The Master

The Master


A plinth has already been reserved for [a]Rakim[/a] in the pantheon of hip-hop...

A plinth has already been reserved for [a]Rakim[/a] in the pantheon of hip-hop. If he dies tomorrow and is buried, according to his wishes, with his trusty notebook, beneath the Sphinx in Cairo, his contribution to the artform will still be hard to gauge rationally. From bygone days with Eric B in 1986 to ’97’s comeback, the humble recluse has always been distinctive. While many wait to see if his talents diminish with age, ‘The Master’ is once again uncharted territory: within such a young new music, no-one, bar Afrika Bambaataa, has ever been on the mic this long.

Superficially falling within the current bass-drop and R&B-drenched formulas of hip-hop, [a]Rakim[/a]’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 [a]Rakim[/a], 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 [a]Rakim[/a] 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. [a]Rakim[/a] takes time to make his point and the listener gets stupefied into acceptance. This must be what positive brainwashing is like.