Review: Rakim

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

A welcome blue-collar streak runs through The Seventh Seal, Rakim's first new album in a decade. The golden-era rap godfather has certainly earned the right to congratulate himself, but the previous LPs he made since splitting with Eric B. (1997's The 18th Letter and '99's The Master) found Rakim resting a bit too heavily on his laurels.

While Seventh single "Holy Are You" indulges his messianic complex and the clinical "How to Emcee" offers a smug Rhyming 101 lesson, elsewhere Rakim sheds the "God MC" persona and dons the shoes of an everyman. On "Workin' for You," he rhymes from the vantage point of a street hustler motivated by the desire to provide for his woman, subtly bigging up monogamy ("If you don't hear from me call the precinct, don't think Papi cheated"). It's one of several tracks concerned with persevering through hardship: "Dedicated," about his late mother, avoids the melodrama that usually sinks such heartfelt odes—despite a sample of No Doubt's "Don't Speak."

Like Axl Rose returning from the dead to deliver Chinese Democracy or Brian Wilson finally completing Smile after nearly 30 years, an enigma like Rakim can't be expected to be completely current after such a long time away. But backed by consistent if not necessarily mind-blowing beats, he's crafted a well-sequenced album that's considerably less anachronistic than one might expect.

Rakim plays B.B. King Blues Club & Grill Thu 19.


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The Seventh Seal (Ra Records/Tuscan Villa/SMC Recordings).