This Thursday night, the man who set the standard for greatness in rap, Rakim, takes the stage for a show with Wu-Tang member Raekwon at Stage 48. It’s a rare event that fans get to see Rakim as, even in this era of 24/7 social media, he’s remained one of the few artists in hip-hop to maintain an aura of mystique and only emerge when least expected. While he is responsible for one of the tightest four-album streaks in the genre’s history, his appearances outside pressing a “play” button have been exceedingly rare. Here now, the most random outlets from which Rakim has reemerged over the years.
Eric B. & Rakim – “St. Ides Commercial”
It wasn’t all that uncommon for popular hip-hop artists in the early ’90s to endorse St. Ides’ Malt Liquor. Everyone from Ice Cube to the Geto Boys to the Wu-Tang Clan made a commercial for the beverage. While there was some controversy, being that Rakim was a devout Five Percenter selling an alcoholic beverage, the commercial remixing “Don’t Sweat the Technique” remains one of the most memorable St. Ides ads ever released. Years later, the same song would be used in spots for Target and Apple.
Truth Hurts featuring Rakim – “Contagious” on The Tonight Show 2002
The early 2000s promised us the inspired dream team pairing of Dr. Dre (fresh off his 2001/The Marshall Mathers LP runs and Producer of the Year Grammy win) and the returning Rakim. Signed to Aftermath for his first album in five years, it seemed like the type of partnership that couldn’t go wrong. The first output we heard from the pairing was Rakim’s guest verse on Aftermath R&B artist Truth Hurts’ “Contagious.” While the single itself was classic Rakim, the live performance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” was the first sign of that things could go wrong. Not only did Leno mispronounce his name (“Rah-keeem”), but Rakim’s no-frills rhyming just looked out-of-place in the over-produced Aftermath stage production.
Rakim Commercial for GoldTeethUSA
Following the Aftermath fallout, the first time we saw Rakim was randomly in a commercial for Gold Teeth USA. In the pre-YouTube world, the spot made its way from computer-to-computer in the form of a low-quality downloadable .WMV file. There isn’t much known about the clip, and while it lead to a few hard luck rumors at the time that seem silly in retrospect, watching the clip today more closely shows Rakim just doing a favor and showing appreciation for the product. Gold Teeth USA is still in business, so remember to tell them Rakim sent you. They probably still won’t offer a discount, but tell them anyway.
Juelz Santana – Mic Check by yafs1925
Juelz Santana – “Mic Check” Cameo
A year later, Rakim left true-school hip-hop purists flabbergasted by doing a cameo in Dipset member Juelz Santana’s “Mic Check” video. Playing the part of the school principle to Santana’s teacher (…or something) it was a great rare moment of a popular contemporary MC giving some shine to a legend that helped pave the way. Santana reflects on his time with Rakim fondly, saying he learned a lot from Rakim coming to the studio and schooling him on a a few things. While the rumored “Mic Check Remix” with Rakim never took place, it was a moment of hope that Rakim might return to take control of the rap game once again.
All Pro Football 2K8 Commercial
In the world of football video games, it’s a challenge to compete with Madden’s stranglehold. That’s why enlisting one of the greatest rappers of all time to do a commercial rhyming about one of the greatest football players of all time was a brilliant move to level the playing field. Rakim’s tribute to legendary NFL wide-receiver Jerry Rice was an effective reminder of what made the golden ages of football and hip-hop great. With the game exclusively featuring retired players, Rakim’s rhymes established a fitting throwback vibe to the project, while tossing in a dis to competitor Electronic Arts along the way.