The man revered as The God MC thrilled a capacity audience of about 300 devotees Wednesday at the Riot Room.
The rare area appearance by Rakim inspired the fervor of a religious revival.
As half of the duo Eric B. & Rakim, the rapper's extraordinary lyrical skill and musical delivery played an integral role in transforming hip-hop from a simplistic novelty into a serious art form. Commentators have suggested that the New York native's impact on hip-hop is akin to the way in which Kansas City's Charlie Parker altered the course of jazz.
Unlike most of his peers, Rakim, 45, has recorded sparingly and maintains a low profile. The diminished approach has enhanced his mystique. While Rakim's place in hip-hop history is assured, Wednesday's performance further burnished his legacy.
Supported only by DJ and hype man DJ 33 1/3, Rakim opened with "Holy Are You," a song in which he compares himself to artists including Michelangelo and spiritual figures like Jesus and Louis Farrakhan. The charismatic rapper's hubris went unchallenged. The Matt Cassel jersey and red Chiefs cap he wore in addition to his trademark gold chains eliminated any vestiges of disbelief the audience may have harbored.
Rakim squeezed a lot into his hour-long set.
A celebratory version of the 1987 anthem "Move the Crowd" was electrifying even though the tightly-packed spectators had little room to maneuver. Indefatigable devotees managed to wave their hands and shout along to almost every selection. The audience's boundless enthusiasm threatened to overwhelm Rakim's performance.
He allowed the audience to rap most of a tragically abbreviated rendition of the classic "Paid In Full." Only a stellar a cappella reading of "Follow the Leader" awed fans into silence.
Other highlights included an inspired version of "In the Ghetto", a 1990 hit that spawned thousands of similar songs. The jazz-based selections "Don't Sweat the Technique" and "Know the Ledge" were balanced by the ominous "Documentary of a Gangsta" and the lusty "Mahogany."
Rakim's voice has grown huskier over the years, a change that enhanced the revolutionary sheen of "I Ain't No Joke" and the rapid-fire flow of "Lyrics of Fury."
Unfortunately, Wednesday's event included evidence that not all of the hip-hop community has absorbed Rakim's work.
A creative outing by Oobergeek aside, a procession of witless local acts preceded the headliner. Their sing-song cadences and simplistic rhyme schemes were the antithesis of Rakim's enlightened hip-hop.