Concert review: Rakim (with Mask and Glove, the 12 to 6 Movement and Tef Poe) feels and shares the love at the Coliseum, Friday, March 8
Walking in to the sampled ad-infitum percussion of “Apache” and spotting Kangol complementing a Dookie rope chain, I’d arrived to a Coliseum full of hip-hop’s golden-era purists eagerly anticipating the presence of a living legend — William Michael Griffin Jr., aka Rakim.
With four other acts on the bill, patience was unfortunately not even remotely observed at times. Fortunately, DJ Nick Fury foreshadowed the night with the simplest of samples — a guttural delivery of the word “beast.” An impressive show-and-prove emerged from his throwback technical skills — all respect to Grand Wizard Theodore: DJ Nick Fury dropped scribbles, flares and orbits amidst the first checkmark on a DJ’s checklist, beat-matching on point. His counterpart, MC Brief, forming Mask & Glove, subsequently took the stage to showcase inspiring wordplay that even better accentuated his inability-to-be-winded delivery. Unfortunately, the crowd’s response to each song, the loudest by a pre-God MC, seemed to indicate its eradicating interest in the repetitive flow.
A little more time reserved for the golden-era in-between sets allowed the crowd to realize they still knew every word to LL Cool J’s “I’m Bad.” Immediately following, “Paul Revere” got the club bouncing more. Regardless, it was apparent the crowd was becoming unresponsive in its single-minded anticipation. Essentially, it was thoroughly strange to have a Beastie Boys cut get such a raucous response, only to have another trio, similarly pigmented, loudly booed before having even let a bar loose from their lips. 12 to 6 Movement, not impressed themselves, actually had the trappings of a talented group. Thoroughly more enjoyable by simple virtue of the constantly interchanging voice, the group’s three members occupied radically different parts of the MC spectrum. Whether planned or not, the set ended swiftly after two songs.
Unceremoniously tasked with damage control — made worse by yet another false Rakim introduction — Tef Poe took to the turbulent stage center. “I ain’t those white boys,” his attempt at quieting a now restless, still-booing crowd, took the obvious, completely worthless assessment to an inexplicably dark corner.
Encouragingly, everyone got back to the music at hand relatively quickly. Easily enough, as Tef cut off the first song of a two-song set to get into the blast of braggadocio “Coming Outta Missouri.” Poe, fueled by his newly replenished need to prove, blessed the crowd by laying waste to the signature cut. The crowd, recognizing his 106 and Park Freestyle Friday champ pedigree, finally seemed to exhale.
If anything was left in doubt, the mere presence of the individual William Michael Griffin Jr. instills the utmost faith. Having read about the way certain individuals can simply take the air out of a room, I’ve personally never been taken aback to such an extent: The timelessness, the accolades, the sheer body of work, the utter single-handed evolving of a genre into its modern day, two-decades strong iteration, all at once, live and within reach. He took the stage and with it, every ounce of attention the Coliseum had. “How to Emcee” — by the legend who literally taught all your favorite rappers, and everyone on down to their favorite rapper’s rappers, the vitality of the art — blared as he arrived onstage. Feeling welcomed, Rakim shook nearly every hand in the front row.
Heavy on the classics, the set regularly had the crowd finishing lines. As if Rakim weren’t already appreciative enough, the crowd recited entire verses — both opening stanzas of “Move the Crowd” and “Paid in Full” — back to the best to ever do it. Soaking it in, Rakim kept his eyes closed and the mic open to the mass on the floor. Paying respect to his short stint with Interscope — wishful thinking allowed, a rekindling of the Dr. Dre partnership — he even hit the memorable yet elusive guest verses from “Addictive” and “The Watcher 2″ that set the template for modern-day Andre 3000. Approximately 40 minutes in, Rakim reassured, “The show’s just getting started.”
The aforementioned “Paid in Full” kicked off a supreme highlight reel, as it was followed by the debut album classic’s “I Know You Got Soul” and “I Ain’t No Joke.” Thoroughly feeling every bit of the euphoria he planted decades ago amongst the Mound City collective, he promised he wouldn’t let it be years before he came back again.
Wrapping up, he hit the staple that he wrote at 18 years old, the a cappella “Follow the Leader.” As wholly consuming and humbling as the man and the performance were, Rakim took a solid 40 minutes to get off and back stage — 40 minutes spent making sure every outstretched hand was shook, every camera had a picture taken and every word spoken heard; he regularly bowed his head to put the speaker’s mouth in his ear.
With his bodyguard, host and various staff urging him, Rakim finally acquiesced and disappeared with one last flourish of love, letting everyone know he felt every bit we ever gave him.