With his first solo record in a decade, The Seventh Seal should be a very big deal for Rakim. As one of the most skilled and respected emcees of all time, The God MC’s ability to deliver uncompromising, lyrically complex rhymes goes without saying. Sadly, The Seventh Seal just feels too run of the mill for someone so damn talented.
The buzz over new Rakim shit was immense, to say the least, with lots of rumours about potential Dr. Dre-produced cuts and a whole whack of other possibilities filling the hip-hop sites and their message boards with gleeful optimism. Unfortunately none of those possibilities appear on The Seventh Seal and the record is comprised of subpar beats and uninteresting guest spots.
That said, it’s hard to fuck with Rakim on the mic and he proves his worth with intricate, battle-worn bars throughout the record.
Starting his 40s, Rakim certainly has passed all the required tests for hip-hop legend status. As part of one of the greatest duos of all time in any genre of music in Eric B. & Rakim, his ability to bring the rhyme was founded in his musical experience as a saxophone player. He developed the internal rhyme in the 80s, showing a new side to rappers hungry for new techniques and fresh skills to bring to their games.
The thing about The Seventh Seal is that Rakim still hammers each bar with intensity and creativity despite this album being nowhere near what it should be. He’s as fluid and as technically sound as any emcee in the game, offering up rhymes about God, love and the streets without resorting to mindless trickery or needless cursing.
“How to Emcee” aptly opens the record and proves that Rakim can still deliver. He outlines the game for younger rappers, outlining his skills over a Slyce-produced set of average beats.
“Documentary of a Gangsta” is the album’s best cut, a West Coast-ish cut brimming with mood and texture. The backing vocals from IQ are okay, but it’s Rakim’s ability to place his audience where he wants them to be that makes this track sing.
Tracks like “Man Above” and “Message in the Song” lose their grip thanks to bland beats and a song structure that lacks intensity and creativity. And “Won’t Be Long” never quite goes to the heights its subject matter demands.
It’s hard to describe The Seventh Seal (or anything with Rakim blasting away on it) as a letdown, but there are just too many missing parts to make this the sort of album a rapper of his skill level and legacy deserves. Rakim floats above the material and gives this record something worth checking out, but it’s nowhere near as epic as it should have been.