I have not listened to the new Rakim, except Holy Are You and the song with Maino. Pretty good. Nothing that grabbed me, though.
Is he still hungry? Is he playing with words like he used to? Is he in the same zone? Does he still write his rhymes backwards?
Time caught up with him. It doesn’t seem to bug him too much. Whatever, he has done more than his part. To this day rappers are unable to outspit him. Go back to 1988, the title track of Follow The Leader. Put any up and coming, ribs-are-showing-hungry MC beside that and they’ll break like glass. Besides Tupac Shakur, and maybe Big Pun on a strictly technical level, nobody has managed to update his formula.
On one hand time has been unkind to this great concrete poet. On the other hand his works are timeless, to a much higher degree than other rappers. Comparing him to other greats of his era is not fair. BDP, Big Daddy Kane, NWA, Kool G Rap, LL Cool J and Ice-T all sound dated, unlike Rakim. He towers above them on a plane with other innovative spirits like Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix. There is an eternal freshness and coolness to their music that is unleashed everytime it’s played. He has the experimentalism of Davis and the iconic expressiveness of Hendrix. “He came on stage with lazers in his eyes“. In the words of Dallas Penn:
Performance is personal style and attracts people that can relate. Seeing Rakim at Latin Quarters in 1987 you can best believe that heads were in awe of the way he presented himself. Rappers that had any rhymes during that time had to jump and flail about. Rakim stood in one place and gripped that mic like he was choking that shit. Fools were getting knocked the fux out that night on the Deuce and in the Quarters. Best show evar for me.