It took Rakim
five years to begin his solo career, but the wait was worth it -- The 18th Letter
is one of the strongest records a veteran rapper released in the late '90s. Working with a variety of producers (Pete Rock
, Clark Kent
, Father Shaheed
, DJ Premier
sounds sharp, focused, and strong, rapping with a force unheard of on his classic albums with Eric B.
He still retains his knack for rolling, laid-back rhymes, but what's impressive is how he can switch between that style and a more aggressive technique. There are a few slow spots on the record, but in general, few latter-day albums by '80s rappers sound as powerful and vital as The 18th Letter