Like many hip hop hits, the instrumental is heavily based on another song. This one samples Bob James’ “Shamboozie”, released in 1982. The sample is immediately evident; it’s the infectious progression of horn stabs at the start of both songs.
The short and sharp nature of the hits composing that hook gives it a lot of impact, like jabs from Mike Tyson!
The lyrics are a celebration of the Hip Hop Golden age, and a reflection on Rakim’s own success. It’s a song which is enjoyable more than deep, but sometimes songs like that are needed.
Rakim shot to fame as the MC of MC/DJ duo Rakim and Eric B (usually the other way round!) in the late 80s. The fact that he still found success even as hip hop changed dramatically in the 90s is a testament to his ability.
“Guess Who’s Back” was released in 1997 on the album The 18th Letter, a reference to the letter R, and therefore Rakim.