Where Are They Now: Lakim Shabazz

Whether from Nas or Edan, MCs today constantly refer back to one criminally-slept lyricist from the Class of '88 - Lakim Shabazz. The Newark, New Jersey MC could be described to his former Flavor Unit posse with exactly what Big Daddy Kane was to The Juice Crew. Shabazz was gifted, smooth, and insightful with the Supreme Mathematics of his righteous upbringing in The Nations of Gods and Earths. Still affiliated with the Tuff City Records label that first signed him, and 45 King, the producer that brought him out, Lakim may be hard to find, but his hunger ain't hard to tell. After reading his name on AllHipHop.com in late 2006 with a Nas "Where Are They Now?" featurette, the ferocious MC and the World's Most Dangerous Site got together for a discussion on the past, present and the future. Having gone years without performing, the 37-year-old (who proudly admits he doesn't look a day over 30) still lives in the city that raised him, working in the medical field, wishes to come out yet again. With his The Explanation album boasting production from 45 King, Diamond and others, it's quite plausible that legions of fans ought to be waiting for just that.AllHipHop.com: You have always been respected for your delivery, the lyricism, the swagger, and the whole nine. What inspired it, and how was it developed?Lakim Shabazz: I got into Hip-Hop at a young age. I got into Hip-Hop when I was in eighth grade. I came up listening to [The] Cold Crush [Brothers], Treacherous Three, Jazzy Five. A lot of my influences were, like, Grandmaster Flash, Kool Moe Dee; then later on in life, you know, you had Rakim, [Big Daddy] Kane. As far as my Hip-Hop influences, started out in, like, ’79, ’80. You know I went to a lot of parties in the Bronx; I used to stay in the Bronx. I used to go Stardust Ballroom, Harlem World. I still got the Busy Bee [vs .] [Kool] Moe Dee battle on cassette tape.I got into the Nation of Gods and Earths when I was 13 years old. I actually started out deejaying, and I met this brother named Cee Justice, he was a member of the Nations of Gods and Earths as well, he used to spin club music, and I knew how to cut and scratch. So I taught him how to cut and scratch, and he told me, “Yo man, why don’t you just write a rhyme,” ‘cause I never even thought about rhyming’ before then. I was like, “Aight man, whatever.” So I wrote a rhyme and the rest is history. I been rhyming’, making beats, cuttin’ ever since.AllHipHop.com: You mentioned the Nation of Gods and Earth, certainly in the mid to late ‘80s you, Grand Puba, and Rakim were three people that were truly pioneers in bridging the Nation with Hip-Hop. What was it like at that time, before there were so many MCs and such an overt link between the two?Lakim Shabazz: Even before I got signed to Tuff City [Records] and started making records, you had these two brothers called the Supreme Team. The Nation of Gods and Earths, man, the brothers always been active in music. They had a show and it was called The Supreme Team Show, they made that song, “Buffalo Gals,” that came out years later [with Malcolm McLaren]. The Nation, it’s always been brothas that had little songs that came out here and there. This was like in the mid ‘80s, way before I even thought I would get a little record deal, or what-have-you. So the Nation’s always had some sort of impact in music. The Nation of Gods and Earths was always big in New York, and when Hip-Hop started becoming popular, like in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, the Nation was really flourishing in New York, like in all the five boroughs in New York. They brothas were always was involved with Hip-Hop or what-have-you.AllHipHop.com: What at that time, as a youth, drew you to the Nation of Gods and Earths?Lakim Shabazz: What basically drew me was a cousin of mines named, Born. I’m from Newark, but I done lived in New York as well. They have a project in Newark that they done tore down now, it was called Stella Wright Project, and we used to go down there to see this brotha named Jazzy George and we knew he was into tagging….we was linking up with this guy Jazzy George and my cousin was in the hallway and he wrote “5 Percenter” on the wall in graffiti, and then he wrote, “The Black man is god.” So when I saw that I said, “Hey man, I’m god, too,” and he said, “How you figure?” I said, “I’m a Black man.” And it was basically a thing where I’m running behind my older cousin, if he was dealing with it, it’s like I just followed. But the difference is that once I got into it he was like, “Well you got to learn the Supreme Mathematics,” and I just accepted it because I wanted to be so much like my older cousin. So he started taking me to the Universal Parliament and things of that nature and it’s all important in my understanding of what the Nation is all about. And I just held fast to it, and I’ve been an active member of the Nation ever since. You know, just building, doing all within my power to educate children, men, women; and to make a positive impact on my community and the Nation, to you know, to help the growth and development of it. AllHipHop.com: Tell me how were you discovered, how did you get your first deal?Lakim Shabazz: I graduated school in ’86, this is when Biz [Markie]and them was doing his thing. I met Biz from my cousin Born around ’87, and I used to just run around with Biz a lot. I used to just go over to Biz’s crib over in Elizabeth, and we kicked the rhymes and stuff for him, and he liked my style. He was like, “Yo, you sound somewhat like Kane. Just hang in there, I’ma put you on, I’ma put you on.” But I was a hot head; I wanted to get out there. Everybody else was making records and stuff, I was hearing this, I was hearing that. This is at a time when [Big Daddy] Kane was really popping off, this is when Rakim had done recorded his first album, I guess he was working on his second one by them, transitioning from ’87 to ’88. And I recalled that I had met Mark [the 45 King] before, had been to his crib a couple of times. Biz had kept me waiting. Biz was working on his album, he was like, real busy, so eventually I just asked him, “Do you know DJ Mark the 45 King?” He was like, “Yeah,” I was like, “Give me his number.” So I called Mark, he asked me, “Yeah, I remember you. I liked your demo tape.” So he gave me his number, his address, I linked up with him came over his house, me and him recorded a couple of demos, he introduced me to Apache, Latee, Chill Rob G, his brther Lord Alibaski, Nikki D, Latifah. The rest is history from that point on.AllHipHop.com: How does that feel that, you’re respected in rhyme circles, but that people still want your albums, which are out of print?Lakim Shabazz: A lot of people still approach me about the album. I have to get with Tuff City to get me some copies. It makes me feel great. I just feel blessed and honored that my music, my vocals, my lyrics, what I brought to the table as far as the Hip-Hop artist was that recognized and that appreciated, and was that well liked that there was people out there still searching or inquiring. I just feel honored and blessed, man, basically, it’s a blessing from Allah, and I take it with stride. But I’m anxious to hit [fans] with the new stuff.AllHipHop.com: How did it feel as an artist in the group, for you, when Flavor Unit went from Mark the 45 King’s baby to Queen Latifah’s baby?Lakim Shabazz: Latifah was really the only one out of the original Flavor Unit that really gained commercial success. Her and Shakim [Compere], they had the finances to incorporate the name to start Flavor Unit Management. It felt good, basically, to see that she was able to do that. We grew. We were all young at the time and there’s been time where people have sour taste in the mouth about one thing or another. But at the end of the day I’m proud of her. I run into her from time to time; I run into her mother a lot. I’m not really in tune with Flavor Unit like that anymore. Only people I’m really in tune with from my circle is Latee, I run into Chill Rob every now and then, [and] Double J still comes to 45 King’s crib. But me and Mark is tight, I’m constantly in touch with 45 King. That transitioning it was more so, we was all proud. Because we was all still active within the circle. But for the most part that transition was good thing. In our circle we will always known that we were the children of the 45 King. Even [Latifah]… she’ll tell you that she was the only girl...well her and Nikki D.AllHipHop.com: Do you still get a chance to perform?Lakim Shabazz: I haven’t performed in years. The last time I performed was out here in this city out here in Jersey called Morristown. I still perform at little local stuff, here and there. I still got it. It’s nothing for me to go up there and perform. As far as collaborations on my project that I’m working on its all unsigned talent, because there’s a lot of talent out here in Newark that I’m striving to put on.AllHipHop.com: What is still consistent and what’s different about your music today?Lakim Shabazz: As far as with me, I try to use different beats from different regions. I try to appeal to everybody. But I basically keep it the same. To me, Hip-Hop ain’t Hip-Hop, if it ain’t got no soul. To me it still got to have that gritty sound. I’ma Pete Rock fanatic; I love Morris Bethseda, I love Q-Tip, I love 45 King… my beats is like a mixture of all of that - with a little flash of Timbaland and your [Dr.] Dre and stuff too, to keep it updated. I want the kids to dance to my song too. But I know that there’s an audience that wants to hear what I have to say. That’s what’s most important to me, is that I can move multitude with the voice of sound that I’m bringing to them and the message that I’m bringing. I tell people, they always ask me, “How will your next joint gon’ be?” I tell them, “It’s universal.” If you’re conscious, you want to hear some Black uplifting stuff, you got that on there; you wanna party, you got that on there; you wanna hear the street stuff, ‘cause I’m from the streets, I don’t glamorize it, but I been through some situations in the streets. Yeah, I got some street tales too.” So it’s universal. AllHipHop.com: Do you have a title in mind for the album?Lakim Shabazz: The Explanation. Explain to everybody what I’ve been doing, where I’ve been, and where I want to go.AllHipHop.com: What sort of things you read the newspaper are really shocking you or inspiring you or make you think one step further?Lakim Shabazz: It’s so much self destruction. When I read the newspaper I this day and time, it’s like you have the Global Warming situation, you have this thing with ethanol that’s so big. And then with the youth, the youth are dying at an ecstatic rate. It always takes me back to the song KRS-One and them did years ago called “Self Destruction.” A lot of people used to tell me, “You know what, you now ahead of my time.” When I made that song “Need for Loving,” when I look back at that, and I say, “Damn, Lak, you made this song years before all this ‘Self Destruction’ came about.” That’s what gives me the drive, when I read the newspaper and I see these children killing one other. It hurts me to my heart, man. The gang epidemic out here on the East Coast, I think that’s one of the worst things that every could have happened to Newark. All of these things give me the drive to write. I’m supposed to been on the Def Poetry thing, so I’m waiting for that to come about; because I have a lot to say. Just worldly things that’s happening in my life and things that I see going on outside of me, within the world and within my community that’s what gives me the drive to keep writing. What I have to say needs to be heard, has to be heard. I’ma do everything in my power to let it be heard.Visit Lakim’s MySpace page.Purchase Lakim Shabazz's catalog.