An Interview with Brian Coleman, author of Rakim Told Me


“Why the hell didn’t Hip-hop albums ever have liner notes?!!??” quoth journalist Brian Coleman, “Hip-hop fans have been robbed of context and background when buying and enjoying classic albums from the Golden Age: the 1980s.” With his self-published book, Rakim Told Me, Coleman set out to fix that problem and to fill a void in the written history of Hip-hop. That, and where a lot of writers who acknowledge the influence and importance of Hip-hop tend to focus on its sociological implications, Coleman stays with the music, how it was made, and where these artists were in the process. He brings a breath of fresh air to the study of Hip-hop, just by dint of focusing on the music itself.

frontwheeldrive: For the uninitiated, tell us about the premise behind Rakim Told Me.

Well, the book is 21 chapters, each one explores one classic Hip-hop album from the ’80s. The premise itself is something I call “invisible liner notes.” It’s the stories behind all these albums (e.g., Public Enemy, Run-DMC, Boogie Down Productions, Eric B & Rakim, etc.) — the history of the groups, from back when they first started. And, most importantly, it’s about talking to the artists themselves about their work as musicians, as creators. It seems to me that when you talk about music a lot of times, people tend to view the image of a group or at least the end product of their art, an album, as the most important thing. I think that the process of making them what they are as a group is as, if not more, important.