Hip-hop legend, Rakim, speaks at virtual seminar about life and music

The Source Magazine once deemed Rakim "the greatest MC to ever touch the mic." His album "Paid in Full" has appeared in Rolling Stone's The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time" list. He's known for his complex flow and carefully curated rhymes.

The American rapper and record producer William Griffin, better known as Rakim, met with Central Michigan University students and staff to discuss his life in the music industry Jan. 11.

He first met with the School of Music during the first Webex session at 11 a.m. At 12:30 p.m. he met with the College of Business. 

The Office of Diversity Education and Office of Multicultural Academic Student Services presented the “State of our Culture” seminars as part of the King-Chavez-Parks Visiting Professors Program.

Director of the Office for Diversity Education, Nikita Murray said the event was meant to engage students for Black History Month in ways that relate to their current interests and current society.

"We started working last year to bring him to campus as a KCP Visiting Professor based on his endurance, contributions to social justice, contributions to music and business, and, most importantly, continued relevance to today's college-age adults," Murray said in an email statement. "We want to use this event to set the bar for infusing rigor, relevance, and excellence in our work to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion at CMU." 

In the first session, Chicago-based artist Cassius Tae and CMU student Stephen Andrews facilitated the discussion and asked about Rakim's early influences.

Rakim started his music career in his late teenage years with Eric B. The duo put out three records during "the golden age of hip-hop" in the late 80s and early 90s. All three have received platinum or gold status. Before his fame, however, Rakim grew up in a house of music.

“I was always into music,” Rakim said. “But the hopes of making a record were kind of far fetched.”

During the seminar, Rakim talked about his upbringing. Rakim’s mother introduced him to R&B and jazz at a young age. He said he even played around with his brother’s saxophone.

“Being very young, I used to look around at my relatives and look at the expressions on their faces and how they were feeling when they heard music,” Rakim said. “I just knew when jazz came on, it was a different bounce.”

While jazz had a big influence on him and his family at a young age, Rakim talked about being gravitated towards hip-hop later in life. Rakim's lyrics reflect parts of his own life. 

The lyrics refer to the decisions we make when we are at a young age, and how they affect our lives later on. There are things that could hold us back later in life if we do not make the right decision right now.

An audience member asked about a line that is featured in many of his songs, "Knowledge of Self". Rakim mentioned how he wants to allow the listener to evaluate his music themselves. One of Rakim's major points towards the end of the seminar was based on knowing oneself at a deeper level. 

“I always wanted to inspire people. I want to relate to their stories and make it feel like I was talking to them,” Rakim said. “I am conscious of what I do and what I say because of that. If we are not trying to push people or raise the bar, then we are doing what everyone else is doing.”

Only two questions were taken from the audience at the first session. The seminar was followed by a 30-minute "Intellectual Intermission" between the attendees and CMU storyteller panelists.

“Knowledge of self is more about who you are, what your responsibilities are, what you were put here for,” Rakim said. “It also has to do with understanding as much information as possible, meaning you have to study history, life, and culture. It will tell you more about yourself.”