Here is what happens during a bad hip-hop show: An unknown local act spends half an hour trying to prove itself, some loosely affiliated friends of the headliner wander around the stage for a while spitting the kind of stuff you'd skip over if it showed up on a mixtape, the nostalgia-fostering DJ spins a set consisting solely of the same unsurprising selections from the 1988-1996 classic rap canon, and then the main event shows up about five hours after the doors opened, does abridged versions of his hits, and ducks out after 25 minutes. What happened at Rakim's First Avenue show last September was something else entirely. The local opener was Brother Ali, who had most of the crowd already geeked at the point he hit the stage but still commanded it like he had something to prove. The DJ was Kid Capri, who used his nearly three decades' worth of experience on the ones and twos to tame the notoriously turntable-unfriendly First Ave stage. And the headliner was hip-hop icon Rakim, who showed everyone in attendance why he's on the Greatest MCs of All Time shortlist. Not only did he spend well over an hour running down a career's worth of hits, from "Eric B. Is President" to "Juice (Know the Ledge)" to "Guess Who's Back." But he did it without leaning on hypemen to finish his signature lines for him; instead he seemed to possess the poise and ferocity of an MC half his age. If the fans in attendance didn't show up fiending for the first new Rakim record since the '90s, they were when it ended. And even if they're still waiting, they've got good reason to hope he'll tour behind it.


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