Long Island‘s Rakim is a mythical figure who is revered and respected by hip hop purists and those lovers of the culture’s golden age in the 1980s and 90s. He is the legendary MC half of the pioneering duo Eric B. & Rakim and his lyrics have set the benchmark for innovation, poetry, and conscious intellect in rap music. Consistently known as the emcee’s favorite emcee, since 1986, Rakim‘s words have been etched into the echelons of hip hop history.
The wait at Neumos was long and arduous as the headliner was an hour late to the stage. Boos permeated the long past impatient room. They wanted Rakim, the unparalleled scribe to come rock the crowd and dominate the microphone. Instead, what they got was Kendrick Lamar‘s album played in it’s entirety as they all scratched their heads. We were collectively wondering what happened to the era when deejays rocked vinyl 12″s and made the room go bananas before rappers hit the stage. Dare I say that Eric B. would be better than a CD? It curiously brought to mind Rakim‘s lines, “Follow procedures, the crowd couldn’t wait to see this. Nobody been this long awaited since Jesus.“
But when the lyrical master hit the stage, all was forgiven, because there was no question that the king had arrived. Looking fresh from head to toe in a light grey Champion sweatshirt and matching all-white NY hat, sneakers, and t-shirt, that looked as if they had been purchased only an hour before he arrived, he grabbed the mic and immediately ripped the audience a new one.
When “Move the Crowd” came on, Rakim jumped on top of a speaker, stuck his ear to it and proclaimed, “Standing by the speaker, suddenly I had this FEVER. Was it me or either summer madness? Cuz I just can’t stand around, so I get closer, and the closer I get, the better it sounds.” The audience went insane, filling in vocals and chants at will. Rakim constantly trolled the crowd sticking microphones in fan’s faces who would scream the lyrics.
1987‘s “I Know You Got Soul” got everyone hyped and contains some of the illest lyrics ever. “I start to think and then I sink into the paper, like I was ink. And when I’m writin’ I’m trapped in-between the lines. I escape when I finish the rhyme.” I almost lost my voice chanting these words. The legend moved swiftly across the stage with an unconscious swagger that resulted in this humble brother getting a high five.
It was hit-after-hit as the New York native proceeded to prove why he is consistently ranked as the greatest MC to ever grip a mic. There are few who can claim such mastery rhyming over beats. There was no hesitation, no rushing of words; just the purest flows possible. Opening act rappers who spent their set screaming at the audience needed to take notice–watch & learn.
When “Microphone Fiend” began, Rakim put the mic to his forearm as if he was a beat junky. “I was a fiend before I became a teen. I melted microphones instead of cones of ice cream.”
He made a point of letting everyone know that he doesn’t travel with a hype man. It was also easy to notice that he doesn’t travel with a DJ either (the opening act’s DJ pressed buttons on a Serato for the entirety of his set). It didn’t seem to matter. I think that he just wanted everyone to know that this show was all about Rakim and his mic, the barest elements from the grand master.
There are few sonic experiences like a DJ Premier beat played through coral reef-sized subwoofers. So, when “It’s Been A Long Time” started blasting, the crowd reacted appropriately, going crazy when it reached the infamous line, “Since I came in the door, said it before, but no I ain’t down with Eric B. no more.”
Seattle is notorious for its lack of ethnic diversity, but this show proved that old school hip hop really does have the ability to bring all types of people together. White and black coalesced into a sea of hand waving maniacs finishing verses and hanging on every word. This is when we realize that hip hop speaks to all of us in a language that we can easily understand.
Toward the end of the set, the crazy bass groove of “Juice (Know The Ledge)” dropped and the crowd really let loose. This cut from the classic 1992 film, Juice , which launched Tupac‘s acting career, is a lot more street oriented than Rakim‘s other hits. But, not unlike the film itself, the last 4 lines speak more about the reality of gangsterism than its glorification: “Coming out of the building, they set me up. Sprayed with automatics, they wet me up. In a puddle of blood, I lay close to the edge. I guess I didn’t know the ledge.” This is quintessential Rakim–street knowledge.
When the show was over, he threw the mic down like Randy Watson & Sexual Chocolate in Coming to America. It made me think of the opening line from “I Ain’t No Joke” off Eric B. and Rakim‘s groundbreaking Paid In Full album; a line that he could have ended the show with: “I ain’t no joke, I used to let the mic smoke. Now I slam it when I’m done and make sure it’s broke.”
The king had left the building.