It’s been ten years since Rakim – known to many as the greatest emcee of all time – has dropped an album. His last LP was during the post-Biggie jiggy era, where he found solace among the production of Clark Kent and DJ Premier, both whom helped him stay true to his craft, while also adapting to the hot sound of the time. Shortly after, it was announced that Rakim would release an album on Dr. Dre’s Aftermath imprint entitled “Oh My God” – a prospect that had fans saying just that, as arguably the greatest emcee and greatest producer of all time would team up for an album. Unfortunately, we only caught a glimpse of how this collaboration would manifest itself. On Jay-Z’s “The Watcher Pt. 2”, Rakim murdered Dre’s spaghetti-western track, while Truth Hurts belted out the hook, leaving mouths watering for Ra’s Aftermath debut. Truth also collaborated with Rakim on her hit single, “Addicitive” – as well as it’s remix – again proving great results between Rakim and Aftermath. Finally, one track, “After U Die”, an incomplete song, was leaked to the internet. But as time went on, that mysterious “Oh My God” album was mentioned less and less, until it eventually was announced that Rakim had left the label, and the project was canned.
“Creative differences” seemed to be the reason for the split, as Rakim and Dr. Dre have two entirely different philosophies as far as lyrical content is concerned, which pretty much can be determined by comparing any two verses from the artists respective careers. Since the dust has settled, Rakim has formed his own label, Ra Records, for the release his seventh album, “The Seventh Seal”.
It’s possible we get a fleeting vision of what kind of music he planned for “Oh My God”, as “The Seventh Seal” has some of the darkest music ever made by Rakim. For instance, “The Documentary Of A Gangster” finds the god emcee omnisciently speaking from the perspective of a drug dealer / pimp over ominous pianos obviously inspired by Dre’s production style. On the Maino featured “Walk These Streets”, the two spit over a familiar track – again suggesting this was a leftover from the Dre sessions, as virtually the same beat was used on Busta Rhymes’ “Been Through The Storm” from his 2006 Aftermath / Flipmode album, The Big Bang. Coincidence or no?
Unfortunately, this look into the crystal ball is brief, instead leaving Rakim with production from Nick Wiz, Nottz, Needlez, and Neo Da Matix for the rest of the album. Despite the fact that these guys are all capable producers for your average rapper, we’re talking about Rakim here. His influence to hip-hop as a whole aside, Ra has worked with several of hip-hop greatest producers ever, including Dr. Dre, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and Marley Marl. We understand the Dre situation, but surely the others weren’t too far out of reach?
Because of this, midway through the album we get a truly boring crop of tracks, which suggest that Rakim is out of touch with what kind of beats his fans want to hear him over – underground, mainstream, or otherwise. Despite this, the album plods along with average results – nothing horible, but nothing outstanding either.
The Jake One produced “Won’t Be Long” sounds like vintage Rakim, as he confesses the hardships he’s had over the years, as is the groovy “Put It All To Music”, both of which could have fit on Don’t Sweat The Technique, respectively. Here Ra sounds in his element, however he’s only a track or two away from pulling us out of 90′s bliss with songs like already dated “Satisfaction Guaranteed”, produced by Ruff Ryders keyboard stabber, Neo Da Matrix. The album’s closing note, “Dedicated”, finds Ra sampling No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak” (yes, really), which suggests The R has officially jumped the shark. Despite this, Ra delivers some of his most personal, powerful lyrics of his career, lending substance to an otherwise risky move.
The Seventh Seal is not a terrible album by any stretch of the imagination, however it’s not great either. The problem is that Rakim exudes greatness and his production should match that. He deserves better than a ragtag team of producers whom most likely worked for pennies (if that), just to stand in his presence. Hopefully, Ra can use his influence and legacy to get some better production next time around. Either that, or bow out gracefully. – DJ Pizzo
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