By: Douglas Wolk | Categories: HiLo Heroes, Hip Hop, Music

The greatest rapper of all time? That’s a contentious one. But if we rephrase it as “most quotable rapper,” then there’s a shoo-in: William Michael Griffin Jr., the god-on-the-mic better known as RAKIM (born 1968). A brilliant rhymer with a liquid-nitrogen flow, he’s the man who coined or popularized “it’s been a long time/I shouldn’t’a left you,” “pump up the volume,” “this is how it should be done,” “light ’em up, blow ’em out like candles,” “show and prove,” “microphone fiend,” “constant elevation,” “it ain’t where ya from, it’s where ya at,” and the hip-hop use of “manifest” and “peace” — in the same song. (That would be 1987’s “I Know You Got Soul,” whose Bobby Byrd sample also did a lot to popularize James Brown-produced samples in hip hop, although maybe Rakim’s DJ partner Eric B. had more to do with that.) The R’s post-B. career has been spotty at best: the one great song he’s appeared on in the last decade and a half was Truth Hurts’ “Addicted,” and he started his verse on that one by quoting his own “Paid In Full.” But if anyone’s entitled to say “thinking of a master plan,” he is.


HIP HOP ON HILOBROW: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM series (25 posts about old-school hip hop) | DJ Kool Herc as HiLo Hero | Gil Scott-Heron as HiLo Hero | Slick Rick as HiLo Hero | Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels as HiLo Hero | Afrika Bambaataa as HiLo Hero | Biz Markie as HiLo Hero | Eric B as HiLo Hero (forthcoming in November) | U-God as HiLo Hero | Slug as HiLo Hero | Adam Yauch as HiLo Hero | Ghostface Killah as HiLo Hero | DJ Run as HiLo Hero | Flavor Flav as HiLo Hero | Scott La Rock as HiLo Hero | GZA as HiLo Hero | Schoolly D as HiLo Hero | Aesop Rock as HiLo Hero | Notorious B.I.G. as HiLo Hero | Melle Mel as HiLo Hero | Rick Rubin as HiLo Hero | Rakim as HiLo Hero | Ol’ Dirty Bastard as HiLo Hero | Madlib as HiLo Hero | Talib Kweli as HiLo Hero | Danger Mouse as HiLo Hero | Kool Moe Dee as HiLo Hero | Chuck D as HiLo Hero | Dizzee Rascal as HiLo Hero | RZA as HiLo Hero | Cee-Lo Green as HiLo Hero | Best Ever Clean Hip Hop

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Douglas Wolk, author of Reading Comics and Live at the Apollo, is an arts critic and comics writer in Portland, Oregon. His new book is Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two, with artist Ulises Farinas. Twitter: @douglaswolk