Abel Tesfaye's dark, twisted album is at odds with the glossy pop world he's been thrust into
A plinth has already been reserved for [a]Rakim[/a] in the pantheon of hip-hop...
Superficially falling within the current bass-drop and R&B-drenched formulas of hip-hop, Rakim's second solo outing has more nuances, twists, turns and cliffhangers to it than initially meet the eye. Think of him as writing a Bible of the music, laying down the original old-school rules (rhymes on the beat, complex metaphors, the odd verbal shock, beatboxing, street geography and life-affirming protest music are all here), and setting a new standard.
The hefty beats have been especially tailored for Rakim, who describes himself as, "The Mic Lebanon Teflon Don/The Mic Muhammad Ali/The Mic Barbarian/Like Saddam I'm even the bomb in Baghdad". Both DJ Premier's staccato midtempo 'When I Be On Tha Mic' and The 45 King's heat haze-like string confection 'How I Get Down' get equal treatment as sample/beat wreckages to be further demolished.
His is a ghetto world, yet Rakim somehow injects everyday party scenarios and the standard odes to 'the ladies' with fresh blood. Who else would compare himself to a genie, as on 'I Know', and then reverse the simile by commanding you to dance? See, he's the one genie who won't do anyone's bidding. And 'The Master' is slow; so slow it often slouches for extra chilly effect. Rakim takes time to make his point and the listener gets stupefied into acceptance. This must be what positive brainwashing is like.
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Oxford's finest flit between gnarly rock and frustrating slickness on an often-brilliant fourth album