rakim bio

Rakim Bio: The God MC

Latest posts by Simoun Redoblado (see all)

The first time I heard of Rakim was on Twitter. Silly, I know.

Back in 2011, pro wrestling star Montel Vontavious Porter was asked to name the greatest rapper of all time. Was it Tupac or Biggie? In response, MVP Tweeted: “Rakim.” When I saw this on my feed, I went, “Who’s that?”

It took me years to properly answer this question. Indeed, how can hip hop fans measure the significance of perhaps the genre’s most important pioneer? Before Rakim came along, basic rhymes and simplistic rhythm were the norm in rap music. But when the God MC emerged in the late ’80s, he opened the floodgates for a fresh wave of lyrical innovation.

There is no hyperbole when historians claim that Rakim changed the rap game forever. By mastering breakthrough techniques and inspiring multiple generations of gifted poets, Rakim secured his legacy as an incredibly important force that drove hip hop’s evolution.

Rakim Quick Facts

Birth Date January 28, 1968
Birth Place Long Island New York
Nick Name The R, The God MC
Nationality American
Zodiac Sign Aquarius
Siblings Steve Griffin (brother)
Children Tahmell Griffin


Jabar Griffin

Destiny Griffin

Partner/Spouse Felicia Griffin
Most Successful Songs “Paid in Full” (with Eric B.)


“I Know You Got Soul” (with Eric B.)

“Follow the Leader” (with Eric B.)

“Don’t Sweat the Technique” (with Eric B.)

“When I B on the Mic” (solo track)

Net Worth Estimated value of $2 million (as of 2022)
Social Media twitter.com/officialrakim




Major Awards VH1 Lifetime Achievement Award (received in 2006)


2012 I Am Hip Hop Icon Award, BET Hip Hop Awards

BET Hip Hop Lifetime Achievement Award (received in 2013)

Last updated July 15, 2022

Rakim Early Years

Rakim Early Years

William Michael Griffin Jr. was born on January 28, 1968 in Long Island, New York. Early side note: when I saw this date as I was doing research for this bio, my eyes lit up.

January 28 also happens to be the birthday of J. Cole, one of my favorites in the contemporary scene. I then realized that J. Cole was invoking his connection to Rakim in his 2014 Forest Hills Drive album. On the aptly titled track “January 28th,” Cole quipped “Boy I ain’t no joke/Like the great Rakim, when I make my notes.”

So how did Rakim become an artistic force to be reckoned with? Early on in his life, Griffin had strong musical influences in his family. One of them was his mother Cynthia Griffin, a former blues singer. Thanks to Cynthia’s passion for music, William Jr. was surrounded by jazz, soul, and disco, among other genres.

Another person who fueled Griffin’s passion for music was his aunt Ruth Brown, who was a leading R&B figure in the 1950s. As Griffin started to show an aptitude for creating lyrics and rhythm (and even playing the saxophone), Brown provided him encouragement and guidance.

In a 2018 interview with Stretch and Bobbito, the God MC stated that Brown continued to help him refine his art during his rap career (“She’s real sharp with her craft, so she was analyzing what I was doing.”).

It’s worth noting that, aside from his inclination to music, Griffin developed another strong passion during his formative years: sports. During a 2020 sit-down interview with Chuck D, he revealed that he seriously considered a pro football career when he was a teenager.

Encouraged by his father, William Griffin Sr., William Jr. thrived as a quarterback during his high school days. However, he had to come to terms with his limited stature, which just wasn’t up to par with NFL standards at the time.

The Whiz Kid Gets Serious

As such, there was really only one path for Griffin to take: to follow in the footsteps of his mother and aunt as a musician. Along with Cynthia and Ruth Brown, Griffin had a third significant influence: his brother Stevie, who played mixtapes in his boombox. Falling in love with hip hop, Griffin started to practice cutting and scratching when DJ Maniac, a friend of Stevie’s, brought over turntables to their house.

Griffin’s rap idols included Kool Moe Dee, Grandmaster Melle Mel, and Grandmaster Caz. These hip hop artists had already established the groundwork to elevate lyricism in the industry. In a short while, a teenager from Wyandanch, Long Island, would set the artistic bar higher than ever before.

In school, Griffin wrote rhymes in his notebooksan endeavor that occupied his attention at the expense of his academic lessons. These were no haphazard scribbles; Griffin meticulously composed lines with the intent of showcasing an impressive mastery of the English language. As a former English teacher, I marvel at emcees like Rakim and Eminem, who elevated the rap game through their deep fascination with vocabulary, pronunciation, and syntax. (But would I have told Mr. Griffin to turn in his pending assignments? Absolutely.)

Interestingly, some of Griffin’s first public performances were as a DJ, not as an emcee. At that time, his stage name was Love Kid Wiz. Eventually, though, he began his longer-lasting legacy by finally picking up the mic. With the help of DJ Maniac, he started working on a distinct vocal technique that would complement his smooth rhythms.

The new emcee was then off to the races: as a performer and battle rapper, he earned his stripes in indoor and outdoor events, where he rubbed shoulders with more experienced peers. During one New York City rap convention, he even got to perform alongside “The Clown Prince of Rap,” Biz Markie (who beatboxed while the future Rakim spit verses).

No partnership, however, could ever compare to the one that Kid Wiz established in 1985. During a visit to DJ Maniac’s studio, he was introduced to another DJ who was just three years older than him. From the very first time that Louis Eric Barrier played an instrumental for William Griffin Jr. to rap along to, it was evident that their collective body of skills would make plenty of magic in the music industry.

The Emergence of Rakim and Eric B.

Eric B and Rakim

In 1986, Kid Wiz was at a crossroads. For the eighteen-year-old, a full-fledged foray into the music business would mean shelving a college education.

In time, it became a spiritual matter for the young man: having embraced the teachings of the Five Percent Nation (a secular Islamic sect), he decided to pursue a rap career with the intent of spreading knowledge to the world. To mark the beginning of a new chapter in his life, the man born William Griffin Jr. chose the stage name Rakim Allah (which would frequently be shortened to Rakim).

Rakim and Eric Barrier (more popularly known as Eric B.) started recording more frequently. However, their parents considered their joint venture an impractical hobby that could never fetch a payday. Finally, Eric B. was able to present a favorable scenario to Rakim’s parents: the emcee would get sufficient financial compensation while still having the freedom to exit the venture whenever he wished (as opposed to an iron-clad commitment).

Amidst their parents’ misgivings, the duo had the generous backing of Eric B.’s DJ roommate Marlon “Marley Marl” Williams, who allowed the two to use his home studio for various projects.

During one recording session at Marley Marl’s studio, Eric B. was supposed to work with Long Island rapper Freddie “Bumpy Knuckles” Foxxx. However, due to a prior commitment, Bumpy Knuckles didn’t show up. Because of this, Eric B. turned to his other friend from Long Island. The subsequent recording sessions then led to the creation of Rakim and Eric B.’s first singles: “Eric B. is President” and “My Melody.”

Funnily enough, these two tracks are as controversial as they are significant to the careers of Rakim and Eric B. The controversy arises from all the contentious claims for the two songs’ engineering credits. Producers Large Professor and Paul C (who died in 1989) both staked their claims, as did DJ Mark the 45 King. To compound matters, Marley Marl later claimed that he produced the pair of tracks; Eric B. would deny this by saying that Marl was the engineer, not the producer.

Nevertheless, the 1986 release of “Eric B. is President” and “My Melody” opened doors for Rakim and Eric B in the hip hop industry. In particular, “Eric B. is President” caught the ear of Russell Simmons, the founder of Def Jam Recordings. This led to the duo’s big break—a record deal with Island Records.

Getting Paid in Full

Over the next four years, Rakim and Eric B. would bask in the commercial success attained by their first three albums. I’m not sure if they knew it at the time, but these profitable projects had an extra layer of value to them. Much like Kool Moe Dee and Melle Mel had a profound impact on Rakim, his albums would go on to inspire young poets to push the boundaries of lyricism in hip hop.

In 1987, Rakim and Eric B. released their first studio album, Paid in Full, under the imprint of 4th & Broadway, a subsidiary of Island Records. Aside from “Eric B. is President,” the singles “I Ain’t No Joke,” “I Know You Got Soul,” and “Move the Crowd” were released from the tracklist.

My personal favorite from Paid in Full—and, in my opinion, the quintessential Rakim song—is the title track. The song “Paid in Full” shows the duo at their finest: Rakim with his innovative multisyllabic rhymes and diverse flows, Eric B. with his scintillating production. Because of the fresh sound offered by this and all the other songs, I can’t think of many more 10-track albums that have wielded such a huge influence on the hip hop industry. 

Paid in Full went on to be certified platinum, making it Rakim’s most successful album to date. Though the duo’s next two albums did not reach the same heights of commercial success, these gold-certified albums further popularized the complex rhythms and rhyme schemes that inhabited Rakim’s verses.

On 1988’s Follow the Leader, Rakim showed refinement in his words-per-minute ratio, leading to a wider plethora of entertaining flows. Then, on 1990’s Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em, he added a new dimension to his style by taking on a more aggressive tone, both in terms of his delivery and content.

There is no doubt that this four year-run was the professional peak of both Rakim and Eric B. Their impeccable DJ/MC connection precedes the magic that Dr. Dre made with Snoop Dogg and Eminem, as well as the talented tandem of Sean “Puffy” Combs and The Notorious B.I.G. Sadly, in the ensuing years, neither Rakim nor Eric B. could ever recapture the glory that they attained from 1987 to 1990.

The Break-up

The Split Up Between Rakim and Eric

After putting out a fourth album in 1992the commercially underwhelming Don’t Sweat the Technique—the duo of Rakim and Eric B. ran into some issues that would lead to their split.

What precipitated the break-up? Just like many other separations of the not-so-amicable type, there are different versions of the story. In a number of interviews in the late 2010s, Eric B. described how he and Rakim had grown weary of each other after their glorious run. “Sometimes family just gets tired of each other, and you just need a mental break to do whatever you want,” he said to Chicago Tribune‘s Steve Knopper.

Rakim, on the other hand, paints a picture of misunderstanding. In a 2018 interview with Stretch and Bobbito, he claimed that Eric B. had refused to honor a certain agreement that they had regarding their solo projects and collective contract negotiations. Rakim summed up the whole saga by saying, “Me and [Eric B.] didn’t have a problem. We had a business problem.”

After the iconic hip hop duo decided to part ways in 1992, Eric B. pursued a solo career as a producer, along with ventures in other industries like sports and food service. His former partner, meanwhile, focused largely on music.

The R Marches On

After his highly prolific run with Eric B., Rakim initially struggled to regain his footing in the industry. There was a noticeable decline in the rate at which he released new work. Allmusic.com notes that, for a number of years, his only solo output was 1993’s “Heat It Up,” which was included in the soundtrack for the film Gunmen. As the rap game blew up in the mid-’90s, the pioneer from Long Island remained mostly radio silent.

As a follower of rap’s history, I can’t help but notice that titans like Tupac, The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, and Jay-Z emerged during Rakim’s period of low production. What would have happened if the R, whose influence on all of those emcees is palpable, decided to go toe-to-toe with album releases?

It wasn’t until November 1997 that Rakim resurfaced on rap’s radar. To his credit, his debut solo album The 18th Letter went gold and reached as high as the number four spot on the Billboard 200. Two years later, he released his second album The Master, which sorely underperformed from a commercial standpoint.

Due to the dismal showing of The Master, Rakim decided to hitch his wagon to another legendary producer: Dr. Dre. After Rakim signed with Aftermath Entertainment in 2000, Dre announced that his Aftermath debut (an album entitled Oh My God) would be coming out the following year.

It never did. In 2003, Rakim departed Aftermath without ever releasing a studio album. Years later, the R revealed his reasons for doing so: extremely different visions for what the project was going to be. In a 2018 interview, Rakim stated that Dr. Dre wanted him to follow the gangsta rap “formula.” Rakim, however, refused to do so, as he wanted to stay away from gangsta rap’s violent lyrics and instead make a record “that your daughter could listen to…[that] my grandmother can listen to.”

For what it’s worth, Rakim did get around to recording a couple of songs produced by Dr. Dre. He appeared in the 2002 song “Addictive” by R&B singer Truth Hurts (another Aftermath talent); and in “The Watcher 2,” off Jay-Z’s 2002 album The Blueprint 2. In addition, he contributed the track “R.A.K.I.M.” to the soundtrack of the film 8 Mile, which stars Dre’s protege Eminem.

Partnerships, Old and New


For the rest of the 2000s, though, Rakim once again went under the radar. His only major project came at the end of the decade, when he released his third studio album The Seventh Seal in November 2009. Though Dr. Dre allowed him to use tracks that he had originally recorded for Oh My God, Rakim decided to record entirely new material for The Seventh Seal. The album, however, could go no further than number 67 on the Billboard 200.

Throughout the 2010s, Rakim hinted that he would be releasing his fourth studio album. Though this project has yet to see the light of day, Rakim did get to work on collaborative tracks during the same time frame.

Busta Rhymes, Linkin Park, and DMX were among the artists that the R teamed up with. Rakim also contributed the song “King’s Paradise” to the soundtrack of Marvel Television’s Luke Cage, season 2. (Dare I compare Rakim to Luke Cage? Both of them are criminally underrated!)

Then, in 2016, a Tweet sent old school hip hop fans into a frenzy. With the simple announcement of “We are back,” Rakim and Eric B. let the world know that they would be renewing their musical partnership. On July 7, 2017, the two held a concert in Harlem’s Apollo Theatre to commemorate the 30th anniversary of their seminal album Paid in Full. DJ Kool Herc, Flavor Flav, Ice-T, and Fat Joe were among the hip hop luminaries who paid tribute to the reunited duo, who went on to tour in 2018.

That same year, the God MC celebrated his 50th year of existence. If the signs are to believedspecifically, his busy touring schedule in the early 2020sthen hip hop fans can rest assured that Rakim won’t be putting an end to his career any time soon.

Rakim Legacy

In hip hop, “pioneer” and “Rakim” are essentially synonymous. Kool Moe Dee, one of rap’s forefathers and a childhood idol of Rakim, neatly summed up the R’s legacy in his 2003 book There’s a God on the Mic. As Kool Moe Dee puts it: “

Any emcee that came after 1986 had to study Rakim just to know what to be able to do…Rakim is basically the inventor of flow.” In the rich history of hip hop, I have never heard of another rapper who was credited by an OG for inventing an integral component of the genre.

Why Is Rakim Influential?

Rakim Performing

Ultimately, Rakim achieved what he set out to do when he was scribbling rhymes in his notebook. In those teenage years, he aspired to elevate his verses with nuanced structure and intelligent word choice.

By staying true to these poetic standards throughout his career, Rakim created music that moved the hearts and minds of his audience. Some of these kids and teenagers went on to pick up a mic so that they could emulate the R.

The works of Rakim paved the way for Tupac and Biggie to craft lyrically elevated verses; and for Nas, Eminem, and the Wu-Tang Clan to push the boundaries of story-telling and wordplay. Of course, in the past two decades, virtually every other major player in the rap game has been influenced by those emcees. As such, Rakim’s influence continues to multiply exponentially.


Question: Does Rakim have a family of his own?

Answer: Rakim shares three children with his wife Felicia: his sons Tahmell and Jabar, and his daughter Destiny. He also shares a son with a woman named Nicole Smith. In 2004, he was arrested in New York City for allegedly failing to appear in court for child support matters related to his son with Smith. Rakim was released the following day; in an MTV interview, he states that documentation of the arrest warrant could not be provided.

Question: What is the significance of the number seven to Rakim?

Answer: In a 2007 Billboard interview, Rakim explained how he came up with the title The Seventh Seal for his 2009 album. He stated, “The number 7 has a lot of significance. The seventh letter of the alphabet is G—that stands for God. There are seven continents, seven seas.” It’s also worth noting that the reunion concert of Rakim and Eric B. took place on 07/07/17.

Question: What is Rakim’s connection to A$AP Rocky?

Answer: In separate interviews, Rakim and Rocky narrated how the latter’s mother approached Rakim while he was at a stoplight in Harlem. Rakim was delighted to know that the mother’s child was named after him. The God MC then proceeded to sign a fresh diaper for the future emcee.

Bottom Line

Is Rakim the Nikola Tesla of the hip hop world? Though Tesla’s work led to ubiquitous technology that the world uses on a daily basis, he is frequently overshadowed by other inventors such as Edison.

Rakim’s name, meanwhile, is often mentioned behind Tupac, Biggie, and several other artists in the discussion of rap’s all-time greats. Such a travesty should be unravelled, for it is no stretch of the imagination to say that the evolution of rap music would have been vastly different if it weren’t for Rakim.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top