With its mix of headlining veterans and upstart openers, the Rock the Bells Tour bridges the gap between classic and current hip-hop. That fact isn't lost on [artist id="1293"]Rakim[/artist], who is one of those vets on the bill, along with Snoop Dogg, A Tribe Called Quest, KRS-One and the Wu-Tang Clan.
The New York MC talked to MTV News moments after stepping offstage during the San Bernardino, California, stop and opened up about performing his Paid in Full opus 23 years after its release.
"For somebody that thinks he always has wordplay to fit the situation, there's certain things for rap that I have no words for," he said. "I been around since '86, and to see that out there and be a part of this tour right here, it's a blessing. I hope I'm around to see many more of these."
Paid in Full was a monumental release in hip-hop's history. The 1987 project, billed under Eric B. and Rakim, heralded the rapper's arrival, and his influence in the years after was immense. From Rakim's lyrical command to his pregnant pauses, and every wrinkle in between, he rewrote the MC handbook with his debut.
His goal was to be an original, and he wanted to mimic a jazz musician's degree of skill with his verses.
"As a young artist, especially in rap and at that time that I came out, originality was big," Rakim said. "So in the back of your mind, you were always trying to come up with something to separate yourself from what was going on. I was heavily influenced by Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, Grandmaster Caz, but I kind of wanted to take it somewhere else.
"My thing was I loved music, I played music, I played the saxophone," he continued. "So the little bit of music knowhow I had, I tried to implement that in every thing I did, from my style, my cadence, the way I tried to pause and stagnate it; that all came from John Coltrane and listening to jazz albums. Trying to rhyme like a jazz player."
Do you think Rakim succeeded in being a hip-hop original? Let us know in the comments!