I'm Rakim."
Killah Priest also references Rakim in many of his songs. He even states: "I remind you of Rakim but I'm not him" suggesting that he beleives himself and Rakim to be very simular.