Written By: Omar Stamp
There are plenty of big rope chain acts from Hip Hop’s Golden Age (literally). Some comprised of two MC’s and a DJ, others a straight forward MC/DJ duo, and still others consisting of one larger than life MC, collaborating with their affiliates. The signature of that era was energetic and conscious lyrics, often shouted over alarming high hats, rapid vinyl scratching, and big booming bass. But one young DJ’s amazing ear for old soul samples, and the melancholy baritone flow of a reclusive MC would forever stand out in Hip-Hop History. From Long Island, New York, Eric B. and Rakim’s first meeting was as serendipitous as the production of their first album- Eric B’s first choice for rapper wasn’t home when he visited, and young Rakim literally spit out his beer in laughter at the idea of using old soul basslines. The album was recorded in one week– In short, we may have never even gotten them, but the Hip-Hop deities blessed us. It was tough, but here are my top 5 Eric B & Rakim songs.
5) I Ain’t No Joke – Paid in Full (1987) – Depending on who you ask, the top 5 songs on this album alone are debatable, but this song should be on anyone’s list. Why?, because it’s the formal introduction to the focused MC on the MIC, and the enigmatic DJ “on the cut”. The funny thing is that Rakim’s flow is actually slower and blunter than contemporary MCs of the time. The fact that he flows melodically for 3:30 minutes without yelling or swearing, over one of the most minimalistic soul samples beats in music history makes it even more impressive. The ringer? The energetic young dancer in the video was just hanging out at the park that day, and still says it was the first time he was ever filmed, serendipity.
4) Follow the Leader – “” (1988) – Numbers never lie…neither do black tuxedos accessorized with multiple Gold chains, rings, and Rolex’s. The title track on the duo’s most commercially successful album, the track features a rightfully cocky Rakim urging the Black youth to break their mental chains and follow him, to freedom. Rapping faster than usual, the sense of urgency is further enhanced by the Mission Impossible-esque beat. Interestingly, I’ve heard the “follow the leader…” sample in the hook re-used in just about everything, from Dance Hall to liquid Drum n’ Bass music. Rakim knew…he knew.
3) Paid in Full – “” (1987) – “This is a journey, into sound”…”PUMP UP THE VOLUME, PUMP THAT BASSSS”. Regardless of age or preferred genre, unless you somehow don’t like music, you’ve heard those lines uttered over and over in no particular order, it’s been re-sampled that many times. An immortal bassline, well timed switch ups, and subtly sexual voice samples…Eric B’s production genius is on full display here, and Rakim of course delivers line after line in his always self-assured manner. In case you’re wondering, the original “This is a Journey…” sample is from the 1958 album “A Journey into Stereo Sound” (UK) . They reached way way back for that one.
2) Don’t Sweat the Technique – “” (1992) – When you have a formula that works, stick to it. No different than any other soul bassline/jazz track in their discography, the title track off of their final album is special in its retrospective nature. Sonically, it goes back to their roots, and Rakim is pretty much just letting us know that he is, and always has been the man. The video sees them partying at an LA mansion, tall palm trees swaying, with a colorful palette of classy, bikini clad women. No twerking, no bad words, ill.
1) “What’s on Your Mind?” – Don’t Sweat the Technique (1991) – A few years ago; this 5 minute love ballad wouldn’t have made it on my list. But what can I say; it’s a seasoned Rakim painting a picture that only a veteran smooth type of brotha can connect with. “Stomped up the street and did I hear a treat?/Hard high heels tappin’ on the concrete…”, “Making sounds and tones and songs and moans/My lips so close to your ear, it’s like headphones…”. Lyrics that hot should make anyone with a soul think the exact same thing. No wonder it was first released on the soundtrack for the 1991 film House Party 2. I wasn’t allowed to watch or listen to either growing up, but now I’m grown. xD