The 18th Letter/The Book of Life set is an excellent collection of material that succinctly outlines the career of the well-known, highly respected, and deft lyricist Rakim. The first disc, also released alone as The 18th Letter, was released in late 1997 after a four-year period of inactivity and features 12 tracks of previously unreleased material. The collection of producers on this album shows Rakim's ability to change his lyrical and vocal style so as not to bore the listener, but at the same time maintain a consistent and dependable level of creativity and ingenuity. The two R&B-tinged tracks, "Stay a While" and "Show Me Love," represent two instances where R&B and hip-hop successfully merge without too much sugarcoating or hazy outlines. "The Mystery (Who Is God?)" is a serious lyrical synopsis of Rakim's spiritual beliefs and social commentary; still in the relaxed but intense style of delivery that Rakim is known for are "Guess Who's Back" and "New York (Ya Out There)," among other songs. No track on The 18th Letter stands out more than another, because each is strong in content and rhythmically powerful. The second disc in this set is a collection of popular songs from the four albums Rakim had released as one-half of a rapper-DJ duo with DJ Eric B.: Paid in Full, Follow the Leader, Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em, and Don't Sweat the Technique. Also included in the songs on this disc is "Know the Ledge," an edgy, up-tempo declaration of rhyming skill from the Juice soundtrack that provided a brief dose of Rakim during his hiatus after Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em. Including titles such as "I Know You Got Soul," "Microphone Fiend," "My Melody," "Move the Crowd," "Mahogany," and "Paid in Full," the second disc (known as The Book of Life) is an ideal introduction to the impressive past of Rakim as a lyricist.
AllMusic Review by Qa'id Jacobs
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2