Know Your History: Episode 2 Part 2

Know Your History is a monthly radio segment I produce for DOPEfm.

If you missed Part 1 go and read it here. And don’t forget to download the podcast for free.

Without any further ado, here is Part 2.

“So far we have had a song about the history of the culture, how it started with the DJ, how emcees weren’t ruling. We talked about the break of the record and how that sprang forth from DJs playing the part that people liked to dance to, which spawned forth into break dancing and of course, emceeing. And when we talk about emceeing and we talk about great MCs, one of the first names we have to say is Rakim. Eric B and Rakim.

You gotta give it up for the old school Rakim. He’s gotta be one of the most sampled and quoted lyricists. Say what you wanna say about him. He may have lost some of the earlier hunger. His later stuff might not be as good. But this is definitely a classic that I’m gonna drop for you right now. “I Know You Got Soul” and we wanna talk about all the rhymes he’s got in there about emceeing and about writing rhymes as opposed to writing your name on the wall.

So let’s go back to the third element, emceeing. This is Know Your History. I’m Chase March. We’ll be right back after this song.

Yeah, that was Eric B and Rakim “I Know You Got Soul.” Rakim on the microphone. Eric B on the production / DJ tip. And you know what, Rakim has to be one of the best emcees out there. Just going by how many times he’s been quoted by other rappers is one thing. But I wanted to play this song in particular because he talks a lot about the writing process and about what it means to be an MC.

I like in the second verse he says, “Picture a mic, the stage is empty, a beat like this may tempt me,” going back to how the DJ sparks everything. The DJ plays a break. it’s gonna tempt the break dancers to get up and dance to it and it tempts the MCs to  get up and rhyme to it. So Rakim wants to grab the mic “like I’m on Soul Train,” which was a popular television show that featured dancers and live performances.

Interestingly enough, a little bit later, he says, “I’mma make an encore. Take the mic, make the people respond for, The R, ‘cause that’s the way it’ll have to be.” So he’s talking about how he hypes up the crowd. In another lyric from a different song he says. MC means to “move the crowd.” So he takes the whole jon of MCing, meaning Master of Ceremonies and take it so that he’s moving the crowd. This kind of shifted the importance from the DJ to the emcee and that’s kind of where it is, still now, in hip-hop culture.

Speaking about the writing process, I really like how he talks about it. And this is a very, very well-known line.  Mos Def spit it to pay homage to Rakim, and it’s just beautifully poetic so I want to quote that here too. Rakim says, “I start to think and then I sink into the paper like I was ink. When I’m writing, I’m trapped in between the lines. I escape when I finish the rhyme.” Man that is beautiful right there.

It’s pretty interesting to talk about right there too because he’s trapped by the rhyme. And that just goes to show you what MCs do at their best. They’re just in the zone, it’s just all about rhyming, entertaining the crowd, and you’re not done until you’re done. Amazing!

He talks about how MCs obviously don’t want to go on after him because he just wrecks it. He says, “Think about it. Wait. Erase your rhyme. Forget it and don’t waste your time. ‘Cause I’ll be in the crowd if you ain’t controlling it. Drop the mic, you shouldn’t be holding it.”

Now I’m sure anyone new to hip-hop, anyone familiar with hip-hop knows that line. I’ve heard that scratched by plenty of DJs plenty of times over lots of MCs tracks.

It’s nice to see the passion that Rakim had. Later in the song he said, “Eager to emcee is my theme. I get hype when I hear a drum roll. Rakim is on the mic and you know I got soul.”

So just talking about the whole job of emceeing is to be able to say something powerful to move the crowd, to say it in a rhyme, to put together word play, and make it sound nice. Of course, a little bit later he says, “I write my rhyme while I cool in my mansion, then put it on tape and in the city I test it. Then on the radio, The R is requested. You listen to it, the concept might break you ‘cause anyone can relate to.”

That’s the whole job of emceeing right there. You want people to relate to what you’re saying, you want them to be able to feel your lyrics, but to understand what you’re saying. And that is what I think hip-hop is about. It’s about understanding. It’s about communicating as a culture and as a community. It’s about getting your message heard, and that’s why hip-hop is powerful. we have a lot of power in this culture.

Voices that wouldn’t normally have been heard, have been heard. Silent voices that would never have been heard have been seen. It’s about connecting with the audience and whether you’re doing that loud because a DJ’s scratching and turning the sound system up, whether you’re doing it loud because the MC is screaming the DJ’s name over the track to hype up the crowd, or whether the rapper is rapping about himself or the way he rhymes or about anything else that he sees or experiences, or whether you’re doing it silently by painting your name in graffiti wherever you can find a spot.

It’s great to see that names can travel out of the community because not only can we see graffiti online and in magazines, but now we can see it on trains and a lot of other different venues, which is very, very cool. So once again, what have we learned today?

We’ve learned that hip-hop is based around four elements. Those elements are DJing, the Dj was the one who started this whole culture. The DJ liked to play the break and that was “the part where the record broke down where it was just a drum and a couple of sounds,” as Murs said at the top. The DJs noticed that people like to dance to that so therefore break dancing sprung from that. And as DJs got a little more intricate with their tricks, they needed an MC to hype up the crowd. DJs didn’t really have time to get on the mic anymore. They were so busy with their hands on the turntables, using it as an instrument and using the mixer to manipulate sounds. The MCs got on and started hyping up the crowd. And then pretty soon, MCs rhymes got longer and more elaborate and focus shifted from the DJ who was the original to the emcee. Hip-hop still kind of has that focus right now.

We need to remember these four elements and we really need to celebrate them because it’s amazing what graffiti writers can do and what break-dancers can do. I know I can’t do that. I can DJ, I can MC, but I respect the other two elements that I can’t really do and I love the artistry behind them. I think you should too. It’s really important to celebrate what we have and what we’ve accomplished with hip-hop.

I hope you’re enjoying this series. Remember that we come to you every week on DOPEfm with the best hip-hop mix shows and artist interviews, and I’m coming to you once a month with the history segments. This has been Know Your History: Episode 2 – The 4 Elements.

I’ll see you next week on DOPEfm and I’ll see you next month for Episode 3.

This is Chase March and you better know your history.”