London Ladbroke Grove Subterania
He calls himself ‘God’. It’s to do with his religious and philosophical beliefs, and it’s pretty complex. But tonight, under a couple of simple spotlights, alone with a microphone and some of the finest hip-hop music ever created, you can only believe him. Forget the second coming: Rakim’s first London gig for more than 12 years is like witnessing the resurrection of rap. Rakim belongs to an earlier, less convoluted era, yet his complex creativity has weathered well.
Never the multi-platinum superstar, The R’s legendary status has been enriched by his elusive nature and infrequent recordings, but just as crucial is the fact that he never disappoints. There’s been no-one like him before or since, a fact all the more inescapable in a genre where too many pampered no-hopers earn their millions far too easily. It’s a suitably basic show, then, underpinned by the reliable old-skool ethos that demands you both turn up and turn it out. Rakim takes a roomful of disciples on a whistle stop ride through his extensive back catalogue, letting up only to hijack the decks and prove that he can DJ, too.
His is a voice that doesn’t, in theory, translate well to the live setting: in practice he loses it only occasionally, where the measured, honeyed clarity is sacrificed in the quest for volume, a shortcoming more than compensated for by a punishing work rate. The audience is left like a boxer on the ropes, soaking up hit after hit, until Ra lands the knockout blow: “Think of how many weak shows you slept through”, he teases, “time’s up – I’m sorry I kept you”. The apology is superfluous: this is Godlike.