Rakim – Nottingham Rescue Rooms, Sunday May 8
They may call him “The God MC”, but Rakim does have at least one human frailty: a fear of flying. For his first visit to the British Isles in fifteen years – with a string of European dates to follow – the 43-year old veteran rapper arrived by boat, all the way from New York. And for his second UK show, he wisely chose to visit a city whose hip hop community has kept the faith more purely than most, and where “old school” values still inform the new breed.
In Rakim’s eyes, the truest engagement with hip hop is a creative engagement, and as a successive showing of hands demonstrated, many of last night’s crowd are actively involved in the local scene themselves, whether as DJs, MCs, b-boy dancers or graffiti artists. This was the perfect audience for him: noisily loyal yet keenly attentive, and seemingly possessed of a word-perfect recall of every line he has ever uttered.
Following two and a quarter hours of impressive support sets from three local acts (Scorzayzee, Juganaut and Ms Tempa) and one visitor (Klashnekoff from London), and heralded by a quick-fire montage of hip hop classics, Rakim entered to a true hero’s welcome. On stage for just over an hour, he mixed vintage cuts from his early career with Eric B with newer material from his 2009 comeback album The Seventh Seal.
Widely considered as “the rapper’s favourite rapper”, whose pioneering approach to lyrical flow opened up a whole new world of possibilities, Rakim’s languid, fluid, richly rhythmic delivery was as mesmerising in 2011 as it had been when he first appeared at Rock City in 1987. Keeping corny crowd-pleasing stunts to an acceptable minimum, he concentrated on the task in hand. The set climaxed with Paid In Full – performed in its Coldcut remix version, surprisingly enough – and a stunning acapella version of Follow The Leader, which sent his devotees away in a daze of almost disbelieving bliss.