Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Rakim - The 18th Letter 2xLP - Grape Vinyl


Motown (2023, Reissue)

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo! MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for thirty plus years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

I figured that the best follow up to the Eric B & Rakim box set would be to write a little bit about Rakim's recently rereleased solo debut, The 18th Letter.  This album came out in 1997, five years after Don't Sweat The Technique.  I'm not particularly well versed in why Eric B & Rakim split up or why Rakim took so long to come back with another record, but it always struck me as off that he vanished off the face of the earth when hip hop production was at its apex in 93 and 94 (at least in my opinion).

Production in 1997 wasn't anything I was particularly interest in, if I'm being honest.  By that time, the sounds that were most pleasing to my ears were no longer in style and had been replaced by flimsy beats or cheesy samples.  It's why I had moved on to other things by that time.  However, listening to The 18th Letter, I'm reminded once again that there were exceptions to this that I had unfairly ignored back then.

Now I'm not saying the production on The 18th Letter is great, it's not.  It doesn't hold a candle to any of the Eric B & Rakim albums or most records released from 88-94.  But, in comparison to what was par for the course in 1997, it's significantly better than the bulk of releases coming out at that time.  The beats are fine and the samples are OK.  There's nothing blow away, but nothing is bad either.

Lyrically, Rakim is pretty much in a steady state.  Maybe on cruise control a bit.  Every track is strong, spinning stories with fairly intricate rhyme structures.  Nothing on here sounds as groundbreaking as his early work, but he kind of already broke that ground and had established his template at that point.  All in all, this is a good record, even if the artwork might have you wondering what was going on.  It's miles better than most of what came out in the world of hip hop after 1994, but never quite reaching the heights of Rakim's classic run of albums with Eric B. 

Rakim - The 18th Letter:

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