The DJ’s introduction for the main attraction at Joe’s Pub last night was brief but grandiose: “Rise to greet The God MC.” Then out walked iconic New York rapper Rakim, dressed in a red Reebok snapback, a matching jacket and Reebok kicks, and a couple of gold chains dangling from his neck. It was appropriate attire for the second show of the Reebok Classics Concert Series.
Rakim Allah manifests a special kind of cool. He doesn't need a hit single on the charts to receive maximum respect. (He's such an integral part of the culture that one of hip-hop's freshest stars, A$AP Rocky, was named after him.) But last night the R showed and proved once again how and why he’s inspired so many. As he said over and over that night, he’s “a classic cat.”
Controlling the crowd with little effort, Rakim unleashed a flurry of cuts from his extensive catalog, which dates back to the late ‘80s—when he and DJ Eric B ran hip-hop. From "I Ain't No Joke" off their classic 1987 album Paid in Full (the set celebrates its 25th anniversary this year), R slid into the devastating title cut. “Shout out to Eric B, wherever you are,” he said during a break.
But it wasn't only an old-school night. Rakim also performed some gems from the aughts, like his verse from Truth Hurts’ “Addicted”—produced by Dr. Dre—and “The Watcher,” a guest appearance on Jay-Z’s Blueprint 2 album.
Ra was relaxed and obviously having fun, as when he took a phone call from DJ Spinderella during his set and asked the crowd to give it up for Salt N Pepa's DJ so she could feel the love. At one point he said, “Check this out,” and slid between two guys who were standing off to the side of the stage. After letting the crowd wonder who the men were, Ra revealed, “These are my sons—I’ve been around a long time.” Though he refused to reveal his age, hip-hop's master mathematician remains essentially timeless. (In July Complex will premiere a Reebok-sponsored documentary on Ra, detailing the making of a classic artist.)
Rakim even surprised the crowd by hopping on the turntables to showcase his DJ skills, putting on a solid display of beat-juggling. But he admitted that he’s still shy about letting his sons watch him practice. "I don't even let my kids in the room," he said with just a hint of a smile.
The R wrapped things with a devastating display of lyrical prowess, as he delivering the title cut from his 1988 classic Follow the Leader acapella, the better to show off the dazzling wordplay:
"Let's travel at magnificent speeds around the Universe / What could ya say as the Earth gets further and further away / Planets are small as balls of clay / Astray into the Milky Way—world's outasight / Far as the eye can see - not even a satellite / Now stop and turn around and look
As ya stare in the darkness, ya knowledge is took! / So keep starin' soon ya suddenly see a star
You better follow it cause it's the R / This is a lesson if ya guessin' and if ya borrowin'
Hurry hurry step right up and keep followin / The Leader."
And after all this time, we still are.
Written by Brad Wete (@BradWete)