Although he never became a household name outside of Hip Hop circles, Rakim is almost universally acknowledged as one of the greatest MCs of all time. It isn’t necessarily the substance of what he says that’s helped him win numerous polls among rap fans in the know; the majority of his lyrics concern his own skills and his Islamic faith, instead it is the way he says it, and this is where Rakim is virtually unparalleled, even to this day.
His flow is smooth and effortless with jazz rhythms that makes it sound as though he’s not even breaking a sweat. Rakim raised the bar for MC technique higher than it had ever been, helping to pioneer the use of internal rhymes — rhymes that occurred in the middle of lines rather than just at the end. Many MCs of Rakim’s time developed their technique through ‘off the top of the head’ freestyle battles, were as Rakim was among the first to demonstrate the possibilities of sitting down and writing intricately crafted lyrics.