Childhood & Early Life
Rakim was born as William Michael Griffin Jr. on January 28, 1968, in Wyandanch, Long Island, New York, to a family that was artistically inclined.
While his father, William Griffin Sr. was a soft-spoken and sensitive man, his mother sang opera and jazz, and his brothers played various musical instruments. His aunt, Ruth Brown, was a well-known actress and R&B singer.
Rakim attended the Wyandanch High School, where he played the baritone saxophone for the school band. He also was an active member of a number of new rap groups at school, including ‘The Love Brothers’ and the ‘Almighty 5 MCs’.
Even at that early age, he showed a precocious musical talent as is evident from a recording of a 1985 school performance along with Biz Markle who later became a star himself. This is perhaps the first performance where he is billed as Rakim.
At the age of 16, he converted to Islam, adopting the name Rakim Allah subsequent to joining the movement ‘Five-Percent Nation’. With time, he emerged as the most vocal spokesperson for ‘Five-Percent Nation’; his faith luminescent in his lyrics.
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Rakim met Eric B., a Queens DJ, in 1985 and the next year they released their first ever single, ‘Eric B. Is President’. The ‘Zakia Records’ single recorded in the home studio of Eric’s friend, Marley, was a major hit and propelled the duo to instant stardom in the hip hop community.
Enthused by the single, Russell Simmons, the founder of ‘Def Jam’ persuaded ‘Island Records’ to sign on the duo. In early 1987, they began recording at the ‘Power Play Studios’ in Manhattan.
‘Paid in Full’, their debut album was released on July 7, 1987, on ‘4th & B'way Records’. The album that had five singles, including ‘Eric B. Is President’, peaked on Billboard 200 chart at #58.
Rakim and Eric B. signed on with ‘Uni Records’, an MCA label, and recorded their second album, ‘Follow the Leader’ at the same ‘Power Play Studios’ they had used earlier. The album, released on July 26, 1988, was averagely successful, ranking 22 on the U.S. ‘Billboard’ Pop Albums chart.
'Follow the Leader’ went on to sell more than 500,000 copies in America and was certified gold. With Rakim’s lyrics at their aggressive best, it is now regarded as among the most influential hip hop albums in the history of the genre.
Rakim’s third album with Eric B., ‘Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em’ was released in 1990; with its more serious and mature subject matter and Rakim singing more aggressive and deep, it is widely regarded to be their most articulate release. Despite the singles not proving to be too popular, the ‘Source’ awarded the album a rare ‘Five-Mic’ rating and eight years later included it in the list of ‘100 Best Rap Albums’.
In 1992, ‘MCA’ released their fourth and what proved to be the final album, ‘Don't Sweat the Technique’; the album and the singles proved to be average.
Eric B.’s refusal to sign the ‘MCA’ release contract led to a messy and protracted legal wrangle that ended in the two separating in early 1993.
In 1996, having been dropped by ‘MCA’ earlier, Rakim signed up with ‘Universal Records’ for his first solo album, ‘The 18th Letter’. The album debuted on the ‘Billboard 200’ at #4 and went to receive a gold certification by the ‘RIAA’.
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In 2000, Rakim signed on with another record label, ‘Aftermath Entertainment’, owned by rapper, Dr. Dre; however, due to delays for various reasons, the planned album ‘Oh, My God’ was never released.
In the years he spent with ‘Aftermath’, before leaving it in 2003, Rakim made guest appearances in several of its projects, including Truth Hurts’ hit single ‘Addictive’ and Jay-Z’s ‘The Watcher Part 2’.
In a bid to work more leisurely, Rakim stopped touring in favor of occasional gigs. He announced his intention to release ‘The Seventh Seal’, a new studio album in 2006, however, the project got delayed for three years, and was overtaken by ‘The Archive: Live, Lost & Found’, a live album in 2008.
On November 17, 2009, ‘The Seventh Seal’ was finally released and even though it clocked up 12,000 sales in the first five days, it generally received very lukewarm reviews.
To honor the 25th anniversary of ‘Paid in Full’, Rakim performed the full album at New York City’s ‘Blue Note Jazz Club’ in 2011. The next year, he announced the release with Eric B. of a 25th-anniversary edition of the same album with new tracks.
He performed with ‘Linkin Park’ for a single ‘Guilty All the Same’ that was released on March 6, 2014, by ‘Warner Bros. Records’ as the first single of the American rock band’s sixth studio album, ‘The Hunting Part’.
On October 20, 2016, Rakim and Eric B. announced their intention to reunite after 23 years; their ‘Twitter’ announcement also polled fans for the city they wanted to start the reunion tour from; the choices being New York City, Las Vegas, Australia, and London.
Personal Life & Legacy
Rakim has a son with Nicole Smith, however, the two never married.
Currently, he lives in Connecticut with Fee, his childhood sweetheart with whom he has three children, Destiny, Jabar, and Tahmell.
Rakim is credited with expanding the vocabulary of rap music and introducing complex similes and metaphors in an age when many of his counterparts lacked the necessary imagination.
His music is outstanding for the intensity of the lyrics and a freshness that refuses to wilt even many years later.
Besides his musical prowess, he was also an exceptional athlete and at one time aspired to be a professional footballer.
Rakim and Eric B. met when Rakim responded to Eric’s search for an MC.
Rakim and Eric B. recorded their first track in the home studio of Eric’s friend.
He worked with ‘DMX’ in 2013 for the single ‘Don’t Call Me’.
At the age of 16, he converted to Islam and adopted the name, Rakim Allah
He wrote the lyrics of ‘XXXX’ at the age of 14/15, a full three years before the release of ‘Paid in Full’.