Rakim discusses growing up with a musical family, playing saxophone for eight years.
Although Rakim may be most well-known for his skills on the mic, the rapper detailed his musical expertise outside of rap, during a conversation with KRS-One. During the conversation between the two emcees, Rakim revealed that he played saxophone from fourth to twelfth grade, and was a huge fan of jazz musician John Coltrane.
“What it was is I played sax…I went through the whole school of music thing,” Rakim said in a Boom Bap Nation video. “I learned how to read music…My mother sang jazz to opera in Brooklyn. Back when she was going to school. She was singing for The Apollo, amateur night. She was going for her thing until my pops stepped in and was like ‘Yo, we gon’ go out here and buy a crib and sit down. You know what I mean?’ But my moms was going hard, man. And my brother played everything from piano to woodwinds and shit like that, man. So, I came up under a good [roof for] good music. First thing that made sense to me was joining a band.”
Rakim later explained that John Coltrane’s ability to play two notes at once inspired the way he wrote his rhymes.
“Hearing what John Coltrane was doing, the solos and the rhythms that he was doing, it was just in me,” he said. “And I started realizing, holding on to all them rhythms that I heard in jazz, when I started sitting down to write rhymes in Hip Hop, I wasn’t just hearing ‘one, two, three, four.’ I was hearing ‘one and two and three and four.’ I started realizing ‘Yo, if I could fill in all this space with rhythms and intellectual words and grab ‘em. And four, five syllable words.’ I figured out I can make the same rhythms that he was making by using certain syllable words and using certain syllable words after each other.”
Video of Rakim speaking with KRS-One about his music background, can be found below.