Rakim Calls His Longevity In Rap Game 'A Blessing'

'The MC's life span in the game is maybe seven years, 10 years, 12 years,' pioneering MC reflects to MTV News on 25th anniversary of Paid in Full.

In the 1980s, critics largely labeled hip-hop a passing fad, refusing to believe that the budding art form would grow into a respected genre. So for hip-hop pioneer [artist id="1293"]Rakim[/artist], celebrating the 25th anniversary of his and DJ Eric B.'s 1987 debut album, Paid in Full, is rather humbling.

"It's a blessing to be in the game this long and to have your work recognized after 25 years," Rakim told MTV News on Wednesday from his dressing room after performing the first of two shows with the Roots at legendary New York jazz club the Blue Note.

Even though the RIAA's website lists Paid in Full's original release date as July 9, Rakim Allah celebrated early with Philadelphia's (and "Late Nate With Jimmy Fallon" house band) the Roots. Together they ran through select cuts from the groundbreaking album. Fans were treated to spirited renditions of PIF classics like "Eric B. Is President" and "I Ain't No Joke," as well as other favorites like 1992's "Juice (Know the Ledge)."

"It's a big thing," Rakim said of the occasion. "The MC's life span in the game is maybe seven years, 10 years, 12 years, so to be around and to get respect at this point is a blessing."

Roots rapper Black Thought can still remember the impact of Paid in Full and how "The R" changed things in hip-hop, particularly by introducing the teachings of the Five-Percent Nation to rap. Five Percenters, as the Nation's followers are called, brought a heightened sense of spirituality to the music with their ideologies based on many Islamic principles. "Pre-Paid in Full, you didn't hear too many records — there were MCs out there, I used to hear some types with MCs rapping about having knowledge of self and dealing with that type of spirituality — but before Rakim, like, pre-Paid in Full, it wasn't out there like that. It was very much still a rarity," Thought said.

Ra opened the door for Five-Percent MCs, most notably, the Wu-Tang Clan who based many of their songs on the Nation's teachings. But that wasn't all. With Paid in Full, Rakim is credited not only with introducing a more sophisticated vocabulary to hip-hop, but also more complex flows and rhythms and an interlaced rhyme structure.

"I'm not saying lyrics or rap was simple or simplistic before that," Black Thought said, "but the complexity of it, the musicality of it changed after Rakim came out."

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