Now, 10 years since his last effort, The Master (which we were also kind to), Ra returns with The Seventh Seal. This was supposed to be Oh My God with Dr. Dre, but like so many other projects in the Aftermath pipeline, it never materialized, forcing The R to start over. Unfortunately, the impact of his success on the 2002 single "Addictive" with Aftermath singer Truth Hurts seems to have clouded his judgment. Rakim starts strong with "How to Emcee," then proceeds to not follow that formula for the rest of the album. After the opener, the rest of the album is heavily R&B-laced.
Every track seems to have a different singer on the hook, perhaps in an effort for that one radio hit. The low point comes at the end, when a healthy portion of No Doubt's "Don't Speak" provides the basis for "Dedicated," distracting from what otherwise is probably Rakim's most personal track of all-time. I preferred when Rakim used samples of his own lyrics to provide the hooks. This new approach seems desperate. It didn't work for L.L. Cool J a few years ago -- and he can get away with being a bit soft at times -- and it certainly won't be welcomed by those expecting Rakim at his rawest. Sadly, the grittiest thing about The Seventh Seal is the handful of sand passing through his hands on the cover. Rakim's lyrical ability alone saves this album from our worst rating. Lose the singers, stay true to yourself -- and that's not to say you can't evolve -- and trust that your fans will follow. Click here to find out how to buy this album.
-- Mason Storm