Timeless, so age don’t count in the booth / When your flow stay submerged in the fountain of youth
– Rakim “Classic (Nike Air Force Remix)
In the quaint office space of NPR’s headquarters in Washington, DC — pioneering emcee and legendary hip-hop figure Rakim Allah blessed the mic for this short, but symphonic and intimate performance, backed by a distinguished group of musicians. Joining him are is A Tribe Called Quest member Ali Shaheed Muhammad on bass, the ever-soulful Adrian Younge on keyboard and blistering bluesman Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram on guitar, among others.
For those unfamiliar with Rakim, born William Griffin Jr., his style of emceeing altered the art of the rhyme in hip-hop and rap music. His surgically precise lyricism (including his trademark internal and multisyllabic rhymes), his poetic nature, wordplay, similes and metaphors, along with his rhythm, lyrical content, flow, and charisma; were revolutionary. Following the foundation eloquently set by the Treacherous Three’s Kool Moe Dee, the Furious Five’s Melle Mel, and the Cold Crush Brother’s Grandmaster Caz.
Along with his DJ, Eric B., the release of their Marley Marl- produced single (with its equally influential and quotable B-side My Melody) Eric B. Is President on Zakia Records in the winter of 1986 changed the course of rap music. The bar of emceeing and hip-hop production was raised. The release of their 1987 classic album Paid in Full, one of the greatest debut records in music history, caused a seismic shift. Showcasing that hip-hop could rock a party and be introspective.
Much like Muhammad Ali raised the bar of what makes a great heavyweight boxer with his blistering speed, incredible footwork, and quick hands—Rakim’s sheer skill has influenced every emcee that came after him.
Along with Juice Crew members Big Daddy Kane (who has also performed an NPR Tiny Desk Concert) and Kool G Rap, KRS-One, and Chuck D of Public Enemy; Rakim pushed hip-hop into what’s fondly remembered as its golden age.
The set-list for this performance includes King’s Paradise (produced and co-written by Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge for the soundtrack of Netflix series Luke Cage’s second season), as well as classic singles Paid in Full and Know the Ledge.