Picks and Pans Review: The 18th Letter/the Book of Life

updated 12/15/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/15/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

Rakim

It has been five years since Rakim Allah made a full-length album, and his return with this two-CD set is indeed welcome. Back in the mid-1980s the Long Island, N.Y., native and his former partner, Eric B, created a string of hits (which are included on the second CD) that remain hip-hop classics. With phrasing that was influenced by the cadences of jazz, Rakim brought an air of intensity and devout spirituality to what had pretty much been party music. With the current state of rap increasingly geared toward mindless retreads of R&B songs, it's a relief to hear Rakim lay down a rhyme built on intricate, literate word play. Of course The 18th Letter has a serious legacy to live up to. Yet while it may not reach the legendary status of albums like 1987's Paid in Full, his platinum debut CD, it is still a comeback that has been worth the wait. (Universal)

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