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Hip-hop legend Rakim on rapping at 53— and new tour with DJ Jazzy Jeff

It’s not bragging when you can back it up like rap god Rakim.

And 35 years after Eric B. & Rakim dropped their debut single, the 1986 classic “Eric B. Is President,” the legendary emcee would still go flow to flow with anyone — even at age 53.

“I’d battle anybody, man,” said Rakim Allah, who on Saturday will perform at Coney Island Amphitheater in a free SummerStage concert celebrating the birthday of iconic NYC DJ Funkmaster Flex. “Every day I wake up and I still feel that I’m the baddest brother to ever touch a microphone. No disrespect to nobody. But if I don’t feel like that, then I’m slipping.”

For the Long Island native, it’s quite the opposite. When he rates his 2021 self against that “young cat trying to come up” who made “Eric B. Is President,” the elder is the leader.

Eric B.& Rakim
Eric B. & Rakim (right) rock a pose in New York in 1987, the same year their debut album “Paid in Full” was released.
Michael Ochs Archives

“If I was a 10 then, I’m a 20 now,” said Rakim. “I’ve grown a lot, I’ve learned a lot, I’ve lived a lot. I think I’m better now than I was before, just from the journey, from the experience, and everything that came with it.” 

Still, three-and-a-half decades later, “Eric B. Is President” remains the song with the immortal line that fans most often quote to Rakim: “Thought I was a doughnut, you tried to glaze me.” 

Rakim performing
Rakim performs at the 2021 Old School Hip Hop Fest in Mableton, Georgia.
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Known as a lyrical master, Rakim’s own favorite rhyme comes from “Musical Massacre,” off of 1988’s “Follow the Leader” album: “Go manufacture a match, send me after a blast/Of a master that has to make musical massacre.”

“After I wrote that right there, I was feeling myself,” said Rakim, who credits Melle Mel, Grandmaster Caz and Kool Moe Dee as being his O.G. “yardsticks” as a lyricist. “They basically taught me how to rhyme.”

After Eric B. & Rakim split up in 1993, the duo reunited for a concert at the Apollo in 2017 and then toured in 2018. But while Rakim has been working on new music at a barn he converted into a studio on his Pennsylvania property, don’t expect any of it to feature his old partner.

Eric B. & Rakim
Iconic hip-hop duo Eric B. (right) & Rakim in New York circa 1989
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“We kind of think different now, and being on the same page in the studio is real important,” he said. “But I’ll always have love and respect for my brother. But I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to do what we did [again].”

In fact, Rakim is teaming up with another DJ — Jazzy Jeff — for the Ultimate House Party tour that kicks off in Los Angeles on Aug. 20. “We go back to ’86, when [DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince] put their first record out,” he said. “We used to do shows together. So we got history.”

As far as Rakim is concerned, though, he’s still very much making history — despite already being considered one of the greatest rappers of all time.

“In one of my rhymes, I said, ‘I’ma move crowds to 2,000 and somethin’,’ ” he said, referring to lyrics from 1997’s “Guess Who’s Back.” “But I had no idea I’d still be here rhyming at 50-something. For me, it ain’t something I could just fall out of love with. It’s who I am.”

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New York Post

The New York Post is a daily tabloid newspaper in New York City. The Post also operates NYPost.com, the celebrity gossip site PageSix.com and the entertainment site Decider.com.

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