NEW YORK — [artist id=”1293″]Rakim[/artist] is an MC who hails from the era of hip-hop when samples were the source of most of rap music’s booming sounds. Wednesday night, in honor of the 25th anniversary of the iconic and influential MC’s debut album, Paid in Full, Rakim performed his seminal classic in its entirety with Philadelphia group [artist id=”775″]The Roots[/artist] providing all the backing instrumentation.
MTV News caught up with “The R” and the Roots crew’s Black Thought at legendary New York jazz club the Blue Note, where the show went down, to discuss the two acts linking up and hip-hop’s embrace of live instruments.
“The Roots is hip-hop royalty right now,” Rakim said. “From what they do, what they bring to the table, for them to holla at me, put this together, invite me out, that let me know, ’Yo, it’s official.’ Otherwise, they wouldn’t. It’s a good feeling to be around this long and still get that love.”
Eric B. dropped Paid in Full with Rakim on July 9, 1987, according to the RIAA, but Wednesday night, Black Thought assisted the God MC onstage as the Roots re-created all of the album’s beats with aplomb. The Long Island native performed songs from his classic album, such as “Eric B. is President” and “Move the Crowd.”
The Roots, besides holding down duties as the in-house band for “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” have backed a number of prominent hip-hop acts in the past, including Jay-Z. While MCs being backed by live bands is now a common occurrence, the Roots remember clearly when that was not the case.
“Back then, I couldn’t even imagine people taking hip-hop seriously being played with live instrumentation,” Black Thought said. “When we first got our record deal, it was in the era of Nas and Wu-Tang Clan and Mobb Deep and B.I.G. — we was like the odd man out.
“Right now, hip-hop is as musical as it’s ever been. I feel like that’s a 360 degrees, man. From having to prove ourselves coming up to now it’s a standard. It’s almost unheard of to go out and do a tour … without having a band. For young kids coming up, they don’t know what it is to be in a realm of hip-hop without live instrumentation and musicality.”
But even with hip-hop’s constant musical advancement and development, Black Thought still counted the boom-bap rhythms and lyrical innovations of the night’s special guest as a crucial inspiration, saying, “I wouldn’t have pursued the craft the way I pursued it and linked up with [Roots drummer] ?uestlove had it not been for Ra’s influence.”
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