Cornerstone Credentials: Rakim
It's probably the greatest rap battle that didn't happen. Icon vs. Icon, the God vs. the Prince of Darkness: Rakim going mic to mic with Big Daddy Kane. Back in the late '80s, fans were buzzing about whether the two New York legends would engage in an epic face-off, a matchup of perhaps the two best MCs in the game at the time.
On "Set It Off" from 1988's Long Live the Kane, Kane famously spit, "rap soloist, you don't want none of this." Of course, he rapped those lines during a period that saw Rakim ringing off crazy with "Eric B. Is President" from Paid in Full, which dropped in '87. Ra had rapped, "And you know that I'm the soloist." After hearing "Set It Off," Rakim was prepared to retaliate with some rhymes on 1988's sophomore LP, Follow the Leader.
"Me and Kane, people always expected me and Kane to battle. 'Yo, Ra, you and Kane need to do this. Boom, boom,' " Rakim recalled last Saturday when we caught up with him in San Bernardino, California, for the Rock the Bells kickoff. Ra performed the seminal Paid in Full from start to finish. "For the most part, it was love," he added. "We knew that people was trying to make us clash. 'Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em,' I had wrote some of that for Kane because he did a joint before that I felt he was talking to me. I wrote 'Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em' [in response] and Eric B.'s brother, Ant Live, let Kane hear it.
"They called me up like, 'Nah, Ra, don't let people gas it up and say I was talking about you,' " he continued. "So it was a couple of bars in 'Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em' that I took out because I spoke to Kane. ... But he could've been lying. You know how it is, baby! Nah, love is love. A lot of people wanted it to happen — it would have been crazy. But big up to Kane, he always kept me on my toes, and I hope vice versa. And another brother: [Kool] G Rap. Those were my measuring sticks that I measured myself with. Big up for helping me keep my sword sharp."
Fans may recall that a couple of years back, we did get to ask the BDK about the potential battle with Rakim. Kane revealed that if he did have to get in the ring with an opponent back in the day, it definitely would have been Rakim, KRS-One or his Juice Crew brother Kool G Rap.
The Rock the Bells Tour continues this weekend in New York City on Governor's Island and ends its run on Sunday in Washington, D.C. In addition to Rakim, other hip-hop legends who'll be on the main stage are KRS-One, Slick Rick, A Tribe Called Quest, the Wu-Tang Clan, Lauryn Hill and Snoop Dogg. Hip-hop mainstays Wiz Khalifa, the Clipse and Yelawolf will hold court on the "Paid Dues" stage.
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