A hugely influential hip hop figure, not for nothing is Rakim cordially known as The God MC, widely acknowledged as the rapper’s rapper. That love is largely afforded on the basis of a quality back catalogue, particularly defining the late 1980s/early 1990s as half of duo Eric B & Rakim.
With much-delayed third solo album The Seventh Seal arriving a full decade after the New Yorker’s last, though, the quandary is perplexing: stick to a perfected formula and risk irrelevance or run the gauntlet of updating his sound and lose the original magic. For the most part, The Seventh Seal lands between those two posts.
It was near inevitable that the album would endure a lengthy gestation after initial aborted sessions with Dr Dre – long-reigning king of hip hop production – taking an eternity to reach any state of completion. The oft-cited creative differences saw them go separate ways.
Starting again from scratch, Rakim chose to eschew super producers, or unit-shifting guests, pitching focus back on the main event. And Rakim’s mighty flow is as strong as ever, knowledgeable and unapologetically conscious. If, to the uninitiated, his style appears recognizable, that’s simply because so many followers have hijacked his effortless linguistics.
Opening lesson How to Emcee is a timely guide to rhyming from an artist who counts Wu-Tang Clan among rafts of notable disciples. Haunting single Holy Are You typifies the album’s production peaks, meanwhile, staying true to Eric B’s soulful traditions. Where Rakim changes up to grab the rap zeitgeist, however, the results aren’t as consistently pretty.
Documentary of a Gangsta delivers, rolling off a cinematic Dre-worthy beat, yet during Psychic Love you can’t help but linger on the fact that the dirty talk within hails from a man in his 40s. And whoever was responsible for the centrepiece of Dedicated – an incongruous sample of No Doubt’s chart-topper Don’t Speak – should hang their head for contaminating an otherwise touching tale concerning a lost loved one.
Whether The Seventh Seal will truly sate long-time fans or win over new converts is another discussion entirely, but noted dips aside, it is, at the very least, a worthy addition to Rakim’s legacy. --Adam Kennedy
Find more music at the BBC This link will take you off Amazon in a new window