photo & text by nacrowe
RAKIM is a wordsmith of the first order, a rapper's rapper.
its definitely not a coincidence that EMINEM makes a direct reference to being a "product of RAKIM" in a verse in his ode to lyrical dexterity, "RAP GOD." being a fan of his work with ERIC B, i was game to explore his memoir SWEAT THE TECHNIQUE (AMISTAD, 2019) which finds him explaining his writing process. obviously as a former ENGLISH teacher this is a subject i am doubly always interested in.
essentially he describes some pretty boilerplate techniques in expanding your options as a lyricist. such as: BE OBSERVANT, READ EVERYTHING, WRITE ALL THE TIME, etc. what was more impactful was how he came to appreciate these ideas in a cultural landscape where such was not immediately encouraged, the exception being his parents and especially his father. when he put in the work he saw results, whether that be in football or on the mic at informal parties in his neighborhood in LONG ISLAND. its my argument that his work ethic and ability to appreciate and take advantage of opportunities around him, as well as a fair amount of bravado and natural charm, that led him to where he is today, considered by fans and peers alike as one of the preeminent lyricists of his generation, if not the top MC outright.
where he loses me is in the second half of the book where he begins to go on about his involvement with the FIVE PERCENT NATION and the NATION OF ISLAM. on one hand i get it. these groups espouse an ideology of self-empowerment and community in what is essentially a vacuum created by AMERICA's inability to address the needs of minority communities for generations. the need to take care of your own is understandable and arguably inevitable. its just that when he goes on about his beliefs it just comes off like pseudo-intellectual gibberish. i dont need to go over LOUIS FARRAKAN's anti-semitism, but i'll link to what the SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER says about him.
its just disappointing to see that such a supremely gifted wordsmith who has honed his craft over decades at heart is involved with figures that espouse anti-white ideologies. my hope is that he would be more empathetic and use his gifs to uplift, but maybe i misjudged him. i also found it hard to comprehend his argument that in order to be humble, one needs to accept the idea of a higher power. that seems bogus to me, and not just because i dont share his belief system. i just thought it showed a lack of understanding of religions outside the judeo-christian and islamic constructs he appears trapped in. you can be atheist and agnostic and be empathetic and a good servant to your neighbors, just like you can be a devoutly religious person and be a horrible human being. its not a prerequisite.
so in summation i found this book deeply fascinating, but not how i expected. i found myself deeply troubled by the implications of his worldview. the anti-WHITE stuff i still dont get, even in retrospect. my hope would be that the values of HARD WORK and EMPATHY that he attributes to his father's influence would have carried over into his belief system, but that appears to not be the case. its disappointing, especially with someone so profoundly gifted.