Filed under: Albums,Not Your Average,Reviews,Strong Island,The Unkut Opinion
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Rakim has had some tough breaks over his career in the music business – having dealt with bad record contracts, a DJ of questionable ability and some misguided A&R people on his two previous solo projects, some of which he addresses on ‘Won’t Be Long’ – but this time around he’s taken his destiny into his own hands and released the latest chapter in his legacy on his own label. Finally we get to hear that raw, pure Rakim record we’ve been waiting for…right?
Here’s the thing – although Ra is free of the shackles and expectations of a major record label, he also doesn’t seem to have the budget – so instead of beats from Pete Rock, DJ Premier and DJ Clark Kent, The God is unleashing his vocals over tracks from Nick Wiz, Jake One, Nottz and a bunch of no-names. Nothing wrong with the quality of the work those guys usually deliver, but on this project everything sounds hopelessly out-dated. I guess we won’t have to worry about some clueless label jerk forcing The 7th Letter to put Akon or Ne-Yo on his hooks either, huh? Nah, instead we get sub-par hooks provided by people like IQ, Samuel Christian and Tracey Horton…whoever they are. Destiny Griffin is his daughter, obviously, but that doesn’t excuse the rest of those bums.
Beats and hooks aren’t everything though – surely Rakim has some lyrics of fury to keep us with our ear glued to the speaker? To be honest, he sounds pretty bored for the majority of the record, as he compares pushing his music to slinging dope, dedicates several songs to the special lady in his life, constantly reminds us of his legendary status and how much he loves hip-hop and tries to sound current by making a song with Maino. Not exactly ‘Follow The Leader’, is it? ‘Holy Are You’ is the closest thing to a classic Rakim rhyme, but despite it’s grand intentions it it doesn’t quite manage to get off the ground. ‘How To Emcee’ isn’t as helpful as the title might suggest, as Ra merely reflects on his own achievements and takes a jab at rapper’s who use ghost-writers. The low-point is found on ‘Message In The Song’, where our hero awkwardly attempts his version of a double-time flow over a stuttering drum track – ‘Notorious Thugs’ this ain’t.
I never thought I’d have to say this, but after enduring The Seventh Seal I’m tempted to suggest that I’d be pretty happy if Rakim never released another solo album ever again, else it tarnish his impressive musical history any further. He doesn’t even sound like he wants to be making music at this point, and who could blame him. Rap took so much from Rakim Allah, but didn’t give him back much in return. He changed the game forever in 1986, sending sucker MC’s back to the lab for more practice and providing modern-day biters with classic lines to mine, but where do you go from there? He’s considered by many to be the greatest to ever do it, but even Dr. Dre saw that his heart wasn’t in it anymore. Our rap legends deserve better than this.
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