Hip hop is all about attitude, and if an MC has enough of it, he can make reading a McDonald's menu sound like the end of the world. Rakim's fiery cadences made him one of the most influential and respected rappers in the world, but after splitting with longtime DJ Eric B., he just seemed to fade away. The 18th Letter is his first release in four years, and it's a surprisingly disappointing attempt to reclaim his status as top mic. With input from four DJs, including the always-in-demand DJ Premier and Pete Rock, Rakim vacillates between his old slow-and-low flow and bland, R&B-tempered stabs at contemporary hitmaking. What strengthens Rakim's new disc, in some packages, is the inclusion of a 15-track bonus best-of titled Book Of Life, which nicely encapsulates the essential hits that made Eric B. and Rakim legends. Cuts like "Lyrics Of Fury," "Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em," "Eric B. Is President," and the amazing "Know The Ledge" (from the Juice soundtrack) validate the recent Source readers' poll that named Rakim best MC of all time. In his prime, Rakim could level mountains with his words, and this trip down memory lane compensates for the new material's deficiencies.