Reflections on a life of artistic commitment during hip-hop’s golden age.
“I wasn’t trying to become a rapper, I just enjoyed doing it,” writes Rakim in his debut memoir. From his first exposure to hip-hop as a boy to being universally recognized as a contender for the greatest MC of all time, Rakim makes his love of rap manifest throughout the book. Whether rapping “from 10 in the morning to midnight, every day,” or refusing to change his style to meet the approval of Marley Marl or Dr. Dre, he presents himself as deeply committed to the art of rap. His experience crafting lyrics transfers nicely to prose; the narrative is reflective in the way of good memoir and revelatory in the way of good reportage. The scenes from Rakim’s childhood are especially vivid and establish him early on as the smart and fiercely independent person his fans would come to know through his music. One consequence of that independence has been the number of people he has been at odds with over the course of his career. Ever the competitor, Rakim uses the book as a chance to settle scores with seemingly every rapper of his era other than Tupac, for whom he has only respect. About his longtime collaborator Eric B., he writes, “I’m really hip-hop and Eric really wasn’t….I think deep down, Eric wanted to be an R&B singer.” The book wavers when the author turns didactic or lets sections of lyrics and commentary interrupt the narrative. Readers gain so much from Rakim’s story and his insights into artistry that the moments of didacticism—e.g., “if it’s your first tour, be prepared for the unique variety of challenges that come with being a rap artist”—become grating. The author’s lyrics, as groundbreaking as they were, don’t read as well as they sound in Rakim’s voice, nor do they add to what the book otherwise does so well: tell the personal story of one of hip-hop’s greatest icons.
Not without flaws but an insightful firsthand account of hip-hop’s vanguard.