80’s Rap: Rakim and Stuff

The late George Mikan, former Minneapolis Laker center was The Shit at one point.  I’m assured this is a fact because all contemporary basketball analysts tell me so.  He helped revolutionize basketball as a player helping pave the way for future superstars.  This is how I see Rakim and a lot of these 80’s guys.  Their contributions were valuable to the game but comparing their technical ability then to artists of now shows the huge difference in those eras.

Paid In Full is considered one of the best rap albums of all time but it tested rather poorly on the RapMETRICS system.  He posted an average rhyme density score of 0.21 (the lowest of the 23 albums in our database so far) with a NWP score of 0.39.  Classic albums don’t necessarily need to have high rhyme density scores (Illmatic and Blueprint are both around 0.30) but scores of 0.21 should be an album low, not an average.  This reaffirms our position: Technically speaking, Rakim and other 80’s artists were using elementary rhyme schemes and in absolute terms, aren’t as good statistically as many of the artists who would come after them.  We won’t ever know how Mikan would have produced in this era of basketball.  However, we can calculate how each Rakim song tests next to artists of later geneartions.  For now,  this is just a simplistic approach that may need refining in the future with the introduction of era-adjusted rhyme density scores.

The simple truth is that rhyming as a technical skill was refined and re-refined in later generations and the artists to come later, although not as decorated or celebrated, are every bit as good as the legends of the past.  This is my thesis, ya’ll,.

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6 thoughts on “80’s Rap: Rakim and Stuff

  1. Dennis Green says:

    Hi. I just found your blog. Looks very interesting.

    Maybe you can prove your thesis by charting a comparison over the decades? Looking at 80s artists versus 90s and modern ones would be interesting. Does it trend up or what?

    Also, were can I found out a little more about how you compute this rapmetrics score? Thanks.

  2. rapmetrics says:

    Yeah, that would be the ideal way to go about this. The only thing is that the number of albums in my database so far is low. With that said, out of the 23 albums I’ve analyzed so far this ranks the lowest by quite a large margin. It’s about as conclusive of a statement as I can make with the data I have.

  3. Hussein says:

    Statistically, the main feature for which Rakim was ahead of his time was in his use of triples and longer multis.
    Compared to his major contemporaries (Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, KRS-One) he used twice as many triples. Paid in Full and Follow the Leader both clock in at about 9% of rhymes being triples, while everyone earlier was 4 or 5%. This means listeners heard twice as many rhymes that made them go “damn!”

  4. Leigh Walton says:

    I dunno… I think this example actually shows a weakness in your analysis — if the God MC isn’t ranking highly then you’ve gotta be missing some variables.

    First of all, I don’t think “Paid in Full” is actually that strong or consistent as an album – it was thrown together in a hurry, wasn’t it? It seems pretty obvious to be a couple of brilliant singles and a bunch of weaker filler.

    More importantly, it looks like your analysis focuses only on rhymes — how many syllables there are, how many of them are rhyme syllables, etc. But to my ear the remarkable thing about Rakim is how he makes music out of things besides rhymes. And that’s chiefly due to his timing, delivery, charisma, and sound choices.

    Some examples from “I Ain’t No Joke,” probably his best song:

    “Even if it’s jazz or the quiet storm
    I hook a beat up, convert it into hip-hop form”
    Your analysis would consider these weak lines — only words of one or two syllables, only one rhyme (which consists of only one syllable and appears in the most predictable location). But it’s magical, thanks to the way he says “I hook a beat up” (and plays with those percussive consonants).

    “They think that I’m a new jack, but only if they knew that
    they who think wrong are they who can’t do that”
    NOBODY has timing like that. R dances around the beat in a way that’s hard to quantify.

    Still, it might be worth looking at number of enjambments — that’s something you could quantify, where Rakim might be an early standout. Or not, but still worth analyzing.

    • rapmetrics says:

      I look at it like this: Rakim was ahead of his time, sure. However, since then, people have picked up everything he did and improved on it. I didn’t grow up on Rakim so I have no personal connection to his music and have always had a hard time getting into his stuff. I don’t mean any disrespect in my post. I’ve just personally had a hard time getting into his work.

  5. stacks says:

    analyze his more recent stuff like the album “18th letter” (’97), he’s way more complex lyrically on that album than he was in the 80’s…peep the song “saga begins”

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