MCing with Hip Hop Pioneer Rahiem
Bronx, New York
Mike and I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Rahiem, of the seminal hip-hop group Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five. He welcomed us into his home and transported us back in time to the beginning of hip-hop, an age before sampling records, of outrageous outfits, and high energy stage shows. His insight as a pioneer of the music is unparalleled and we felt blessed to talk with such an influential yet humble person. Rahiem offers advice on the best preparation for becoming an MC, discusses his upcoming projects, and explains why The Furious Five are no longer fully intact.
CCB: When did you realize you wanted to be a musician?
Rahiem: I knew the second I heard the Jackson 5 what I wanted to be when I grew up. I could tell immediately that they were kids like me and I was blown away by their music. It really influenced me.
CCB: Did you break into the music industry initially with the Funky Four +1?
Rahiem: Yes and no. That was the first major break for me on a local scale. (In New York) I was involved in another group prior to being a member of the Funky Four, but we never did any jams. We just did house parties in the same house over and over. (Laughs)
CCB: What were you called?
Rahiem: (Dramatically) Master Plan Two and The Phase One Crew. Wow.
CCB: You played music at school?
Rahiem: Actually my mom was also a really big influence on me because she sung around the house. Whatever she was doing she would always be singing and she had a great voice. But she was never pursuant of trying to have a career in music or anything. When I started being a fan of the Jackson 5 I started singing. I formed a little group in my school and instead of going outside to play tag in the school yard at lunch-time my group and I would be in the auditorium rehearsing Jackson 5 songs and dance steps. There was always a fight over who was going to be Michael. (Smiles)
CCB: How did you get involved with The Furious Five?
Rahiem: I was in the group the Funky Four and I was kind of the unheralded leader. We were like the second most popular group in the Bronx at that time. Our popularity was growing really fast. One day our manager Jazzy D came to us and was like, “You guys need to step your game up and battle the Furious Four. Rahiem you can take Melle Mel.” He really had me gassed. After a while I was like, (confidently) “Yeah, I can take Melle Mel.” So he set up the battle. It took place at the Webster Avenue PAL on 183rd St and Webster Avenue in the Bronx. Cut and dry, they bust our ass. We were the number one contenders and they were the champions. We were expecting to go on stage before them because they were the headliners. They pulled a fast one on us and went on before us and did everything we were going to do before we did it. Not the exact same things but the overall concept of what we were trying to accomplish they went on stage and did. That took the wind out of my group’s sails. So, when it was time for us to actually go on stage the rest of the guys in the group with the exception of Sha Rock, she’s a soldier, they didn’t want to do the routines that we had practiced for months leading up to this battle. It pissed me off and I took matters into my own hands and went on by myself. I stood there for about a good thirty five, forty minutes straight and I rocked by myself. At first The Furious Four and Flash were standing in the audience with these scowled looks on their faces. When they saw how hard I was doing my thing and how intense the audience was they started to support me as well. When I got off of the stage after I had rocked the house they embraced me and were like, “You are just as nice as any of us.” I was like, “Yeah, I know.” (Smiles, Laughs) Nah, I didn’t say that.
I didn’t even know that these guys knew where I lived and one day my intercom rings and I say, “Who is it?” It was Scorpio and Melle Mel. They asked me to be a member of their group and I said I would think about it. Then my next door neighbor, the Original DJ M&M had hired The Furious Four to do a party with him at Forest Houses Community Center in the Bronx. He was my really good friend. He asked me if I’d be interested in performing at that jam. I said sure. He put my name on the flier. Leading up to the night of that jam I’m thinking that this is a really good opportunity. I’m going to have an opportunity to perform not with The Furious Four but kind of like their equals. I went on stage. I did my thing. They went on after me. They did their thing. After they were done they called me on stage to perform with them. After the show was done and we were backstage they were like, “How much money you want?” “How much money do I want?” “You know what, don’t worry about it. We are just going to split it up five ways.” OK. Got home and had all this new gear on and I’m a kid. My mom was like, “Boy, where in the hell did you get those clothes from?” “I did a show last night.” She was like, “A show! What kind of damn show?” I told her what I did. She didn’t believe me. “You better invite me to your next show.” The next show I invited my mom and she was a Furious Five fan ever since.
CCB: Where did the name Rahiem come from?
Rahiem: There was this R&B group that’s from this area (Bronx) called GQ. The lead singer of the group’s name is Rahiem LeBlanc. Rahiem I guess noticed in me that gleam in my eye every time I saw him perform in a block party around my area. I would be at the front of the ropes singing every note that he sung. After the party was over he’d take me with him to their studio. He taught me how to read music and how to play the guitar. I was very grateful for this. I told Rahiem if I ever had a son I was going to name my son after him. (He did) But, then people just started calling me Rahiem.
I’ll never forget. Gangs were really rampant at that time when I started calling myself Rahiem. I had actually just become a member of the Funky Four and there was this gang called the Black Spades. The Black Spades are from Bronx River Projects, well the ones that used to come by my area. They would terrorize all the guys from around my block. There was a coat that was really popular at the time, Corterfields, and they’d rob you for your Corterfields in the dead of the winter and you’re standing outside with no coat on. They’ll be standing in front of your building with your coat on and beat you down if you don’t speak when you walk by. These guys used to come around here and punk everybody. The kid version of the Black Spades, the Baby Spades, would ride around my area through an empty lot on their bicycles. By the time they’d get to my area they’d have flat tires. They would knock on my door. My middle name is Todd, so they’d be like, “Todd, Cecil got a flat. Fix his flat.” I never wanted to do this, but I was outnumbered severely. I did my first Funky Four party and I started to get a little notoriety in the streets. The last time they came to my door they were like, “Todd, fix Cecil’s flat.”
They had a big boom box with them and they happened to have a tape of our last jam. I happened to be rhyming at the time, but they didn’t know that it was me. So, I’m saying the rhyme with myself and these idiots aren’t getting it. “What do you know about this here?” “What do I know about that? That’s me.” “Todd, stop playing and fix Cecil’s flat.” “I don’t know if you’ve heard but my name isn’t Todd anymore and I don’t fix flats. I’m an MC. My name is Rahiem.” For some reason being an MC gives you incredible amounts of courage. (Smiling) That’s why every MC thinks he’s a gangster because the public treats you like you are super human. And you’re really not. (Laughs) Once they finally realized that I was telling the truth after making me say a bunch of Rahiem rhymes, they were like, “You have a jam Friday. We’re going with you. We’re your security.” OK. I couldn’t get rid of them. (Laughing)
CCB: How did you learn about being an MC? Did you learn how to sing first, which you do on a lot of records?
Rahiem: I learned how to sing first. Like I said my mom sung in the house. I was then in the glee club in school although I hated it because we never sung any of the songs I wanted to sing. Plus I had my own little group in school. By the time I got to high school there wasn’t a shy bone in my body. I’d sing in front of anybody at the drop of a hat. I heard Flash tapes. I heard when they were the Three MCs and I heard Melle Mel. I heard The Furious Four after that.
What really inspired me to become an MC was there was this dude that went to my high school named Joe Goodwin. Joe walked around the halls saying these corny-ass rhymes. But every chick in the entire school was on Joe’s jock because Joe could say these little rhymes. I know they can’t be going for this cornball’s rap. I can write better rhymes than that. I’m going to go in the lab, write some rhymes, and then I’m going to challenge Joe to a little battle. I’m going to have all the chicks in the school following me around. (Smiles) That’s what I did. I challenged Joe and I ate him. All the chicks in the school were instantly like that. (Snaps fingers)
CCB: You started singing on hip-hop songs. A lot of rappers today are singing on tracks. How do you feel about that? I mean you did it first.
Rahiem: I actually did do it first. They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. I don’t think that all the people that are doing it now know that it came from me. It’s not something that many industry insiders know. I would say only a handful of people really know that. Because of the obscure amount of people who actually know that I guess that kind of discourages me from even trying to promote that about myself. It’s a lost cause. There are more than likely even people from my era that don’t know that it was me who created that, who probably refute me and debate me in some kind of way. I don’t want to get into all of that. It’s not that serious for me. The people who know, it’s cool. The people who don’t know, they just don’t know.
CCB: Isn’t that stuff on record?
Rahiem: Prior to even records hip-hop was alive and thriving since 1973. The first rap song didn’t come out until 1979. I was singing long before hip-hop started and then when hip-hop started I kind of meshed the two together. Hip-hop still wasn’t on wax yet. Most of the stuff that I would sing was interpolations of other people’s songs like the Jackson 5. But I’d change up the words and make it relevant to whatever the subject matter I was singing about. Sugar Daddy was one of the songs I changed up when I was with the Funky Four. It was easy to apply a song to a rhyme even though we didn’t use the singing parts in the format of hooks at the time. We knew what hooks were but we didn’t actually know the formula for writing songs yet. I’d just sing the part and rhyme afterwards. I wouldn’t sing the same part again afterwards. That rhyme would be over. That was just part of a rhyme. But, they have definitely incorporated singing in hip-hop now. I think it’s a happy marriage actually.
CCB: How did you create songs as a group? Did you start with a beat or rhymes?
Rahiem: All of The Furious Five songs that aren’t featuring Melle Mel as the leader were our party routines prior to hip-hop being on wax. All we did was basically take the music, the beats that Flash played at our parties, to the studio and made records out of them. But, there was no sampling, so we would have the Sugar Hill band recreate the same song that Flash would play at the parties in the studio.
CCB: I understand that the song The Message almost was not made. How did that song becoming a hit and the group’s ensuing stardom affect you and the group?
Rahiem: It affected the group in a positive way and a negative way. Let’s talk about the positives first. I think the positive way it affected the group of course was the notoriety and acclaim that the group received for doing a song that had the lyrical content of The Message and a song that is socially relevant like The Message. I think that all of the acclaim, notoriety, and accolades that came with that are all good. Except when all of those things were attributed to one person, when they were attributed to just Melle Mel, I think that’s what helped to expedite the breaking up of the group. I love all of the guys in my group like they are my brothers. I love them but at the same time I don’t like them. I’m being really candid about that but you can’t choose who your family is. I love them. I would never standby and see any harm come to any of the guys in the group. I don’t like them because I don’t like the things that they do, but mainly Melle Mel. His ego is like he is the greatest thing since sliced bread. You know its all apropos when it comes to the competitiveness of being an MC but it has no place in the scheme of things when it comes to the family makeup of our group. The camaraderie, the brotherhood, you know. I think when all of the accolades were attributed to Melle Mel they caused Melle Mel to think he was bigger than the group. If that were the case then Melle Mel himself would have been more successful than the group after going solo, but that wasn’t the case. To this very day he still has the same mindset. Mel really needs to get it, his way isn’t working. There are like 150,000 other old school artists out on the road right now working everyday excluding Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five because Melle Mel and Grandmaster Flash don’t gel. It’s mainly Mel’s fault because he thinks he’s bigger than the group. Now this has just become Flash’s mindset. Flash now believes he is bigger than the group and in a way Flash is bigger than the group because his name is the front name. For promoters who don’t really know the history of the group and who does what they are afraid to hire The Furious Five for fear that The Furious Five can’t do a show without Flash being there. But, they hire Flash without The Furious Five and he doesn’t do any rapping. What are you going to do?
CCB: What is the status of the group?
Rahiem: The status of the group is Melle Mel and Scorpio are out doing shows as The Furious Five.
CCB: Even though there are just two of them?
Rahiem: Hey, if the audience is dumb enough to buy into the name of the group being The Furious Five and there only being two members and they still pay to see them, more power to them. I’m not doing shows with Mel and Scorpio because I am pursuant of my own situation. I’m under construction right now.
CCB: When did the rest of the group split?
Rahiem: I split from the group about two months ago. We were actually doing shows together with the exception of Flash. When I say the group I use that term loosely believe me. When I say the group I mean everyone excluding Flash and Kid Creole. Scorpio was doing all of the booking for the group at the time and he still is. Kid Creole was offered to come on the road with us the last time we went out. But, he declined because of the amount of money that he was offered because it wasn’t an equal split like we’ve been doing since the beginning. I was out on the road with them the last time and they didn’t split it up with me equally. They paid me like I was a hype man. In actuality they told me that was what I was there for and because I needed the money at the time I went out.
We had two shows, Friday and Saturday. A show at a ski lodge in Pennsylvania and a show at a ski lodge in upstate New York. Scorpio was the one who secured the booking. In his haste to secure the booking he didn’t make provisions with the promoter for the promoter to arrange our travel. Scorpio wound up having to drive from Georgia, which is where he lives, to Pennsylvania. I picked up Melle Mel and his personal trainer and we drove to Pennsylvania to the first show. The first show went off fine, without a hitch. We got paid and the next morning we left Pennsylvania and headed to upstate New York. After both shows were done and it was time for us to go back home Scorpio was going to drive back to Atlanta and I was going to take Melle Mel and his personal trainer back to New York City. What happened was I had a really bad cold that particular night in upstate New York and I took some cold medicine. It was about 11:00 PM when I called Scorpio in his hotel room and said, “Listen, I’m in my room and I’m going to be here. You should call the promoter and find out what time we’re going on because it’s getting pretty late. Give me a call and let me know what time we are going on.” An hour, an hour and a half goes by and no call from Scorpio. I had taken some cold medicine, right. Next thing I know I’m waking up and its 2:00 AM. So, I wake up franticly and I start dialing the rest of the guys’ room numbers. Nobody is answering their room. So, I go to the front desk and they told me that the guys left and went to the show. I’m pissed. I had to drive 26 miles to get to the venue. We are staying 26 miles from the venue. I get lost. Cops pull me over. I’m on the side of the road and everything is fine. I’m legit. They let me go and tell me the right direction to go in. I finally get there and it’s like 2:30 something. When I walk in Mel and Scorpio are sweaty because they are just coming off the stage. They are looking at me like I have seven heads. I’m like, “What’s good? Nobody woke me up. I was in my room asleep. Why didn’t somebody knock on my door?” “We were calling your room and you didn’t answer.” “I fell asleep. I have a cold and I took some cold medicine. I guess I was sleeping a little harder than usual. Why didn’t somebody knock on my door?” They were like, “You’re a grown-ass man. You need to be responsible for yourself.” Well, if that’s the case I understand where this is going. Basically they didn’t want to pay me for that night’s show so they didn’t wake me up and they did the show without me. That night when I got to the venue and I was talking to them I said, “Listen, alright fine. This isn’t going to be an argument. Give me my money from last night’s show which I was at and we don’t have to do this any more, I’ll see you later.” “What about a ride back to the city?” “We’re grown men and it’s time we take care of ourselves.” And I just came back. (Disappointed) That was the end. That was about two and a half months ago.
CCB: Let’s talk about what you are up to now?
Rahiem: What am I up to now? (Enthusiastic) I do production. I’m a producer. I was a staff producer working with Dr. Dre for about two and a half years. I was out in LA. Dr. Dre is a real cool guy, we got along fine. He just has a lot of haters in his camp who didn’t want to see anybody from the East Coast infiltrate their crew. Other than that I am still an artist and I am working on a CD right now. I expect hopefully to be releasing something in the next four to six months.
CCB: How are you going to go about promoting it?
Rahiem: There is a business in which I just got involved in, it’s called Burn Lounge. It’s great for an artist if you have access to a studio, you go into the studio and you record some songs and you can actually put your songs on Burn Lounge and sell them. What Burn Lounge is you have your own online music store and people come to your site and they pay to download music. You sell everybody’s music because Burn Lounge has licensing agreements with all the major labels as well as all the independent labels. The future of music and entertainment as a whole is changing and the format is going to change in the next five years. Just like we had records, we had eight track tapes, we had cassettes, we had mini-discs, and we had CDs. Well, the format is about to change again and it is going to be strictly downloads and that is going to severely put a halt to the bootleggers. You have the ability to sell everyone else’s music and you get a commission, a percentage. If somebody wants to buy Beyonce’s new album from your online music store you sell it to them, they download it, and you get a cut of Beyonce’s music. Burn Lounge also offers marketing and promotional tools to teach you how to market your store online so you effectively expose the fact that you have a store to people who are perspective customers online. That’s one aspect of the business that I think is very lucrative. Shaq just opened one. MC Lyte just opened one. I opened one. Bill Bellamy opened one. The way you get paid is say I have my own store you can only join Burn Lounge through invitation as a retailer. All you are doing is guiding people to your site and then there is a commercial on your site that they watch. Basically the commercial sells them on it because the future of entertainment is changing.
(Check out Rahiem’s Burn Lounge Store: burnlounge.com/SoulOfTheBx )
I believe if a product is good enough all it needs is a little push and it will sell itself. Another thing is it’s all about the packaging and how you present it. I remember years ago there was a guy and he was selling this thing and he called it My Pet Rock. It was a rock. That would break somebody’s window. My Pet Rock, alright. (Laughs) And people bought it, they ate it up. (Energetic) If dude could sell a rock, c’mon do the math.
CCB: Do you mind telling us how you make beats?
Rahiem: You mean the equipment? Sure. I use the Akai MPC 2000 Excel, fully blown. I use the Akai new MPC 2500. We’re using Digi002, Pro-Tools LE. We have the new Proteus Rack Mount, Trinity Triton Planet, and we have some turntables.
CCB: Is the record going to be more sample based or have live instruments on it?
Rahiem: My production partners and I are all accomplished musicians. I play guitar. I play piano. I play saxophone. I doubt very seriously that I’ll be implementing any saxophone on my songs, probably not, certainly some guitar and definitely some keys. We try and play most of our music. We rarely sample segments of musical compositions because we can play. There are some samples that you just can’t recreate the ambience of that particular sound. It’s like a vintage sound and you have no idea what went into the alchemy of actually getting that sound. Because you can’t figure out how to do it the best way to recapture that sound is to sample it.
CCB: Is the new music going to be that and then you rhyming over it?
Rahiem: It’s going to be a little electronic as well as analog and me rhyming over it. Possibly singing. I’m really not too comfortable these days with actually singing on my songs because I’m trying to accomplish a certain kind of credibility in the streets. For some reason when you sing it kind of takes the rough edge away. I guess that depends what you are singing about as well. If you are singing love songs then there are no rough edges unless she’s kicking your ass or something physically.
CCB: Do you have a name for the group?
Rahiem: It’s not a group. I’m a solo artist. I’m not going to go under the name Rahiem. It’s going to be Amen Ra. A lot of my material is going to be based in truth, more based in truth than fiction, more politically aware. I have a lot to say politically. I think there are some serious things taking place right before our eyes and a lot of us are walking around either oblivious to it or we don’t want to know what’s going on. Those are some of the things that I’m talking about. One of the things that you will absolutely not hear in any of my songs is the glorification of selling drugs or me selling drugs because I never sold drugs. I was a drug user and you will hear about my addiction and how I kicked my habit. That’s what’s real for me. Any time I perform my truth serum as I call it for a live audience I always get people coming to me. Like I have a song about crack and I get people in the audience crying, coming to me and embracing me telling me I took them on a ride and I really helped them. That’s why I do it.
CCB: Have any advice for people interested in succeeding as musicians?
Rahiem: Being an artist is a really hard thing because this business is a business of peaks and valleys. You are going to have a lot of down time. You are going to spend a whole lot of time in the valley and a very short time at the peak. What you do when you are in the valley is everything and anything that you can to first of all survive, to sustain yourself because you still have to eat. If the music business isn’t bringing something of substantial monetary value into the equation then you need to be doing something that provides a backbone for you so that you can concentrate on writing a song. I’m telling you from firsthand experience. When rent is due and you aren’t working and you don’t know how you are going to pay your rent it’s very difficult to find your inspiration in that reservoir deep inside of yourself to come up with a song that doesn’t relate to the fact that the rent is due. Every damn song is going to be about my rent is due. That’s one thing.
Another thing is before entering into any kind of agreement you are going to need an attorney and one that you can trust. Keep this in mind as well. Even though you can retain an attorney just because you retain an attorney you need an attorney to watch your attorney. Your attorney can sell you out because the people that you are dealing with, the company that issues you the contract usually they have more money than you. So, they can pay your attorney to backslide and not give you the deal that you are actually deserving of. Be careful who you deal with. There are a lot of (shady) people out there. Having legal counsel is definitely one bullet in the chamber against getting jerked too badly. It would behoove you to learn the language of contracts. I don’t rely anymore on my attorney’s word on whether a contract is good. I can read through any contract right now and tell you whether or not you have a good deal and know the changes to make and make the changes. I know the language. Rather than me get my attorney to look over the contract I just consult with my attorney over tweaking the contract after I’ve already made the changes that I make.
CCB: What was it like being part of a new musical movement?
Rahiem: I doubt very seriously that I could think of any of the pioneers of hip-hop who actually had the foresight to see where it is now. Because if they did and they are not on top, what idiots. Did they miss the bus, right? (Laughs) No one saw that coming. Being a part of it in the beginning was all for love and all for the fun of it. We didn’t know that we were creating jobs for people. We didn’t know that we were creating a culture. We didn’t know that we had become the voice of oppressed people all over the world. We had no idea. We didn’t even think about that when we were doing it. We just did it because we hated disco, absolutely hated disco. Disco was much too mature for us. We couldn’t get into the clubs. If we did get into the clubs disco didn’t have funky beats that would really stimulate or motivate us to want to break dance to it. I started out as a break dancer. Then I went from break dancing to graffiti. I tried tagging up and I could barely draw a straight line so that didn’t work for me. Break dancing was kind of strenuous and I was meticulous about how I kept myself. Getting my sneakers all scuffed up and my jeans all dirty, that wasn’t cool.
During the inception of hip-hop no one knew that it would become the global monster that it has become. We wanted an identity of our own. We wanted a type of fashion that separated us from those stuffed shirts and bourgie people who went to discos. If you were a disco head you wore button down shirts, slacks, and shoes. If you were a practioner of hip-hop you couldn’t feel that vibe. If you were a b-boy or b-girl there were only two times you wore slacks, button down shirts, and shoes. That was either to church or school. You would risk getting your behind beat by your parents for scuffing up your church shoes and splitting your good church pants or messing up your school clothes.
CCB: Do you ever look back at some of the pictures of the crazy outfits and wonder why you wore them?
Rahiem: (Laughing hard) More so than me, my friends and relatives who knew me when I used to wear that stuff and I’d be walking out my house dead-ass serious. And I got on basically the equivalent to something Mae West would wear. I’ve got like a mink stole around my neck with fox tails hanging from my belt. It was wild. I always laugh about it. But, I’m often the butt of my friends and family’s jokes when it comes to stuff like that especially for the fact that tight pants were in and I used to wear them cut off your circulation tight.
CCB: Did you dress that way just to be different?
Rahiem: The leather and the spikes didn’t happen until after we went to Europe. We came back from Europe after having been on tour with groups like U2, the Stray Cats, and just all of these different white groups. It influenced us to take it a little bit to the left. Instead of a little bit we took it to the left and never stopped taking it there. When we were on stage we always bought into the fact that our audience saw us bigger than who we actually are in real life. So, when we stood there in front of our audience on stage we couldn’t have on the same clothes that somebody in the audience wore. Like Batman and Robin, everybody in Gotham City isn’t running around with capes and cowls on their heads driving around in the batmobile. That’s exclusive to Batman and Robin. Superman, there is only one dude flying around in the air with a cape on. That’s basically the reason for that.
CCB: You made your name for yourself with your performances especially before hip-hop was on the radio. Why do you think some of that energy and showmanship is missing today in concerts?
Rahiem: I know that part of the reason that is missing from today is because right now the way that music is formatted, the way that entertainment is formatted overall, it’s like fast food. You can download music, that’s fast. You’ve got CD’s. Everything is downsizing to be more compact and run more efficiently. I’m going to put this out there and I don’t care, I really don’t. This is my opinion. Not to diminish the accomplishments of Run DMC because I can say with great sincerity that I’m a fan of Run DMC’s however I do believe that Run DMC was solely responsible for lowering the bar for what it took to be an MC. Because back in the day what it took to be an MC was you had to have skills to rhyme and you go on stage and you have a stage show. Run DMC they do great shows but it’s not because of what they do on stage but people love them because they are performing all of their vintage material, all of their hit songs. Run DMC, they didn’t do dance steps on stage. They didn’t do choreographed routines. My era of artists did that. So when Run DMC came around they influenced the rest of the planet that yes you too no matter what walk of life you come from, no matter how rhythmless you are, you too can be an MC.
The industry then added insult to injury by further making the format in which we receive our music so fast food like. Nowadays an artist doesn’t have to build up a name for themselves in the street before building up enough notoriety for a record label A&R to approach them. They don’t have to do that anymore. They can go in the studio, make a demo, and give it to the A&R person and if they think it’s a hit song they’ll get signed, never ever having to have done one show in their lives. Then when they get signed they think that’s the end all be all because they are getting exorbitant kinds of money and are living high off the hog. But, when they go do a show they are wondering why people are walking out even though they are the headliner and their record went quadruple platinum. It’s because you are not entertaining. People want to see more than you and thirty of your friends walking back and forth on stage holding your genitals. I’m sorry that is no longer being entertaining. During the inception period of hip-hop every artist had to be entertaining because we were keeping real thugs entertained. The rappers that talk about the gunplay these days it’s way out of hand. Back in the days the guys that these guys talk about in their songs they used to be at our parties. If we didn’t keep them entertained somebody was getting shot, somebody was getting stabbed. I’m talking about serious gang members would be in the parties. Hip-hop was the reason why the gang activity in the late 60’s, early 70’s ceased. Hip-hop was the reason for that because all of the gangs wound up turning into crews.
CCB: Are there artists currently that you think continue to carry the legacy of great live performances that began with your generation?
Rahiem: Sure. I would say there are a number of people who are doing it right. Busta Rhymes, incredible on stage. Incredible energy and he goes all out to keep you entertained. You are never lacking for that. The same energy that Busta brings on his records, on his songs, the same energy he brings to you live. You can appreciate that and that is why you love Busta Rhymes. If this dude ever gets his act together, DMX. What explosiveness on the stage. You ever seen the Bugs Bunny episode where he and Daffy Duck are trying to outdo each other on stage? Daffy Duck drinks the nitroglycerine and blows up on stage. That’s DMX, man. There aren’t many other artists that I can mention in the same breath as him that exudes the certain type of energy on stage. But, it might have a little something to do with the fuel he is putting in his tank. Who am I to say that is what he does before he goes on stage? I just know whatever he does before he goes on stage the shit works. (Laughs)
CCB: The DJs used to be the face of hip-hop, now they are more behind the scenes. What do you think accounted for this shift throughout the years?
Rahiem: They faded into the background because MCs gave hip-hop a voice. We gave the culture a voice. Not to diminish the accomplishments or contributions of the DJs. The DJs were pertinent to MCs doing what we do. Without the DJs, without Flash’s inception of the backspin which in turn created the first looped break beat, break beats weren’t long enough for MCs to spit 16 (bars) or perform a whole song to.
* Interview Conducted by Paul Maniaci and Michael Maniaci