Eric B and Rakim are a name known to many. Surfacing in New York during the early-1980s, together, the two figures changed hip-hop for the better and advanced the culture in a highly significant way.
Formed in Long Island, the two friends impacted how MCs and producers operated in the scene and pushed the boundaries like no other acts had before. However, before picking up the mic and teaming up with his musical partner in crime, Rakim (real name William Griffin) had dreams of being in the NFL.
In a 2020 sit-down interview with Chuck D in Santa Fe to discuss his book Sweat The Technique, Griffin opened up about his journey through life, how he entered the game and how he continues to work on himself and help others around him. With Chuck D singing the emcee’s praises, Griffin began by explaining why he chose to defy the norm by approaching lyricism in a more complex way.
Opening up about it, Griffin explained: “I attribute it to Jazz man. Growing up in my house, there was a lot of Jazz. My mum, she sang everything from Opera to Jazz and played a lot of good Jazz!”
The South Bronx native continued: “It done two things for me, it let me know that a record doesn’t have to have vocals on it for you to feel it, and I used to sit there and hear certain songs and know exactly and know exactly what they wanted me to feel like”.
He added: “Knowing that taught me how to listen to the music and create the song from that. I let the music take me where I’m supposed to go. Let the music create the style! Sometimes it might be a little rhythm inside of a guitar lick, something small, but I like to emphasise off of certain things if I can find a rhythm that can create my rap flow”.
As he delved into his childhood, Rakim unveiled details about his stint as a jock being his high school’s star quarterback. Rakim revealed he really wanted to play for the National Football League one day, disclosing: “I used to go hard with working out for quarterback to reach the next level. I remember before the season started, like two or three weeks out, I would start running to the high school. You want everybody to see you running down the street; you feel important, like, ‘There goes Ra getting ready for the season.’ I remember getting my little workout on. I remember coming home, and Pops would be in the kitchen. I’d be like, ‘Ah, I was just working out Dad.’ He’d say, ‘Did you run backwards?'”
Griffin admitted that although he was a star at his high school, he knew deep down he wouldn’t make it into the NFL due to his petite stature. He continued: “Just trying to throw further, run faster, be better was my thing, but things happen for a reason. Quarterbacks are 6ft 7”, 280 pounds. I’m glad Eric B. knocked on the door because I’m only 5ft 8″, buck-forty on a good day. I was in love with football, just like I love music. I really thought I was going to be in NFL one day, but I wasn’t quite big enough. Eric B. knocked on the door and some better things happened.”
You can watch Chuck D and Rakim in conversation below.