It had been nearly a decade since Rakim released new music, but that drought ended Friday when the godfather of rap lyricism and one half of the revered duo Eric B & Rakim released a new song, "King's Paradise." The track was written for Season 2 of Marvel's Luke Cage, which premiered on Netflix the same day, but it wasn't entirely new to select NPR staff; they heard it days earlier when the God MC performed at the Tiny Desk.
The New York rap icon wasn't the only legend in the building that day. Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest — who produced and co-wrote "King's Paradise" with keyboardist Adrian Younge under their new project The Midnight Hour — played bass, and rising blues torchbearer Christone "Kingfish" Ingram sat in on guitar.
"King's Paradise" pays homage to the heroes of the Harlem Renaissance as well as its fictional superhero, the bulletproof Luke Cage. Rakim tipped his hat to Philip Payton Jr., Joe Lewis, Lena Horne, Malcolm X, Maya Angelou and Louis Armstrong, before concluding with a few bars about the comic book-inspired series.
Younge then led the nine-member backing band through two of Rakim's undeniable classics: "Paid in Full" and "Know the Ledge." For the former, drummer David Henderson rolled right in with the unmistakable breakbeat, — originally sampled from The Soul Searchers "Ashley's Roachclip." Muhammad, who's been playing bass since age 19 despite being known for his production and DJ work, provided the low end for "Know The Ledge."
Rakim released his first single 32 years ago, yet the timbre of his voice and Dali Llama aura remain strong. Let's hope this is the beginning of another renaissance.
"Paid In Full"
"Know The Ledge"
Rakim (vocals), Adrian Younge (keys), Ali Shaheed Muhammad (bass), Jack Waterson (guitar), David Henderson (drums), Loren Oden (vocals), Saudia Mills (vocals), Angela Munoz (vocals), Stephanie Yu (violin), Bryan Hernandez-Luch (violin), DeAndre Shaifer (trumpet) , Jordan Pettay (saxophone), Joi Gilliam (vocalist), Christone Ingram (Kingfish) (guitar)
Producers: Abby O'Neill, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Khun Minn Ohn, Maia Stern, Beck Harlan, Kara Frame; Production Assistants: Catherine Zhang, Téa Mottolese; Photo: Eslah Attar/NPR.