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Lakim Shabazz
Pure Righteousness
Despite getting some burn on MTV, Shabazz ended up falling into obscurity, becoming not only one of most underrated members of his crew, the Flavor Unit, but of the entire hip-hop nation. A glance at the cover ..
Lakim Shabazz: Pure Righteousness      by DJ VERB

Five Percenter speak, B-Boy breakbeat heat...

I can't remember what song it was, but I remember watching Yo! MTV Raps! and seeing a rapper called Lakim Shabazz. It had to be the year Pure Righteousness came out, which would have made me 12 years old. I might have had some small idea of what Islam was, but certainly no idea about the Nation of Islam, so all I thought was, "This track's kind of cool, and this guy has an interesting name." I lacked the musical sophistication then that I have today, so instead of bearing witness to the lyrical fitness, I went on playing with my He-Man figures or whatever it was I did back then.

Despite getting some burn on MTV, Shabazz ended up falling into obscurity, becoming not only one of most underrated members of his crew, the Flavor Unit, but of the entire hip-hop nation. Why? It's not really clear at first listen. He seemed to have it together. A glance at the cover shows a guy who looks like he barely has hair on his balls. Yet when he grabs the mic, he booms with authority and presence, his powerful baritone resembling a cross between Chuck D and Big Daddy Kane. That right there is a great gimmick. Another huge plus is his musical backing. Flavor Unit honcho Mark the 45 King produced the entire joint, bringing heat upon heat on nearly every song. That alone should equal money in the bank. So what's the deal?

As his name should suggest, 'Kim's a Five Percenter. A very, very afro-centric Five Percenter. Check his photos and you'll see all black medallions and dashikis. These facts on their own shouldn't really mean anything, but keep in mind that this is 1988. The whole afro-centric trend wouldn't really gain traction until X-Clan started schoolin' the sissies in 1990 with To the East...Blackwards. He was also ahead of the curve on the Five Percent tip, doin' the knowledge a good two years before more well-known and well-remembered groups like Brand Nubian, Poor Righteous Teachers, and KMD would drop their classic debuts.

Rakim, an acknowledged Five Percenter, was a contemporary of Shabazz's, but he would only pepper his rhymes with occasional references to Gods, Earths, etc... The same could be said of Big Daddy Kane. Shabazz, on the other hand, was far more forthright about his intent to uplift. Unlike some of the more militant acts named above, Shabazz intertwined his messages with inspirational afrocentricity. Instead of constantly decrying mystery gods and bloodsuckers of the poor, he calls on the black community to rise to his level of intelligence and righteousness.

He sets off the album lovely with the powerful title track, getting poetically funky with lines like, "Did you forget I kept the beat intact and I spark this/it's elevated and created straight from total darkness" and, "I show and prove/the multitude is the crowd/that I will move." "All True and Living" says it best, with Shabazz setting his first verse off with, "Take heed to the knowledge that I'm givin'/You will be uprisen/upon your highest point of achievement/you will receive this, loud and clear and I mean this." "Black is Back," however, is the lyrical highlight of the album. A veritable sermon on the mount, this cut makes this privileged white boy want to get up, get into it, and get involved. "I'm here and I'm gonna try/to make the black man understand and we can/get the program back in our hands in the motherland," Shabazz states before telling us, "It's gonna be hard, but I'm God." It only gets realer from that point forward.

All the uplift is great, but Lakim makes sure he wraps that goodness in a hard candy shell of tough-ass rhymes. Even the most righteous brother can take a break to get lyrically ill, whether it's giving props to his sound provider on "Sample the Dope Noise" or shouting out the Flavor Unit fam on "The Posse Is Large." Before he gets around to mentioning cohorts Apache and Queen Latifah on the latter track, he tears shit up with scientificals like, "I am symbolic to knowledge so I gots to know/the foundation of all things in existence/know the ledge before you fall over the ledge, you misfit." Even on the Five Percent harangue "First in Existence," he finds time to get in a little braggin' and boastin'. "You think they ready to try and step to this/9 times out of 10 I leave 'em breathless/I got flavor, savor full/I attract those who're lacking my magnetic pull," is only one of many choice couplets found here.

Pure Righteousness was one of the first full-length Flavor Unit solo efforts, and Mark the 45 King no doubt put his best foot forward. Even when he's looping something common like Maze's "Before I Let Go" on the smooth, inappropriately-titled "Gettin' Fierce," he does it with style and finesse. Check his brilliant flippage of Pleasure's "Joyous" on the title track. He uses a bassline to create a chord change with the characteristic sax lick. Mark's drum programming on "The Posse..." is a little stiff, he cleverly chops hits from "Dance to the Drummer's Beat" to create his own melodies. "Sample the Dope Noise" does exactly that, looping up a less-obvious section of Dennis Coffey's "Theme from Black Belt Jones" and combining it with heavy drums and big horn hits.

However, he truly lives up to his name on both "All True and Living" and "Black is Back," digging deep in the crates for the dusty horn funk loop of the former, and the dynamic, incredible wurlitzer cascades of the latter. You can tell he's running things in the studio, as nearly every cut has a nice instrumental outro for the DJ's and beat lovers. On "Don't Try Us," Lakim takes one long verse and then steps out of the booth while Mark lets the beat keep rockin', cutting in Musical Youth's well-known "Thees Gene-ray-shahn" alongside a sampled exclamation of "One nation of Islam!" I would be remiss if I didn't mention "Adding On." It's clearly geared to the Hip House heads, but the blistering breakbeats and sly D-Train loops are enough to make the most jaded of 21st century b-boys lose their shit.

Ultimately, it was the limited budget and resources of the label Tuff City that limited the potential of Pure Righteousness. They were too small at the time to give the album a proper push. There's also the "heads weren't ready" factor. An effort so steeped in Afro-centric/Five Percent rhetoric released at this time was bound to fail to have mass appeal, despite its innate dopeness. After this and his second album, The Lost Tribe of Shabazz, Lakim was able to keep it moving, both lyrically and musically. He produced a number of his own tracks, and even blessed a couple others including Diamond D (whom Shabazz laced with the bassline for "Fuck What U Heard.") Still, a man with such a powerful, confident rap style should have reigned supreme. Alas, it wasn't in the cards. Regardless of it's obscure status, Pure Righteousness stands as proof that Five Percent/Afro-centric had the power to uplift and unite, rather than stratify and separate.

 

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