The opening hook to Rakim’s 1997 The Mystery (Who Is God?) easily defines the mystic legacy of the legendary emcee who changed the creative direction of hip hop music back in 1986. Golden era peers like Slick Rick and Big Daddy Kane lamped in the spotlight in all their bejeweled glory. Rakim chose to play the background—oblivious of his popularity but always in tune with his greatness. His line from 1990’s Set’Em Straight said it all: “one thing I don’t like is the spotlight—cuz I already got light!”
Thirty plus years after his debut, Rakim invites readers to follow the leader into his literary universe Sweat The Technique: Revelations On A Creativity From A Lyrical Genius. Billed as “part memoir-part writing guide,” Ra goes behind the rhyme and explores the technique and inspiration behind his conceptual genius. He also shares perspectives on his spiritual views and offers motivational jewels for the reader.
Offering rare reflections of his life and career, Rakim still holds the literary reigns tight like a grudge. Leaving topics previously touched on in social media blogs and old interviews on the cutting room floor, Rakim bypasses wild-style stories of his younger days when he and DJ Eric B rolled deep with the infamous Paid In Full posse. Ditto for the obligatory mouth-dropping industry confessions and untold stories recounting the late Eighties’ testosterone-filled rap industry.
Technique really comes alive when Rakim reflects on his early days as “Popo” and “Lil Griff”—the scrappy kid from Wyandanch, Long Island, part music/sports prodigy—-part gun-toting hard rock, nurtured by his mother’s support and guided by his father’s wise and steady hand. Recounting the oft-told story of his entry in the rap game, Rakim shares how an unexpected visit from Eric B puts him on the fast track to becoming the teen-aged hip hop prodigy—automatically better than every rap peer and pioneer.
Technique captures the dizzying highs: the big money paydays and rapid career ascent requiring Rakim to drop out of school. The bidding war that led to him signing the first million-dollar rap contract at the tender age of twenty. (“Just two years earlier, I had no thought of making money as a MC and now I was out buying a Benz, a Jeep Cherokee, jewelry, clothes and sneakers.”). It reveals the lows: the pressures of young fatherhood and his grandmother’s passing. Rakim expresses the guilt of reluctantly tending to a hot careers while his hero—his beloved father succumbed to bone cancer.
Momentarily pulling back the veil of discretion, Rakim shares stories of his first love and briefly unpacks his sometimes conflicted relationship with his partner. He celebrates the accomplishments of their unlikely partnership while revealing his desire to be independent of it at the start of their journey. He revisits the growing pains, creative and business differences that would lead to their breakup as well as their tension filled and triumphant reunion.
Sweat The Technique’s circular prose at times can be thematic. Like Rakim’s syncopated flow, it swings back and forth, both discreet and revealing. Recollections capture the GOD MC’s many moods and grooves. Bold and testy like Miles. Enigmatic like Monk. An ember-like spirit stoked by competition and self-mastery. A soaring rap deity whose family is the wind beneath his wings. More EP than a full-length player, Sweat The Technique still has enough soul to move the crowd.