Saturday, November 04, 2017

Rakim "The 18th Letter" (Rap Pages, 12/97) + EPK


"Five years is an age in pop, an eternity in hip-hop. No other artform relies so heavily on fashion, is so enveloped in urban trends that change with the seasons. Rap has crashed through more isms in the last ten years than most strands of popular culture manage in a century. So what of Rakim Allah? Little has been heard of the rapper since he and partner Eric B split in 1992. There was also a solo album scheduled in '94, but bootlegs leaked from the studio saw that project scrapped... Rakim's greatest fallibility is that while he knows he exists as one of rap's most articulate emissaries, he's also one of its least analyzed. 'The 18th Letter' conjures up the mystical enigmatics of Rakim Allah, a rapper not afraid to offer solutions, yet unwilling to offer himself out as a modern day pariah. And if it sounds at odds with rap's obsessive self-analysis, it's purely intentional."


"Remember That" and "New York" are deliberately grandiose attempts to romanticize rap's cultural heyday. But a measure of just how cynical hip-hop has become isn't apparent until the end, when a G-Funk version of standalone "Been A Long Time" is tacked on in an attempt to pacify the west coast. Elsewhere, much like the return of EPMD, it's business as usual. Eric B may have no involvement with this album, but the spirit of 'Paid In Full' remains. Rakim signifies the last link between street-battling and rap's independent era. At a time when a handful of conglomerates have swallowed up the remaining traces of hip-hop's autocracy, 'The 18th Letter' - ironically released on a major - is one of the few albums this year to recall the innocent playfulness of the late '80s. But is Rakim cursed to spend the rest of life incognito, popping up once every five years to remind us "Guess Who's Back?" As the album closes, an interviewer asks Rakim what the rapper would like to be remembered for. "My words," he says quietly. Strange then, that the last five year's have seen hip-hop's greatest communicator seemingly tongue-tied." - Rap Pages, December 1997.