It’s been a decade since the last proper Rakim album – and 12 years since the last Rakim album that truly embodied the God Emcee's abilities. But still, while 1999’s The Master wasn’t much of a crowd-pleaser, most Hip Hop heads will take some Rakim over none. In the past 10 years, the Mic God has offered precious few musical morsels for his fans. His defunct deal with Aftermath raised a lot of hopes, but only really materialized in a few features and unreleased tracks. Add in a dope Nike commercial and about 30 different incarnations of “It’s Nothing,” and that’s been the tale of the decade for The 18th Letter. Now, in 2009, perhaps the most influential emcee of all time is ready to drop his oft-delayed third solo outing, The Seventh Seal.
“How to Emcee” is the introductory cut on the album, and it is a fitting one. An off-kilter guitar loop and an energized Rakim let the listener know class is still in session. Things continue to roll on the piano-infused “Walk These Streets.” The track is a taste of what a Dr. Dre-assisted project might have sounded like, which is unsurprising as frequent Aftermath collaborator Needlz mans the boards for this one. Also worth a mention is Maino’s contribution, as he lends some credence to the song’s street tales.
“Documentary of a Gangsta” is just that, as Ra takes a step back and plays the role of observer over heavy piano loops: “Stuffin’ bread, his pockets is hungry / You talkin’ nonsense unless the topic is money / He call a hundred thou a ‘honey,’ mamis, he call ‘em dimes / So his mind’s on his money, but mamis is on his mind / Like an O.G., focused on the come up / Think he effin’ around, he approach you with the gun up / Bang, roll a blunt up and forget it happened / Stash the dollars back in product and get it crackin’”
Following a nice set of introductory tracks, The Seventh Seal comes to a screeching halt, with three indiscernible cuts: “Man Above,” “You and I,” and “Won’t Be Long.” The first and last of these both feature Tracey Horton on the hook, so maybe that has something to do with it. In any case, two of these could’ve been done away with, and you’d have an unchanged album (if it were up to me, I’d have stuck with “You and I”). “Holy Are You,” the much-hyped single tries to get the heavy-handed feel back to the album, but it’s clear that cohesion has been tossed to the wind once the massively-unsatisfying (and ironically-titled) “Satisfaction Guaranteed” hits the speakers. The tale is essentially the same for the rest of the album, as “Put it All to Music” and “Psychic Love” make one wonder if this should’ve been an EP instead – a thought which, upon hearing the baffling No Doubt sample featured on “Dedicated,” is confirmed.
In the end, Rakim’s latest album doesn’t really make any contribution of significance to his catalogue. It’s clear that this man isn’t the same microphone fiend heads grew up worshipping. For one reason or another, he lacks the ability to subtly attack with his flow like he once did. As for fans who want answers as to why Ra has been M.I.A. for all these years, they will get none here; this is certainly unfortunate, as that would’ve been much more engaging than him simply trying to get by on the strength of his own mythos. Sadly, that’s exactly what Rakim does here, and rarely does that get you anywhere – microphone fiend or not.