Being a legend isn’t as easy as it looks. Just ask pioneering rappers Rakim, MC Lyte and Da Brat, who will perform at Saturday night’s Heavy D tribute at the Arie Crown Theater.
Rakim (born William Griffin Jr., and took the name Rakim Allah after converting to Islam in 1986) released the influential “Paid in Full,” a 1987 collaboration with then-partner Eric B. Things haven’t been easy since: His solo career has been sporadic, and he went a decade between albums before releasing the modestly successful “The Seventh Seal” in 2009.
MC Lyte, born Lana Moorer, released the trailblazing “Lyte as a Rock” in 1988. These days she has a job with DuBose Entertainment, working in the studio with artists like Tweet and placing music in TV shows.
For Da Brat, born Shawntae Harris and raised in Chicago, the Arie Crown show will be a homecoming, her return to the place where, as a newcomer in 1992, she ran onstage at a Kris Kross concert and performed a song written by her then-collaboratorR. Kelly. Harris used the exposure as a springboard to an impressive career — she was the first female solo MC to go platinum — later derailed by a three-year prison sentence for aggravated assault.
In three separate phone interviews, Lyte, Rakim and Da Brat talked about being old-school rappers in a new-school world, the rise of Nicki Minaj and the (probably unrelated) coming apocalypse.
On being called a hip-hop legend
MC Lyte: I definitely think that sounds right. Just for being able to pave a way that wasn’t there before. Of course, I look up to all the greats, like Salt-N-Pepa and Shante, because they put the light in me to believe that I could actually do it, but when it came to me creating my own way, I took that road and laid it in a different direction. So to be thought of as a legend, I’ll take that.
Da Brat: I appreciate that. I didn’t come up with that, but after you’ve been in the game for so long and you’ve made a mark on people all over the world, I feel like I own that. I’ve been doing this for 17 years. To still be relevant is a great thing and I’m very grateful for that. The legend thing? I love it.
Rakim: I’m a modest person. I respect titles that I get. I definitely try not to get (bigheaded) about it, but there are some (titles) I hold dear to me, and hopefully when it’s all said and done and I leave the game, hopefully I can be known as a legend.
On rappers as role models; religion
Da Brat: I have some TV projects going, but it seems that most people are interested in drama, in fighting, drinking, alcohol, drugs. And I’m past that. I’m not going to sell my soul and go back to that just to make some money.
Rakim: I refer to Jesus in some of my songs, but it’s funny, the more conscious you are, the more they try to label you and alienate you as almost different music, you know what I mean? Luckily, I’ve been able to walk a fine line. … I think people know I’ve been conscious since 1986, and I think people expect that from me, and I didn’t feel like I had to change too much.