Marc Cabrera has nothing better to do than watch a lot of movies and television, and listen to a lot of music. Luckily, he has a job that pays him to blog about local and national arts, entertainment and pop culture. He can be reached at email@example.com.
So I finally fulfilled one of those rap nerd check-off list moments when I peeped Rakim for the first time last Thursday. On the day before my birthday, no less. Yes, as I get older, these sort of things fail to get any less exciting (still on the list are Nas, MF Doom, EPMD and Dr. Dre).
Rakim was headlining the "Hip-Hop Live" tour, which had something to do with Dodge trucks and something called FlowTV, along with Ghostface and Brother Ali. The band Rhythm Roots All-Stars backed up all three acts, giving the night a sort of Copa Cabana review feel.
The thing about seeing your hip-hop idols live in person for the first time is you've got to assume they are not larger than life. I was spoiled when I saw LL Cool J at age 16, and he fulfilled all of my expectations of what a rap legend should be: big, dynamic, and bad ass, even if he did lyp-synch a quarter of his set.
Rakim, on the other hand, doesn't have the built-in nuclear explosiveness of Uncle L. Rakim is all icey-cool, circa-84 NYC swagger, deep monotone and nary a hint of self-parody. So going in, I half-expected Rakim to sport an Armani suit, or at least a tucked-in button-up.
But Rakim Allah, The God MC, stepped on stage rocking a crisp brown hoodie, stylish but sensible black jeans, and the same gold chain he rocked in the Follow The Leader video. Which is to say Rakim came out like a hermetically sealed hip-hop icon, better than mint condition and, if anything, updated for a 2007 audience.
He rocked the classics, straight out the box with "Paid in Full" before rattling off “The Microphone Fiend,” “Check Out My Melody” and “I Ain't No Joke.” What was just as impressive was the way the RRAS captured the deep, warm thump of the original music. The songs were instantly recognizable, a sticking point for a purist like myself (jokes, kids, jokes).
Rakim also did songs as if on cue from my mind. At one point, I was thinking to myself "It would be cool to hear the band play the jazzy-break from ‘Sweat The Technique.’” Sure enough, the trunk-rattling upright bass and horn break came in on point.
And to say hearing "Eric B For President” was a euphoric experience would be an understatement. Although I didn't hop into the Delorian and head back to seventh grade and my old K-Tel cassette tapes, I did get up and dance and sing along. Just shouting along to the greatest opening line in hip-hop history (I came in the door/ I said it before...) was instant happy birthday material.
I'd write about Ghostface and Brother Ali, who both put on really good sets, but there's no point. Neither guy could really rock Rakim's hoodie anyway.