- The rapper who completely reinvented the form on his own.
I mention this because it comes close to how I see Rakim's impact on the world of rap. Before he came onto the scene in the mid 1980s, rap was very simple and stiff—basically no better than Mother Goose rhymes. True, there was the urban realism of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's "The Message," and even the futurism of T La Rock's "It's Yours" (Def Jam's first single). But as a whole, there were only two types of rappers: good wack rappers and bad wack rappers. Roxanne Shanté was, for example, good wack; the Real Roxanne was bad wack. In short, nothing was not wack. After Rakim released five groundbreaking hiphop tracks in 1986 and 1987 (in this order: "Eric B. Is President," "I Ain't No Joke," "I Know You Got Soul," "Move the Crowd," and "Paid in Full"), something was finally separated from the monochromatic wack. And for the first time, we could see rhymes in living color. (A quick note: The Beastie Boys were a part of the wack rap moment in hiphop—though of the good variety—and never really parted with it, but preserved it, even to this day, like a kind of fossil. One more note: Listen to "Down with the King" and you will hear the difference between rap's pre-Rakim moment [Run-D.M.C.'s section] and post-Rakim moment [Pete Rock and CL Smooth's section].)
Rakim plays Neumos tonight with Grynch, Fearce, and Beanone.