Any Hip-Hop enthusiast, “Hip-Hop head”, or casual listeners should almost immediately recognize the name Rakim in connection with the genre of Hip-Hop music and its history. Rakim’s trail in Hip-Hop music is one that can be traced back to the Golden Age of the 80’s when the music was said to be in its truest and rarest form. As a duo with DJ Eric Barrier, the two made up the team of Eric B. & Rakim in releasing one of the most storied and influential Hip-Hop albums of all-time in Paid In Full, as well as other memorable albums that followed (Follow The Leader, Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em, Don’t Sweat The Technique). Like most good Hip-Hop groups (Little Brother, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, Gang Starr, etc.) all things must come to an end eventually and that end came in 1992 for Eric B. & Rakim. But from that end came a new beginning for Rakim in the form of a solo career with two releases in 1997 (The 18th Letter) and 1999 (The Master) that saw moderate success with hits like “When I B On The Mic”, “The Saga Begins”, “New York (Ya Out There)” and “It’s Been A Long Time”. Just like the DJ Premier produced track it has been a long time (ten years in fact) since we last heard and saw an album from Rakim and now in 2009 we have his third solo release entitled The Seventh Seal. In describing the album’s title Rakim stated, “I’m using it metaphorically in Hip-Hop hoping to kill the old state of Hip-Hop and start with the new.” building off the number 7’s significance and influence from the Bible. Any extended period of time between releases for any artist has the possibility to have positive and negative results (see: Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II, Royce Da 5’9”’s Street Hop), it’ll be interesting to see if a ten year span has brought on rust or recovery for The God MC Rakim.
How To Emcee Produced by Slyce
If Hip-Hop was a college or school institution it’s pretty clear to say Rakim would be a professor with a Masters degree in the subject as he rhymes on the chorus (“I could show you how to emcee like I got a degree”). With the Hip-Hop landscape turning to the Pop scene and being more driven with lyrically inclined rappers, this is a type of song that is greatly needed. Lyrically Rakim comes correct with the bars in displaying to listeners why rappers (won’t name any names) have been emulating his flow and delivery since ’87. The production provided by Slyce is sufficient with an old-school feel but comes off sounding too bouncy and playful for Ra’s rhymes and the song’s subject matter.
Walk These Streets Featuring Maino & Tracey Horton; Produced by Needlz
The second official single that had listeners thinking it was a track from Rakim & Dr. Dre’s Oh, My God sessions when it first premiered back in October. In saying that Needlz does his best “Dre” impression on the beat (which sounds similar to “Been Through The Storm” on Busta Rhymes’ The Big Bang album) in giving Ra an introspective backdrop for him and Maino to deliver tales of the trials and tribulations of the street life. Maino was a good selection for a feature on this track as he gives vivid descriptions of the life that has played a major part in his life (Jadakiss is somebody else that I could have heard easily on this track spittin’ a verse). The chorus sung by Tracey Horton gives life to the track and bring it full circle in matching the feel of the song. This was a good pick for the album’s 2nd single, which should have some nice visuals to accompany it soon.
Documentary Of A Gangsta Featuring I.Q.; Produced by Y-Not
In similar ways to Ludacris’ “Southern Gangsta” on Theater Of The Mind, Rakim presents to listeners the life and times of a gangsta in documentary style like BET’s American Gangster series. Ra basically displays his storytelling skills on this track in telling about the moves and mindset of a gangsta in the streets. The beat by Y-Not is perfect production for the theme and feel of this song. In many ways this is the track that Luda wanted to make on his album as it presents the topic in a more convincing way.
Man Above Featuring Tracey Horton; Produced by Nottz
As you could guess from the song’s title this track is about Rakim’s daily conversations with God in regards to the things going on around him in the world and in the hood. Nottz delivers a nicely produced beat as Ra he speaks about keeping the faith even when things aren’t looking their best and not falling into the traps that surround. On this track Rakim is able to deliver some conscious lyrics and a message without sounding too preachy, which is something that not too many rappers can claim to do (except Brother Ali). Once again Tracey Horton comes through in providing the hook for this song in a superb way that adds to the track.
You And I Featuring Samuel Christian; Produced by Samuel Christian, J. Wells & Lorenz
While Rakim might be talking about a significant other on this track, I really believe that he’s speaking about Hip-Hop in the figurative when he speaks about the chemistry and bond that him and this other person shares until the end. A song of this topic has been done many times before and Rakim puts together a nice version for his catalog. Samuel Christian (who supplies the singing on the chorus), J. Well, and Lorenz give this track a nice dark, sinister sounding backdrop that fits well with Ra’s flow and delivery.
Won’t Be Long Featuring Tracey Horton; Produced by Jake One
As Rakim stated at the beginning on this track in summarizing the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “How Long, Not Long” speech, this song is built off those exact words in being titled “Won’t Be Long”. Rakim’s lyrics follow suit in speaking about perseverance and determination in whatever it is that you’re focused on achieving and accomplishing. Jake One’s production on this track is subtly presented with his signature bass (that sounds kind of 80’s) that serves well for Ra’s rhymes as well as Tracy Horton on the chorus again.
Holy Are You Produced by Nick Wiz
This is the album’s lead single and the song that let everybody know Rakim was on the return with an album after ten years of waiting. Nick Wiz uses an unorthodox sample and builds a hard-pounding street beat over it that sees Rakim in prime form with lyrics and rhymes. When this song first appeared back in July it let listeners with doubts know that Rakim hadn’t lost a step over the span between his last album.
Satisfaction Guaranteed Produced by Neo Da Matrix
Just as “Holy Are You” reassured listeners about Rakim’s skill and ability on the microphone, that’s where the basis of this track’s topic lies. Over some nicely sampled production by Neo Da Matrix, Rakim lets listeners know that his rhymes and music equals instant satisfaction. For most Hip-Hop aficionados Rakim delivers exactly what they’re searching for and feel is a missing part of Hip-Hop music today.
Workin’ For You Produced by Jake One
While “You And I” was indeed about Rakim’s relationship with Hip-Hop, this song speaks about Rakim’s relationship with his woman. Jake One samples William Bell’s “I Forgot To Be Your Lover” for some feel good production as Rakim talks about how he’s working and doing what he can to provide for his lady. Rakim delivers some good lyrics in regards to the subject matter about loyalty and faithfulness to his other side. They say that every Hip-Hop album has to have a track dedicated to the ladies and luckily Rakim takes the better route with that choice instead of going for the cliché track heard on most albums.
Message In The Song Featuring Destiny Griffin; Produced by SWJ
On this track Rakim talks about the one thing that is present and can be heard in his tracks regardless of the subject matter and topic, and that being a message. As heard so far through this album Rakim has touched on different topics from relationships to religion to street life, and on all of those tracks he offered lyrics with something to be learned and gained in listening. This is something that more rappers need to be focused on doing in their music instead of it just being the same cliché topics of drugs, women, partying, etc. with no real substance. SWJ provides Rakim with some great sampled production as his daughter Destiny Griffin supplies her father with a nice chorus.
Put It All To Music Produced by Poppa Pillz
The sampled beat produced by Poppa Pillz immediately gives this track a 90’s Hip-Hop feel and Rakim uses it to his advantage as he speaks about putting everything of all subject matters to music. His analysis of using music to deal with problems and how music has a place with everything in life is something that I can relate to as a listener. Rakim sounds most comfortable on this track than on any other track on the album most likely because of the smooth production provided.
Psychic Love Produced by Nick Wiz
In getting back to the tracks for the ladies, Rakim uses the smooth production from Nick Wiz to speak about love and his affection for a certain lady. This can be seen as a more seductive track than the previously heard “Workin’ For You”, and ultimately it works for Rakim and doesn’t come off as much of a stretch for him in terms of the theme and lyrics. It’s great how an emcee like Rakim can do a track like this and still keep it away from the area of sounding clichéd.
Still In Love Produced by Nick Wiz
For those listeners that were curious as to how Rakim might feel about the current times of Hip-Hop music and the genre in its declining state, this track serves as your answer to that question. Ra speaks about how he still has love for Hip-Hop even though things aren’t as they were when he was in his prime delivering albums in the 80’s and 90’s. With enjoyable production as heard from Nick Wiz it’s easy to see why Rakim still has a love for the game while others are claiming “Hip-Hop Is Dead”. Like Cormega said on Born And Raised, “Hip-Hop ain’t dead, it’s just tired of the drama” and with music like this that statement from 2006 can be retired as its evident that Hip-Hop is in no way deceased.
Dedicated Produced by Nick Wiz
After 13 tracks Rakim decides to finish off the album on a sincere note in dedicating the track to his mother and speaking about what she truly meant to him and his life. He talks about his heartbreaking experience in losing his mother and the times their bond together ever since his birth. Nick Wiz provides a nice beat that fits with Rakim’s lyrics and the song’s topic. This was a good way to end off the album as it nicely brings things to a close in allowing for listeners to start to listening experience again back at the first song.
In being ten years since his last album release with The Master I was like a lot of fans and listeners is not being quite sure about what to expect from Rakim with a new album especially in 2009 and the current state of Hip-Hop. A part of me was excited to finally be hearing some new music from The God MC after being satisfied with his two previous releases, but the other part of me was concerned about Rakim possibly changing up his style to better conform with the ways of the music industry of today. Luckily my concern was nothing more than a worry as Rakim proved that he hasn’t lost a step with The Seventh Seal and ultimately reassures listeners that he’s still one of the nicest emcees in the game regardless of the ones (Jay-Z, Lil’ Wayne, T.I., Nas, Drake, J. Cole…) that have come after him. There really aren’t any tracks on this album that are below average or sub par for an emcee like Rakim as many of them range between good to great. Throughout the album Rakim delivers lyrically on every aspect from lyrics to flow to delivery to subject matter. The only thing that holds this album back from being even better is the production that’s heard. While it’s always great to give new and lesser known producers a platform to showcase their skills, it would have been nice to hear something from the established producers that Rakim has collaborated with on past albums like DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Clark Kent, as well as including a song or two from his work with Dr. Dre during their Aftermath period together. Knowing that this isn’t Rakim final album it can be certain that we’ll eventually hear music from those sessions and music from some of Ra’s previous collaborators. Overall, Rakim sees the same success with The Seventh Seal that Raekwon saw with Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II and Royce saw with Street Hop in delivering an enjoyable album despite years spanning between releases… Let’s just hope it’s not another ten years before the next Rakim album is released.
nappyPicks: “Walk These Streets”, “Holy Are You”, “Message In The Song”, “Put It All To Music”, “Documentary Of A Gangsta”, “Psychic Love”