Legend has it that Rakim was the primary particular person to make use of the time period “stream” to explain his lyrical supply, taking a cue from his jazz heroes, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis. It is sensible. Whereas his instrumental tag workforce accomplice Eric B. would push the envelope of sampling, Rakim took the comparatively easy limericks of rap’s first decade to new heights, with complicated inside rhymes and artistic wordplay past what virtually any of his friends have been doing within the late Nineteen Eighties. The place rappers earlier than him have been nonetheless predominantly MCs within the traditional sense – boasting and toasting to maintain the viewers hype – Rakim expanded the probabilities of lyricism itself.
Eric B. and Rakim went their separate methods after 1992’s Don’t Sweat the Approach, however Rakim was nonetheless on the peak of his lyrical powers. Followers eagerly anticipated an inevitable solo debut. But, because the years started to move, it appeared like Rakim’s solo profession is likely to be a non-starter, as authorized points and perpetual delays saved his debut report off the cabinets. By the point he returned with 1997’s The 18th Letter, rap had modified radically. When Don’t Sweat the Approach dropped, it had solely been a couple of months since 2Pac’s debut album, whereas Biggie’s was nonetheless a number of years out. By the point The 18th Letter lastly hit cabinets in November 1997, each legends have been lifeless and gone.
Take heed to Rakim’s The 18th Letter now.
Even so, Rakim was nonetheless sharp as a tack, and The 18th Letter served as a showcase for the revered veteran’s evolution. His cadence is much more dexterous, layered with intricate wordplay and references to Islamic scripture. Rakim acknowledges the endurance of his listeners, most immediately within the title and refrain of “It’s Been A Lengthy Time.” However he instantly assuages any doubt: “Me and the microphone continues to be magnetic,” he claims on “Guess Who’s Again.”
There’s an old-school tinge to the album’s plentiful turntable scratches, in addition to a continued fondness for the type of soul and funk samples Eric B. continuously chopped up, however The 18th Letter has loads of updates to Rakim’s sound. On “New York (Ya Out There),” he hyperlinks up with DJ Premier for a sampladelic ode to the metropolis the duo calls dwelling, and his jazz-influenced stream is in full power on “Once I’m Flowin’.”
With sensual jams like “Keep A Whereas” and “Present Me Love,” Rakim showcases a extra romantic facet, with the type of club-friendly R&B-inflected beats msde standard within the “jiggy” period of New York rap. There’s nonetheless loads of grit on cut-throat tracks like “The Saga Begins,” produced by Pete Rock, however Rakim continuously goes for a extra modern sound – DJ Clark Kent, whose largest hit was Mariah Carey’s “Loverboy,” has essentially the most beats on the album. There’s a pop sheen to his manufacturing that retains Rakim’s aware bars from going full backpacker.
As quintessentially New York as Rakim is likely to be, he additionally performs round with a number of the regional kinds that have been rising in reputation. Houston report label and collective Suave Home – who helped deliver 8Ball & MJG from the South to the world – contribute a remix of “It’s Been A Lengthy Time” that lends the observe some easily menacing g-funk taste. Houston rap heads may additionally acknowledge the pattern on “Keep in mind That” – Pleasure’s 1979 observe “Ideas of Previous Flames” – from UGK’s “It’s Supposed To Bubble.”
Trying again from the current day, it’s clear to see why Rakim maintains his popularity as a trusted elder within the tradition. Although the manufacturing of The 18th Letter was a saga unto itself, the album that lastly emerged highlighted simply how simply Rakim was in a position to evolve with the occasions. It stays a significant testomony from a licensed poet laureate of hip-hop.
Take heed to Rakim’s The 18th Letter now.
In celebration of hip-hop’s fiftieth anniversary, uDiscover Music is publishing 50 album opinions all through 2023 that spotlight the breadth and depth of the style. The Hip-Hop 50 brand was designed by Eric Haze, the thoughts behind iconic graphics for EPMD and LL Cool J.