Between 2000 and 2003, Long Island, New York emcee legend Rakim was signed to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment. Together, the two 1980s veterans worked on an album said to be titled, Oh, My God. Supposed to be Rakim’s third LP, the album was recorded while the former half of Eric B. & Rakim was living in Los Angeles, California, where Dre’s imprint is based. In a new interview with Red Bull Music Academy moderated by veteran Hip Hop author/editor Jefferson “Chairman” Mao, Rakim spoke candidly about the period in his career and the album that never was.
“As far as me and [Dr.] Dre, once we got together, we realized how different we was,” said Rakim of the 2000 signing and subsequent studio sessions in Sherman Oaks, California’s Record One Studios. “To try and get on the same page was more complicated than we thought. A beat [would] come on, and we listenin’ to the beat—I’m already seein’ what I want to do. But then Dre might go, ‘Yo, I want you to do such and such, and such and such on there.’ I’m like, ‘Come on, Dre. Been there, did that already, nahmean?’ Realizing that, it was like night and day.”
At the time, Dr. Dre was actively working on albums including Xzibit’s Restless and Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP, two efforts from lyrical once-underground Hip Hop emcees dabbling in Gangsta Rap. Rakim recalled a similiar approach from the acclaimed producer on his effort. “Dre’s formula [is]: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. At that point, he was lovin’ Gangsta Rap and rappers beefin’. At that point, I figured, ‘I did that already.’ It’s time to move on and just make good music.”
The creative differences perpetuated through multiple sessions. “Every time a beat came on, [the same debate happened].” Rakim mimicked Dr. Dre urging, “‘Just talk shit on this one,'” Rakim admitted that he felt out of place under the doctor’s direction. “I didn’t really have to beef with my peers, nahmean? And he wanted me to set it off and brag about about who I was and what I did. At that point, I felt like they already knew. To brag about it, it’d take points off the board with what I did and what I’m doin’.”
Overall, Aftermath/Dr. Dre and Rakim would work together on three tracks: “R.A.K.I.M.” from the 8 Mile soundtrack, “Addictive” from Truth-Hurts’ debut album, which Dre and DJ Quik co-produced, and “The Watcher 2” from Jay-Z’s Blueprint 2. Looking back, Rakim declared, “I’m glad that he hollered at me, I’m glad that he had a vision in mind…we just couldn’t find a medium where he was happy and I was happy with either the direction, the topic, or what I’d say to a certain beat [or what he wanted me to say].”
Rakim told Red Bull that working with Dre made him appreciate his former musical partner, Eric B. “The thing about Eric B.—Eric was more…I’d say I wanted to do or do that, and he’d say, ‘G’head!’ That was one thing that was cool about Eric B.; he never tried to detour my thought or tell me what I should be sayin’ on a record. He left that totally up to me.”
For those still questioning the sound of those limited early ’00s sessions, Rakim gave hope. Without being specifically asked, the legend declared, “I wish Dre the best. Maybe in the future, we can do a single or somethin’ just to show people what it’s supposed to be, or give ’em what they expected. You never know.”
Since his departure from Aftermath, Rakim released one album: 2009’s The Seventh Seal on SMC Records.
You can watch the full Red Music Academy interview with Rakim below:
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