Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Once Followed, Rakim Now Follows the Leader(s)

I hate to question the greats -- especially considering they’re responsible for the past and current soundtracks to my life -- but what has happened to Rakim?

FULL DISCLOSURE: I love Rakim. He is single-handedly responsible for incorporating an intricate rhyme style and technique that is still heavily employed today by tons of rappers, both aspiring and accomplished.

Eric B & Rakim’s first three albums were nothing short of brilliance and they stayed blasting in my ears from my Walkman to my CD player and finally, now, my i\Pod. Rakim is truly a living legend, and for that reason alone he will always have my respect.

But it would be completely irresponsible for me to ignore his lackluster contributions to rap music over the past decade, and especially over the last year.

The straw that broke this camel’s back came just about a month ago (in the form of Swizz Beatz’s very unoriginal online weekly series) when I heard King Tut, the new Swizz Beatz song featuring none other than Rakim:

Aside from Swizz bastardizing the instrumental of a brand new (and very dope) N*E*R*D song that hasn’t even had a chance to take on a life of its own, and aside from the fact that Swizz’s rhymes leave much to be desired, we could still rely on Rakim – who was for all intents and purposes in hiding before emerging on this song – to ease the pain brought on by Swizzy’s raps. Right?


Rakim’s signature voice is nearly unrecognizable, making me wonder if someone was pulling a Michael Jackson on the listeners. On top of that, Rakim’s rhyme style hasn’t evolved one bit. It’s still the same monotone, slow and deliberate delivery that paved the way back in the 80s but is now so commonplace that even he sounds weird doing it.

To be considered the greatest at anything requires a deep love and serious commitment to said craft. Michael Jordan is retired from playing basketball but stays involved with the NBA team that he owns. Why can’t Rakim do the Hiphop equivalent? Simple. Because he is not the greatest rapper of all time, for starters.

If he were, he would rap for the love of it and stay in the studio and demand relevance like his one-time counterparts KRS-One (who released two very good albums this year) and Big Daddy Kane, who are both happy and eager to work with up-and-coming as well as established talent.

And now we see that when rappers take a break and try to get back on the mic -- it’s just not that easy. It takes a dedication to the craft to keep rappers effective, and this rhyme in particular but also his album from last year have made it clear that Rakim has lost his love for his one-time masterful craft of emceeing.

For many people Rakim remains the greatest rapper of all time, but if we go by the strict criteria needed to be a candidate for such a lofty title, there is no question Rakim does not deserve that honor, which means, ironically, that out of that very virtue, the sad reality is that Rakim is now following the leaders.

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