After a brief stint on Aftermath Records that saw his highly anticipated collaborative album with Dr. Dre permanently shelved, it would be easy to assume Rakim picked up that nasty habit of only releasing a new album every six years. While most us of were scrambling to hear the limited amount of leaked material from Oh My God via the Internet, Ra promised what he felt was a less compromised sound via his own label.
With Hip Hop’s Digital Age in full effect, Rakim Allah has the arduous task of proving he can continue to evolve and adapt. During a brief encounter backstage at Rock The Bells, Ra explained the delay with The Seventh Seal and the process of seeing sounds.
HipHopDX: What’s going on with The Seventh Seal?
Rakim: You can expect that two to three months from now. I’m going hard on that and I’ve got some surprises on there. I’m really ready to just let the world hear it.
DX: You listened to jazz and played saxophone as a child. How did that influence your style and your ear for music?
R: I think it let me see music a little more and let me see more colors. My moms and my pops loved music. Coming up being around jazz and the Motown sound, and letting that soak in [helped]. I played the sax and the drums a little bit and that just helped me see the music a little more.
DX: You have such an extensive catalog, but you’re still creating music. As much as you respect your classics, is there ever a point where you want people to pay more attention to the newer material?
R: The old stuff is what got me here though. That’s like my foundation. I love that for what it is, and that’s what makes people understand me. They need that to know what I’m about to do next. So, in no way do I shrug my shoulders at the old stuff. That’s my legacy.
DX: With the industry the way it is with low sales and all the downloading, what would you consider a success for this project?
R: Well I have my own label [Ra Records] now, so I want to be a success in terms of sales. But, more importantly, I have to keep my integrity and hit that Rakim standard. If I can hit that standard I’m cool. I was never a big-selling artist. I was sort of underground my whole career, but eventually my albums touched platinum. So I still consider myself underground. Like I said, I just want to reach that Rakim standard and have everybody understand that I’m still that dude. If people see that I’ve progressed with it and I’m mature with it, then that’s my success.
DX: You’ve worked with some of the best producers out and you are rumored to have a very discriminating ear. What does a producer need to bring to put you in that zone?
R: You know what’s difficult for me? I hear music differently, so a lot of times I won’t pick the beats that are the norm. I don’t pick what people expect a rapper to rap on. I pick the more intricate beats, where as soon as I hear them I can see something—a title or a mood.
That’s what influenced me so much about jazz. A lot of jazz records didn’t have words, but as soon as you played them it put you right in the mood. You could almost see the smoky bar and the jazz players around you. So, when I can see the music before I even start to write to it, that’s the direction I tend to lean toward. A lot of times it’s not the big million dollar seller or the club banger. It’s really just something I can mess with to make people say, “Okay, that’s that Rakim classic thing right there.” So, yeah it’s a little difficult picking beats with me.
Rakim's latest effort, The Archive, Live Lost and Found, has been distributed via Koch and is currently available in retail and digital formats.