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A Stop-and-Go Hip-Hop Show

Rakim: "I need . . ."

Crowd: "MONEY!"

Rakim: "I used to be a . . ."

Crowd: "STICK-UP KID!"

(Me: I need some ibuprofen!)

You can't blame fans for being inspired by Rakim, forever the emcees' emcee. That he played drums and saxophone growing up shows in his delivery, which blends a drummer's instinct for timing and fills with the improvisational feel and emotional intensity of bebop. His work was groundbreaking because it eschewed the predictable meters and rhyme schemes of early-'80s hip-hop for a free-rhythm style that ignored bar lines and has earned comparisons to Thelonious Monk.

On a few occasions, Rakim did deign to carry some complete verses by himself -- best exemplified on "In the Ghetto," a 1990 track about racial pride, Islamic theology, family and social issues that served as a stark reminder that there's much more to Rakim's lyrical concerns than blunt braggadocio. Though there was plenty of that Saturday -- and to great effect, via songs such as "Microphone Fiend" and "I Ain't No Joke."

I only wish that he was feeling self-important enough to be the only focal point of his own show. Because he certainly doesn't need the help.


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