Hip-hop leg­end Rakim a let­down

His show at Turner Hall was filled with too much nos­tal­gia

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - TAP DAILY - PIET LEVY

From its birth, hip-hop’s been deemed a young per­son’s game, with ag­ing rap­pers too of­ten (and of­ten un­fairly) cast aside as ir­rel­e­vant has-beens.

That’s chang­ing. Within the past year, old-school stars Jay Z and A Tribe Called Quest dom­i­nated pop cul­ture con­scious­ness with timely, crit­i­cally-adored al­bums. Veter­ans Killer Mike and El-P are ar­guably bet­ter known now than ever be­fore thanks to their riv­et­ing joint ven­ture Run the Jew­els.

Hip-hop’s ma­tu­rity and growth in pop­u­lar­ity have cre­ated more open-mind­ed­ness among afi­ciona­dos, but these older artists also earned re­newed rel­e­vance through en­ergy and ef­fort — both of which were sadly in short sup­ply at fel­low rap leg­end Rakim’s Turner Hall Ball­room show Fri­day.

De­spite strolling on stage 70 min­utes af­ter the opener wrapped, Rakim re­ceived a hero’s wel­come, for good rea­son. He changed the game with genre clas­sic “Paid in Full” in 1987, de­liv­er­ing clever, cut­ting and com­plex rhymes with ef­fort­less fi­nesse, each word re­ceiv­ing a clar­ity in de­liv­ery wor­thy of his thought­ful, at times even po­etic, crafts­man­ship. He el­e­vated rap to an art form; his in­flu­ence, ar­guably, is im­mea­sur­able.

That sig­na­ture flow was in fine form Fri­day, the crowd clearly charged (and yelling along) to lines like, “Put brothers to rest like Eliot Ness” (from “Juice (Know the Ledge)”), or when Rakim de­scribed his style as “clas­si­cal, too in­tel­li­gent to be rad­i­cal, mas­ter­ful, never ir­rel­e­vant, math­e­mat­i­cal” dur­ing “Don’t Sweat the Tech­nique.”

Rakim earned fur­ther fan ad­mi­ra­tion with sev­eral pas­sion­ate hand­shakes, and the sug­ges­tion that “I don’t write rhymes for me; I write them for you all.”

That may be, but he hasn’t re­leased his own sin­gle since 2013 or a new al­bum since 2009. He’s stuck in the past, be­cause there’s very lit­tle present mu­sic to work with, and Fri­day, his fre­quent shout-outs for “old-school hip-hop” showed where his head was at.

You could ar­gue he was giv­ing the peo­ple what they wanted, but his fans still got less than they de­served. There’s a great temp­ta­tion at a nos­tal­gia show to take short­cuts, to coast on an au­di­ence’s good­will sur­mised from your past glo­ries. And that’s what Rakim did re­peat­edly Fri­day.

He barely rapped dur­ing set-clos­ing song “Paid in Full,” let­ting the au­di­ence take on about 98% of the verses. He ran down the clock for a cou­ple of min­utes with tired, “which side is louder” au­di­ence bait­ing. He left the stage, just 17 min­utes in, for a seven-minute DJ break. The fi­nal length of the set — just 50 min­utes, in­clud­ing that DJ break.

Not ex­actly what you’d ex­pect from a leg­end.

There was no doubt about opener Klas­sik’s com­mit­ment. Pos­sess­ing an in­sa­tiable de­sire to explore new sonic ter­rain, the lo­cal rap­per and singer’s 45-minute set largely fea­tured first lis­tens of creative new tracks and a fresh fu­tur­is­tic R&B re­make of Woody Guthrie’s top­i­cal “This Land is Your Land.” With curve­ball pro­duc­tion breaks he han­dled him­self, and dizzy­ing vo­cals taken to pierc­ing heights by elec­tronic ma­nip­u­la­tion, Klas­sik was in lib­er­at­ing, avant-garde mode, but he never jeop­ar­dized the show’s mo­men­tum.


Hip-hop leg­end Rakim per­forms at Turner Hall Ball­room on Fri­day dur­ing his “Paid in Full” show mark­ing the al­bum’s 30th an­niver­sary. His set was full of nos­tal­gia. See more photos at json­line.com/tap.

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