Thursday, February 12, 2015

2 in 1: Revisiting Rakim's "The Master" and "The Seventh Seal"

It's known that the legendary Rakim is my #3 favorite MC of all time. His first three albums with Eric B. ("Paid In Full", which is my #10 favorite album of all time, "Follow The Leader", and "Let The Rhythm Hit Em" are 5 star classics), "Don't Sweat The Technique", the last Eric B. & Rakim album, was good but clearly not on the level of the first three albums. From there, the R dropped his first recognized solo album in 1997, the excellent "18th Letter", and the two albums that followed is what this post will focus on.

Starting with 1999's "The Master", while the DJ Premier produced "When I Be On The Mic" is a classic, I heard so much mixed feedback about the album at the time that I simply decided, for a long time, not to check it out..... until a few weeks ago, lol. From what I heard it was good, but compared to "The 18th Letter", it was a step down, and of course my review of said album will determine my true feelings about it. 2009's "The Seventh Seal" is interesting altogether. Not only did it receive LESS attention than the two albums preceding it, but it has the distinction of being the only album to date that I fell asleep on (sad fact, but it's true), so the review here will mark my first time listening to it in full since that day in early 2010 that had me knocked out, lol. I recently added these to my collection (brand new on 2/4), so we'll see how these hold up in 2015.




Release date: November 30, 1999



1. "Intro"
In addition to Rakim showing continuous love for the support from fans, we get (audio) clips of fans talking about never being able to meet him, what it would be like to meet him, etc. Short and to the point.

2. "Flow Forever"
Produced by DJ Clark Kent

This was a very good song, however, considering the title, I feel it could've been a bit better.
*4 out of 5*

3. "When I Be On The Mic"
Produced by DJ Premier

Simply put, this is easily the best song on the album, no question. Ra sounded so at home over the unmistakable boom bap sound courtesy of Premo, and if you can't get inspired over a Premo track, I don't know what else to tell you, lol.
*5 out of 5*



4. "Finest Ones"
Produced by DJ Clark Kent

Strictly for the ladies right here. Good song that finds Ra showing the ladies "his pedigree", on the mic and otherwise.
*3 out of 5*

5. "All Night Long"
Produced by Punch

This joint was ok, but you really get the feeling Ra was aiming for some radio/video play here. 
*3 out of 5* 

6. "State of Hip Hop Interlude"
Rakim had some good things to say about the state of hip hop, circa 1999.


7. "Uplift"
Produced by Ron "Amen-Ra" Lawrence and "The Mighty" V.I.C.

I get what Ra was going for here, but the beat along with an ill-timed, pseudo Cuban sample just did not work. Not only that, but the 3:09 felt more like 4:09 listening to it, and the way the song ends made it seem like Ra and the producers were more than eager to wrap this session up.
*2 out of 5*

8. "I Know"
Produced by TR Love

I'm pretty sure most fans probably shook their heads when they heard him say "right now I'm commanding you to dance". That was seemingly his goal here, another song that was ok, but nothing more.
*3 out of 5*

9. "It's The R"
Produced by DJ Clark Kent

I liked the scratched hook featuring clips from some of his previous classics, however, it felt like he was trying to cater to the fellas and the ladies at the same time, and while there's nothing wrong with that per se, it disrupts what could've been a tight song.
*3 out of 5*

10. "I'll Be There"
Featuring Nneka Morton
Produced by Naughty Shorts

This is another joint for the ladies, a little more smoother than "Finest Ones".
*3 out of 5*

11. "It's a Must"
Featuring Rahzel
Produced by Big Jaz

Imagine that, Ra was able to get Big Jaz and Clark Kent onto this album, two men who had a hand in Jay-Z's classic "Reasonable Doubt". This song is good, but I thought about how DOPE a Rakim and Black Thought collaboration (over a better beat) would've been.
*3 out of 5*

12. "Real Shit"
Produced by Ron "Amen-Ra" Lawrence and "The Mighty" V.I.C.

The title of this would suggest something aggressive from Ra, but it turned out to be just another song (albeit an ok one), featuring a somewhat out of place Prodigy (of Mobb Deep) sample and a slight "want to make you dance" vibe.
*3 out of 5*

13. "How I Get Down"
Produced by The 45 King

This apply titled song is a very good one. Ra rides 45 King's beat nicely throughout.
*4 out of 5*

14. "L.I. Interlude"
 

15. "Strong Island"
Produced by Rakim

"New York (Ya Out There)" this is not, but in terms of showing love to where he's from, Ra could've came with something better, so as it stands the song is decent, but nothing special.
*3 out of 5*

16. "Waiting For The World To End"
Produced by DJ Premier

Premo again brings a spark to Ra on this song, which focuses on why most were waiting for the world to end, but then turns it around (during the third verse) and explains why it wasn't such a good thought.
*4 out of 5*

17. "We'll Never Stop"
Featuring Connie McKendrick
Produced by Nick Wiz

The fact that Ra opens this closing song with the line "I go where the masses go" spoke volumes and tells you all you need to know about this album overall, and I'm about to get to my thoughts now. Nothing more to say about this song though.
*3 out of 5*



Right off the bat, 3 stars for this album, a rather disappointing follow up to "The 18th Letter". Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad album, but when you think about Rakim and what he presented to the hip hop world at this point, he was capable of SO much more than what we got here. Lyrically, he wasn't as sharp, almost seeming like he wanted to make you dance more than anything. The SOLE highlights are the two DJ Premier joints, "When I Be On The MIc" and "Waiting For The World To End". Speaking of which, the production, while decent but not great, affected this album quite a bit, because it would've been so much better with different producers, respectively. Outside of Premier, you listen to the rest of the beats, as compared to "18th Letter" for example, and it's impossible to think Rakim signed off on such beats. And going back to something I just mentioned, it's like he was trying to cater to a lot of people at the same time (the long time fans, newer fans, the ladies, the masses, etc), and at the end of the day, stay in your lane is what I say. Furthermore, towards the end of this album, I was thinking how DOPE it would've been had Premier produced the entire thing (12 songs, not 17, and no skits), and even if you couldn't get Premo to oversee it all (no reason why he couldn't), I'm sure Ra could've reached out to different producers who could've brought out the best in him like Premo did. Also, while I got love for Rahzel, can you imagine Rakim and Black Thought on the same track? We'd still be talking about it today (along with a better produced album) and I feel that was a missed opportunity. Overall, I'd say give it a listen if you never heard it before (and if you have about an hour or so to kill), otherwise, outside of the DJ Premier produced songs and even "How I Get Down" and "Flow Forever", do not bother with this because there's MUCH better Rakim material out there pre-1999.






Release date: November 17, 2009



1. "How To Emcee"
Additional Vocals by Tracey Horton
Produced by Slyce

This opener should've been a true apply titled song, but it's the opposite. I get what Ra was going for, sounding a bit different in the process, but he never truly stays on the subject of teaching others "how to emcee". It's like he'll touch on it, move to something else, rinse-repeat, plus Slyce's beat did not click with me. Decent, but could've been MUCH better.
*3 out of 5* 

2. "Walk These Streets"
Featuring Maino
Additional Vocals by Tracey Horton
Produced by Needlz

"Just don't get in the way, cause at the end of the day/My agenda's make sure I get them ends to get paid"


The above lines from Ra really describe this song in a nutshell, talking about what it makes to make/get/stack money, and it's something we have heard before (Maino's verse was ok, but overall it didn't nothing for me). I did like Needlz's beat, almost taking a page out of the Dr. Dre production book, but other than that, this was just another song.
*3 out of 5*

3. "Documentary Of A Gangsta"
Featuring IQ
Additional Vocals by Keith Alexander
Produced by Y-Not

Ra flexes his storytelling muscles, seemingly for the first time in years at this point. He documents the lifestyle(s) of an unnamed gangsta. Although it's not in the "beginning/middle/end sense", it's still a very good song that was heading for an epic feel.
*4 out of 5*

4. "Man Above"
Featuring Tracey Horton
Produced by Nottz

Ra was definitely talking to the man upstairs over the course of three verses here. Decent song for the most part.
*3 out of 5*

5. "You And I"
Featuring Samuel Christian
Produced by Samuel Christian and J Wells

This wasn't bad, but it's another song for the ladies. Ra's lyrics were good, but he delivered them in such a monotone voice that I don't see any ladies being won over as a result. 
*2 out of 5*

6. "Won't Be Long"
Featuring Tracey Horton
Produced by Jake One

A good song here, but again, even with Ra talking about hustling and staying on the grind, it really comes off as nothing we haven't heard before.
*3 out of 5*

7. "Holy Are U"
Produced by Nick Wiz


Now this is more like it. A dope song featuring one of many things that Ra did best: solidifying himself as THE God MC.
*4 out of 5*

8. "Satisfaction Guaranteed"
Produced by Neo Da Matrix


Again, a decent song and even though I get what Ra was aiming for here, he could do SO much better. And trust me I'll have more to say about this production towards the end.
*3 out of 5*

9. "Working For You"
Produced by Bassi Maestro


Another song for the ladies right here, and it was no different than "You And I".
*3 out of 5*

10. "Message In The Song"
Additional Vocals by Destiny Griffin
Produced by Lofey

This song is notable for the first appearance of Ra's daughter Destiny, who did a good job on the hook. There were quite a few messages in this song if you ask me, but it was well done overall.
                                                                 *4 out of 5*

11. "Put It All To Music"
Produced by Poppa Pill

I'm with Ra all the way in terms of showing much love to the music, plus the Pointer Sisters' "Don't It Drive You Crazy" was sampled nicely for the hook, but man this could've stood out more with a better beat.
*3 out of 5*
12. "Psychic Love"
Produced by Nick Wiz

Wow, the third song for the ladies here (with all due respect Ra, we got the picture with the other two songs on this level). Granted, this joint was a little more smoother than "Working For You" and "You And I", but that's not saying much at all.
*3 out of 5*

13. "Still In Love"
Produced by Nick Wiz

This joint basically picks up where song #11 leaves off. The love of music still remains with the R.
*3 out of 5*

14. "Dedicated"
Produced by Nick Wiz

Ra's dedication to his mother, Mrs. Griffin, who had passed away on July 18, 2005, ends things on the best note possible and is in fact the best song on this album.
*5 out of 5*

(My apologies, but while YouTube has a link of this song, Blogger wasn't reading it for some reason.)



Well, I did get through this album without dosing off, lol. Nevertheless, after revisiting it again, I'm not sure whether it's better than "The Master" or not. This album is not great, it's not bad, it's RIGHT there in the middle. Overall, it's a little hard to say whether Rakim matured as an artist or not (even in 2009), because in certain ways you really couldn't tell with this album. Lyrically it's not bad, but again with an MC the caliber of Rakim, you expect MUCH better. And speaking of much better, had he got with better producers (again), this album could've been top notch. Listen, this is no disrespect to the producers on this album, but man most of the beats range from decent to forgettable and they totally bring down the quality of the album. In the end, I'll go with another 3 star rating for "The Seventh Seal".

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