Rakim - The Seventh Seal

Part of me wants to be wary about listening to and reviewing an album BEFORE it releases, as such an action speaks directly to ill-gotten gains.
But I do it anyway.

Today's topic will be my initial reaction to Rakim's 10-years-later followup to the critically and commercially abysmal The Master.
This album is due to release this coming Tuesday, 11/17/2009, and I have not yet listened to it as I type this, so I will be letting you know whether or not Mr. Griffith's efforts will have earned my hard-earned $10 or a gentle caress of my delete button.

Most of you know already who Rakim is, and if not, you MIGHT want to consult your Google before continuing. Let it be known that the very virtue of Rakim being just who he is means that expectations coming into this album are VERY high, while released product prior to (10 years ago, remember that), and since then (zilch) do a number on realistic expectations. That being said, I will get right down to business now...

1 - How to Emcee
This beat is as busy as a flea market, really it is...
Rakim is giving us a flow consistent from what we might expect from him, especially on a song titled as this one. I am only partially fond of this hook, and even then only for the cadence. Nothing else about this song stands out.
Wait, yes it does.
That beginning to the third verse, from whomever that was, was less than enjoyable.
Not horrible, but not impressive in the least.

2 - Walk These Streets (feat. Maino & Tracey Horton)
This beat is not as busy as the last one, but it is still not good...
Maino sounds out of place on a song with Rakim, even before I have heard his voice. Something in my mind leads me to think about something like "a man who made a song titled 'Hi Hater' is beneath this.
This hook is annoying, I guess that is why I have never heard of Tracey Horton.
Holy shit, Rakim's verse was boring, so much so that Maino kinda burned him. Hell, Maino even paid homage to his 41 year-old host/pioneer.
This was okay, I guess.

3 - Documentary of a Gangsta (feat. I.Q.)
Hook starts immediately following a couple of intro bars, with the beat...
This beat is dark and kinda hard, I like it.
I don't have a FUCKING clue who I.Q. is, but I don't like him on that hook. What I do like, though, is how Rakim is riding on the keys on this beat though. I could like this, if I were the least bit able to grasp thinking of Rakim as a "Gangsta," but I AM able to think of the man as a storyteller, so this comes off not so bad.
Best song I have heard on the album so far, and I am still not a fan of the hook or this I.Q. cat in the least.

4 - Man Above (feat. Tracey Horton)
The snares in this beat are VERY crisp, I like that about drums, so there is that...
This Tracey Horton cat is on this song too, and this hook SEEMS like it is an hour long as a result. Rakim is rhyming as we might come to expect of him with his consistency as a rhymer, there is a reason that mainstream and underground rappers worth their salt pay him proper respect for fathering the paradigm that is ACTUALLY rhyming on songs, not whatever the hell they were doing before him and SURELY not this bullshit that Black Embarrassment Television is trying to feed us these days.
Gucci Mane could STAY in jail forever for all I care.
Oh, this song was only okay. No more, no less.

5 - You and I (feat. Samuel Christian)
This beat is a cheap sendup of Outkast's "So Fresh So Clean," only built with a hook that makes this song IMPOSSIBLE to like. This guy Samuel Christian sounds like the old wino singing outside of your favorite curb market. The only difference between that wino and Samuel Christian is that the wino will go away if you come out of the store and hand him that Thunderbird you'd just paid $3.00 for on the way to the car.
Also worth noting is that Rakim, as he did on The 18th Letter, has not had to use a word of curse for this entire album to this point. The corollary to that fact would be that I have made no such a fucking commitment in my review of it.
OH SHIT!!! Barack Obama mention on Rakim's part.
If it seemed like I talked about other shit that was not this song, you might want to use that as a sign, because it was not very good.

6 - Won't Be Long (feat. Tracey Horton)
Here we go with Tracey Horton again.
More keys, this time on a bouncy beat. The drums are dirty on this one, and I like that.
Dammit, what in the hell does this Tracey Horton dude have on Rakim that he has to be on so many songs on the album?
Rakim is doing the beat justice, this time discussing the ills of the industry, which anyone who has read my blog knows that I have often done myself. The Mike Vick metaphor (actually, a simile, since he used the word "like" to qualify) was the first "OH WOW!!!" moment of the album for me. In fact, I will use that fact as my opening to forgive Ra for keeping this Tracey Horton cat around. I won't even call the dude a 'weed carrier' since I have never heard Rakim mention a habit involving cannabinoids.
Obama mention #2! Wow, #3 comes 4 bars later...
You know what? I really do like this beat on this song. Ra's rhymes are not bad and the only takeaway is the guest, so I will not call this a bad song, second best so far on the album. The leaning on Barack Obama mentions (3.5 -- "a change gon' come" in the outro bars counts in my twisted mind) were kinda tired, considering we've been hearing them for a year and a half now, but still...

7 - Holy Are You
When I was in high school, every coon from the PJ's KNEW he was 5-percent because they had memorized some Wu Tang lyrics and/or (usually and) linked up with someone who had been to jail or came down from up north.
They would repeat circular logic and all that shit ad hoc until people either conceded and went along with it, or Kirked the fuck out on them. Very rarely was there an in-between... Luckily for me, I was only slightly popular in high school, meaning people knew who I was and most didn't dislike me in general but nobody really fuxed with me like that until like 11th grade.
Oh well...
Back to this song. Looking at the title and knowing what I know about Rakim, the above mention of the so-called "Nation of Gods and Earths" should speak to what I was expecting to get out of this song. My opinion -- driven by experiences -- meant that this song MIGHT be fighting an uphill battle, if not for my ability to separate art from life. I know Rakim is not preaching to me personally.
No, seriously, I am gonna talk about the song now...
This beat is as high-energy as you might expect to hear Rakim spit on. I am now, as I type this, one half a (pretty long) verse into it now, and I have not heard one thing of what I was expecting coming into this song.
Verse #2 gives me SOME of what I was expecting, but not on the level that I was expecting. Rakim is rhyming his ASS off on this song, in 2 long verses. This has become my favorite song on the album so far in spite of itself for some reason. Everything mentioned above should move down one spot as a result.

8 - Satisfaction Guaranteed

This beat sounds like it was done in monaural, but I MIGHT be able to put that on the fact that this was a leak download. The sound quality of EVERY other song before it leads me to not be willing to put that on the fact that this is not a retail purchase/download.
In fact, in typing the above, I let my attention be divided by focusing on some unnamed producer's beat to the point where I forgot to listen to the song on the whole.
Rakim spits drug metaphors (real metaphors this time) comparing his rhyming abilities to someone who might make a living curb servin'. He almost cursed twice, made a point of stopping short of a "shit" and used "f'd up" at one point later, but still holds court.
You know what? Outside of this beat, I can fully appreciate Rakim doing this, since he fathered the style of the crack rappers who came after him. I don't like it enough to crack the Parthenon of my favorite songs on this album. Wait, I will put it at #4 after the 3 aforementioned songs I actually like.

9 - Workin For You
Jake One does his best J. Dilla impression on this beat.
Oh shit... Rakim rhymes for the ladies on this one, first line is "a yo, whatup boo..."
My opinion heads to the gutter, but I will stick with it.
Wait, he is rhyming about getting knocked for dope and getting married on his way to jail? I don't think I recall having heard that being the reason for Rakim's not having released an album in 10 years. That qualifies this song as an untruth, and I am so not feeling this.
Now before anyone hauls off on calling me a hypocrite or anything for how mercilessly I chide "trap rappers" for THEIR tales of crack retail, let it be known that I am not praising or celebrating a small victory on this song for Rakim's NOT glorifying the life that he has not actually led... I AM, however, thanking God and his only son, White Jesus, that have NOT heard a single solitary "AYE!!!" or "YEAAAAAHHHHH!!!" on this song.

10 - Message in the Song (feat. Destiny Griffin)
Destiny Griffin, huh?
It says here that Rakim is pushing up on his 42nd trip around the sun. Given simple biological possibilities and common sense, this places the possibilities of his oldest children between ages 24 on the high side and 18 on the low. Most of that is my opinion, but most who know me know that my opinion is more often than not rooted in something similar to having thought shit through. I say all that to say that -- while not specifically named as such -- I am willing to bet that Destiny Griffin is Rakim's daughter.
Now, back to the task at hand.
I do like this beat, and I like Rakim's cadence used on this beat. I try to search my mental catalog for something to compare it to, but I am at a loss, even though I KNOW someone has done it before. The hook is non-intrusive at best, but not-so-good at worse.
Song is not bad, but not quite as good as people might try pretending it is either, I will say that much.

11 - Put it All to Music
The sample in this beat, used as the hook/title is annoying.
The song, though? Not terrible, and it is apparently about music. Wow, a song about songs and shit? What a noble concept, it is almost as if someone is creating a vicious cycle. This time it comes off not-so-bad, but again not exactly a great song.
I am not a fan of whatever effect is being applied to Ra's voice either at times in this song, it draws my attention from the song to the fact that I can hear his voice twice through the same channel of these expensive-ass M-Audio monitors on my desk.
Ohh, look... It's over! Cool.

12 - Psychic Love
I want to say this is a Roy Ayers sample.
It is killing me that I cannot name the song... I might be up all night listening to Roy Ayers trying to find this fucking song.
Hold on, let me start this song again...
Okay, this is another song about the ladies. He is talking of falling and being in love, or at least he SAYS that, but the know-better in me lets me know that he is discussing more being in lust than in love.
This song is not horrible, but the cliche nature of it holds it back from being anything more than just kinda good... I could listen to it again for the samples alone.

13 - Still in Love
2 love songs in a row?
Wait, no... This is a song about hip hop. This one over another high-energy beat, and again I am not mad at this one.
The voice sampled is a bit annoying, but is simple to tune out, seeing as how the rest of the beat and Rakim's rhymes hold the court properly. If you didn't catch that, the "still in love" speaks to Rakim's feelings for the genre I have continued to try to love.
Wow, he rhymes at the sample on the last verse... Something about a rapper acknowledging a beat is fun to listen to. I like this on the whole.

14 - Dedication
The Katie informs me that the vocal sample used on this song is from No Doubt...
It is well used, and Rakim comes in on the song rhyming on that level that we have come to love out of him...
I take that back about it being well used, it gets a bit annoying somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd time you hear it.
Holy shit, that song was about the birth, life and death of Hip Hop in the world of William Michael Griffin Jr.
Wow, that whole tumor and operate talk was kinda fuckin deep, and saved this song from itself. What a way to close the album.

The fact that singles for this album have been out since July and last month respectively should have said SOMETHING about what I might be up against, here.
Looking over the track listing coming in and seeing only one name I recognized as a feature (Maino) should have scared me, when compared to the greater majority of the industry and it's respect for Rakim as an emcee even though his success commercially has not been huge, if not non-existent as a solo artist.
I am not going to sit here and try to pretend that this was a good album. Very few of the 14 songs allowed me to cosign as "good songs," and even in the cases where I was impressed with or liked the songs, I was still able to find something offputting, without even having to nit-pick...
I am very sure that someone will come in (probably not here, since no one reads my blogs, lol) and excuse Rakim for making product that is below the standard that we SHOULD be holding him to and doing so bases solely upon the merits of Paid in Full. Lord knows that LL Cool J made a 13-album career based upon the merits of 2 albums, maybe 2.5.
To that, I will say that I respect Rakim for not having fully sold the fuck out to his own good name and inundating us with shitty product, but I WILL take him to task for not putting out something better than THIS if he is going to spend 10 years ramping up to it.
I say that to say that I am largely disappointed that I am not going to be buying this album. The best songs about it are duly named as such in the above listings, along with at least some mention of why I think so in my heart of hearts.
I am not sure how quick I will be on the delete button though, so there is that... I am just not gonna lay out my hard-earned bread for this one this time. This is not the 90s where we all had money to blow on mediocre music.
I won't post a link to an illicit download here, but feel free to head over to Okayplayer for a stream of the album if you so choose to form your own opinion.

Damn, it really took me 2.5 hours to review a 56.5-minute album?


Unknown said…
You know Phillip, pronounced "Flip" I do enjoy reading the musings of a madman & I especially enjoyed this one although I will say the outcome disappointed me with the overral incompletedness of this album: mainly because I'm still waiting one an album worthy of the man aptly called "The God MC". Because of Rakim I was enlightened with the 5% Nation. I will admit that sine the "Let the Rhythm Hit'em" album I've been more faithless that the game has changed & the MC Rakim Allah is now now part of the game & not a culture that birthed a movement of KOS - Knowledge of Self.
until the next musing...

Tony Grands said…

I wasn't expecting much (yeah, shame on Grands..), & this (p)review basically solidified all expectations.

What may save Ra, is that the Hip hop pendulum is swinging back towards the "mature" MC (old), so if he stays grinding, maybe some of these younger dudes will pay some real homage, & give him some fires to work with.

Where's Just Blaze, Pete Rock, Preemo, Sir Jinx? Any of these stable staples of the culture shouldve gladly lent a hand for this, but whatever...


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