Follow the Leader

Rakim's oft-imitated, never duplicated rap style

As his elevated name might imply, Rakim Allah (New York-born William Griffin) is a cut above other rappers. He's best known for collaborating with DJ Eric B, which yielded four albums, including two gold and one platinum effort (1987's Paid in Full). Though he's had only moderate solo success, Rakim's voice is one of hip hop's most iconic, sampled on dozens of recordings. He also forced the genre to step up not only its lyrical content, but the complexity of its delivery.

"Rakim was one of the first that made it cool to be smart in hip hop, and was also the most openly aggressive about sharing his [Islamic] Five Percent [Nation] perspective," says local author Adisa Banjoko, whose Lyrical Swords book series explores hip hop and Islam.

Artists have swagger-jacked Rakim over the years, attempting to "borrow" everything from his spiritual conviction to his laid-back vocal delivery. Some, like Nas, openly acknowledge his influence. "He came on the stage with lasers in his eyes," Nas raps reverently on "U.B.R. (Unauthorized Biography of Rakim)."

Others haven't always been as vocal with their homage. A couple who especially deserve to get singled out are listed below:

Tale Theft: Where would the Diplomats (the collective of successful N.Y. rappers including Cam'ron, Jim Jones, and Juelz Santana) be without Rakim setting the foundation for gangster storytelling out East?

Sex symbol swipe: Diddy should 'fess up on where he got that pout; it wasn't just LL Cool J. Paying debt by booking Rakim for some Sean Jean ads isn't enough.

Flow Fumble: When Dr. Dre was a successful rapper, his delivery style was pure Ra. Maybe that's the reason why their storied collaboration never surfaced (Rakim left Dre's Aftermath Entertainment in 2003 and will release his next album, The Seventh Seal, on his own label).

 
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