To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic

By William Jelani Cobb | Go to book overview

5
Seven MCs

Every legend, moreover, contains its residuum of truth, and the root
function of language is to control the universe by describing it.

—James Baldwin


RAKIM: 360 DEGREES IN THE SHADE

I take seven MCs, put 'em in a line. Speak these nine words to a true listener and see what happens. There are a handful of lines that have blazed their way into the collective memory and become shorthand for the works that contained them. It would be impossible, at this point, to separate The Godfather from I made him an offer he couldn't refuse or White Heat from Made it, Ma, the top of the world. Rakim delivered that to hip hop with a single 12” released in 1986. “Eric B. Is President” and its bside, “Check Out My Melody,” heralded the arrival of a whole 'nother approach to the form, so radical a disjuncture with what had come before it that it could literally make your head hurt thinking about it. Doubt that if you wish. But repeat to any true hip hop head the nine italicized words at the beginning of this paragraph and see what happens. The response, coming like an involuntary reflex or part of a religious catechism will be: Then add seven more brothers who think they can rhyme.

There is an indelible whistle that heralds the beginning of the track, like the preamble to great oration. Then come the scratches, the handiwork of Eric B., the DJ and producer. And then comes the voice. Nearly two decades after “Check Out My Melody” first vibrated out of a set a speakers, Rakim remains the standard by which MCs are measured. In order to catch the magnitude of what Rakim did that summer in 1986, you would have to recognize what and where hip hop was prior to his arrival. Run DMC, Whodini, and LL had become the dominant voices within the music, sweeping away the Old School and inaugurating the

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To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Microphone Check - An Intro 1
  • 1: The Roots 13
  • 2: The Score 41
  • 3: Word of Mouth 77
  • 4: Sphalt Chronicles Hip Hop and the Storytelling Tradition 107
  • 5: Seven Mcs 139
  • Conclusion 167
  • Shout Outs 171
  • Notes 175
  • Index 183
  • About the Author 200
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