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    Keynote Panelists

    10th annual Hip-hop Conference

    March 26-18
    California University of Pennsylvania

    Rakim was born William Griffin Jr. on Jan. 28, 1968, in the Long Island suburb of Wyandanch. The nephew of ’50s R&B legend Ruth Brown, Griffin was surrounded by music from day one, and was interested in rap almost from its inception. At age 16 he converted to Islam, adopting the Muslim name Rakim Allah.

    In 1985, he met Queens DJ Eric B., whose intricately constructed soundscapes made an excellent match for Rakim's more cerebral presence on the mike. With the release of their debut single, "Eric B. Is President," in 1986, Eric B. & Rakim became a sensation in the hip-hop community, and their reputation kept growing as they issued classic tracks like "I Ain't No Joke" and "Paid in Full." Their first two full-length albums, 1987's “Paid in Full” and 1988's “Follow the Leader,” are still regarded as all-time hip-hop classics.

    Rakim's work set out a blueprint for other, similarly progressive-minded MCs to follow, and it helped to ensure that East Coast rap would maintain a reputation as the center of innovative lyrical technique. Rakim continued recording and impacting the world of hip-hop well into the 2000s, punctuated with his collaboration with the legendary Dr. Dre in 2002.  He is still actively touring around the world.

    Although he never became a household name, Rakim is near-universally acknowledged as one of the greatest MCs — perhaps the greatest — of all time within the hip-hop community. His flow is smooth and liquid, inflected with jazz rhythms and carried off with an effortless cool. He raised the bar for MC technique, helping to pioneer the use of internal rhymes ­— i.e., rhymes that occur in the middle of lines, rather than just at the end.

    Where many MCs of the time developed their technique through improvisational battles, Rakim was among the first to demonstrate the possibilities of sitting down and writing intricately crafted lyrics packed with clever word choices and metaphors. Rakim's early work still sounds startlingly fresh, and his comeback recordings (beginning in the late '90s) only added to his legend.

    Dead Prez, a Florida-based political rap duo, consists of and M-1, a pair of rappers inspired by revolutionaries from Malcolm X to Public Enemy. The two MCs, who met at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, immersed themselves in political and social studies as they forged their own style of hip-hop.

    They went on to work with Big Punisher on his 1998 album “Capital Punishment” and released singles like 1998's "Police State with Chairman Omali" and 1999's "It's Bigger Than Hip-Hop." Their debut album, “Lets Get Free,” was released in early 2000. A two-volume mix-tape project, “Turn off the Radio: The Mixtape, Vol. 1” and “Turn off the Radio: The Mixtape, Vol. 2: Get Free or Die Tryin',” followed in 2002 and 2003, boasting tracks and new productions, and their proper studio follow-up, “RBG: Revolutionary But Gangsta,” appeared in 2004.

    Two years later the group collaborated with the three remaining members of the Outlawz for “Can't Sell Dope Forever,” followed shortly by “Soldier 2 Soldier,” a joint record between and Young Noble.

    2009's “Pulse of the People,” presented by DJ Green Lantern and technically the third volume in the “Turn off the Radio” series, was enlivened by appearances from Chuck D, Bun B, and Styles P. In 2012 Dead Prez issued “Information Age,” an album filled with more futuristic and electro-based production but the same politically minded lyrics.  

    Dead Prez continue to tour and enlighten crowds with their insightful and energetic performances.