And then there were three.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. I was going to interview him. I had a pretty sick set of questions to ask him, but the universe conspired against me, and, POOF, no interview.
Bad news sequel: Had this been anyone other than Ra, the 2 am start time on a Tuesday night Wednesday morning would’ve made me kick a hole in the speaker, pull the plug and then jet. (A lesser man would’ve made a “been a long time, shouldn’t have left (you) without a strong rhyme to step to” reference right there.)
And finally, the good news: it was worth the wait. The wait until Rakim’s arrival consisted of notorious faith-defenders Concise & Checkmate, beer, the human can of Red Bull (speed?) known as Kyprios, more beer, DJ’s Hedspin, Flipout and Jay Swing, even more beer and super-surprise guest star Shad…wait. That’s not right. He was just there to take in the show. (Super nice guy, by the way. We discussed his excellent Fresh Prince themed video. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re an asshole. Click here.) Ummm…super-surprise guests Swollen Members!? No! They were there, but not them either. Oh yeah. It was Rakim’s spitting image, Maestro “80 Was Mine” Fresh Wes! I have to say, the place exploded for his one song cameo of Let Your Backbone Slide. And finally, the clock struck two, and right before we all turned back into pumpkins, Rakim came on and did what I threatened to do in the last paragraph, and tore that motherfucker down. Live, he spits exactly like he does on record. Calculated. Deliberate. Smooth. Don’t let that give you the impression that his stage show lacked energy. It’s just that there were no peaks and valleys, but rather a constant, strong flow. Live shows are usually more about the MC’s cadence than about their lyrics. Not Rakim’s. The few spots where the whole crowd wasn’t rapping along with him, I could make out every word. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the MC widely regarded as the pioneer of complex rhyme schemes and advanced wordplay would make sure he had the crispest enunciation and crystal clear clarity.
I knew Rakim did a lot of the production back in the day. I didn’t know he was also a sick DJ. At one point he got behind the tables and proved he doesn’t (and maybe never did) need Eric B. Fuck, is there anything he can’t do? (Other than be on time.) Probably the weirdest point of the set was when he got all Ritchie Valens with us, and gave a mini-rant about how planes need more parachutes, in the middle of telling us he drove all the way here from NYC. Bizarre shit.
The set list was bonkers. With as many sick songs as he has, while there was no way he was going to get ‘em all in, it didn’t really matter. Like I said in my promo for this show, he had enough to go around. Eric B. Is President. I Know You Got Soul. Move The Crowd. Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em. Don’t Sweat The Technique. Mahogany. Guess Who’s Back. It’s Been A Long Time. You get the idea. The highest points were, in a predictable turn of events, my top three songs, proving once again, kiddies, Nuv Knows Best. When the drums from I Ain’t No Joke kicked in, I figured that’s the closest feeling to getting one-inch punched through the chest by Bruce Lee. Speaking of ‘no joke’ – Microphone Fiend was accompanied by the sound of a roomful of dudes popping simultaneous ear boners. Shit! Presented with literal dickheads and I didn’t even call ‘em on it. I was so distracted by the awesomeness taking place on stage, that I let the opportunity for the biggest pun of all (heh) just pass me by.
The night…sorry. The Early Wednesday morning almost ended on a sour note. Not really. Just for me. For a split-second, it seemed Ra was really going to end on a song other than my favourite. Toying with us, he had his DJ bring in various iconic beats from his catalogue (including Lyrics of Fury!) for, like, two bars, and then he’d be like, “Naw. Naw. Not that one.” But then: The Bassline. You know the one. Vocal sample. With me (and every other motherfucker still standing) on the back-ups, in comes Rakim: “Sip the Juice. I got enough to go around…” And, just like that, what time it was, the drunk annoying pen-chick I spared you all the story of (stupid, stupid girl. 7 is not 9!), and all of the night’s other imperfections were erased.
Final verdict: it was a perfect performance. And Ra lives to save hip hop another day. Night. Dawn. Whatever. Big shouts to Jay Swing for allowing my hunchbacked mutant photo-slave Jay Haddow and I access to see a living, breathing legend in the flesh. Another check mark on my personal MC list.
And we come full circle.