Rakim – The 18th Letter: #597 of best 1,000 albums ever!

Rakim - The 18th Letter

So why is Rakim’s The 18th Letter on this best 1,000 albums ever thing?

Rakim’s solo career proved him out to be one of the top rappers of the 1990s, and for me the pinnacle of his output is represented by The 18th Letter.

The title track, which is called “The 18th Letter (Always and Forever),” shows off Rakim at his very best. I love when string music is effectively used with hip hop, and Rakim’s smooth, confident flow perfectly compliments the music and beat.  

Rakim is also a fine lyricist, and in this song he spins through topics ranging from Islam to ancient Egypt to the modern rap game.

The 18th Letter, the prophecy professor
I stay clever, long as the planet stay together
Bring up praise from Mecca, make a phrase for the better
In new days to remember, always and forever

“It’s Been a Long Time” has a similar feel, with strings switched out for horns, and the tempo turned up just a touch.

And “Guess Who’s Back” cranks things up yet another notch and achieves club level vibes whereas the other two tracks are ideal for more of a martini lounge scene.

Personal stuff that’s somehow related to Rakim – The 18th Letter

Rakim dates back to hip hop’s golden age, of course, and will be forever be tied during that era with Eric B., the pairing appropriately known as Eric B. & Rakim. Their hits included old school classics such as “Don’t Sweat The Technique” and “Paid In Full.”

I mention this in part because the hip hop duo is well worth checking out if you’re not familiar with them, but also because I happen to be a fellow Eric B. a.ka. Eric Berlin.

This usually went unnoticed in my travels, though I do recall that my manager when I worked at Toys ‘R Us one summer – between my freshman and sophomore years of college – used to like to refer to me as “Eric B. & Rakim!”

It’s funny how a tiny kernel of a memory can trigger all kinds of others. The job at Toys ‘R Us wasn’t thrilling for the most part, but it served as a fine summer gig. What was fun was that a bunch of my high school friends had also scored a job there as well.

As soon as I connected the dots on The 18th Letter and Toys ‘R Us (of all things!) while writing this entry, the next thing that popped into my head was that amazing toy cowboy gun. Now, this toy gun was very much a toy gun – it looked like the kind of gun that Clint Eastwood would wield in a Western movie at High Noon on a long dusty main street.

The coolest thing though was that when you pulled the trigger, it made a cartoonish but awesome gun firing-meets-ricochet type sound that really put you into that, “I’m actually a cowboy in a Western” kind of mood. My dudes Jake, Larry, and I would have a blast grabbing that gun off the shelf and doing all kinds of mock-amazing Western-type action moves in taking out “the enemy,” or some display of Nerf footballs, or some such.

Okay, maybe the job was more fun than what I’m letting on.

The other main thing that we focused on – beyond whatever mind-numbing stock activities we were tasked with – was aligning our lunch breaks so that we could head out together (and I’m pretty sure Taco Bell would have been our most frequent destination in those far-gone days). This was more difficult than it might seem on the surface due to the store needing coverage or some such boring rationale.

Which meant subterfuge and surreptitious methods were often necessary, in other words. And when we were able to take lunch together, it felt exciting, like we had pulled off a minor yet very real victory for All That Is Good.

Some stats & info about Rakim – The 18th Letter

  • What kind of musical stylings does this album represent? East Coast Rap, Hardcore Rap, Rap, Hip Hop
  • Rolling Stone’s greatest 500 albums ranking – not ranked!
  • All Music’s rating4.5 out of 5 stars
  • When was The 18th Letter released? 1997
  • My ranking, the one you’re reading right now – #597 out of 1,000

Rakim’s The 18th Letter on Spotify

A lyrical snippet from Rakim’s The 18th Letter that’s evocative of the album in some way, maybe

Just when things seemed the same, and the whole scene is lame, I come and reign with the unexplained for the brains ‘til things change.

What does the “best 1,000 albums ever” mean and why are you doing this?

Yeah, I know it’s audacious, a little crazy (okay, maybe a lot cray cray), bordering on criminal nerdery.

But here’s what it’s NOT: a definitive list of the Greatest Albums of All-Time. This is 100% my own personal super biased, incredibly subjective review of what my top 1,000 albums are, ranked in painstaking order over the course of doing research for nearly a year, Rob from High Fidelity style. Find out more about why I embarked on a best 1,000 albums ever project.