Brief Oral History of Rakim and the Golden Age of Hip-Hop


Rakim; Hip-Hop; Interview


The success of Run-DMC and Def Jam, which proved hip-hop’s gargantuan commercial viability, would usher in what is now known as the golden age, during which a wave of innovation, competition, and diversity swept across the genre. The music’s pioneers, having established hip-hop, had left a canvas for another generation to take it wherever their imagination landed, and to master its capabilities and influence. While New York remained hip-hop’s heartbeat and epicenter, the genre started spreading outside the boroughs as Philadelphia artists like Schoolly D and West Coast artists like Ice-T and N.W.A gained a following.

During this period, wordsmiths like Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick, KRS-One, and Kool G Rap elevated the artistry of lyricism. Artists such as MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, and Salt-N-Pepa broke down doors for female artists. Producers influenced by Marley Marl, like Pete Rock and Gang Starr’s DJ Premier, began establishing New York’s sonic template. And the Native Tongues provided a bohemian alternative.

The divisive policies of the Reagan administration, and the havoc that the crack epidemic wreaked on urban communities, served as much of the golden age’s backdrop. The gap between the rich and the impoverished became more pronounced during this time, as wealthy people and big business received tax cuts and social benefits were stripped. Much of hip-hop music reflected the desperate conditions of the era. Public Enemy continued to document societal ills, while consciousness groups came of age, offering pro-Black messages and dis- patches of Afrocentrism. Meanwhile, the genre faced a backlash that permeated most mainstream media outlets, which often blamed hip-hop music for violent incidents at concerts.


By Jonathan Abrams




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