Last year, Eric B. & Rakim celebrated the 30th anniversary of the duo’s groundbreaking debut album, “Paid in Full,” with a show at the Apollo Theater. It was the first time in more than two decades that the emcee and DJ shared a stage.
“Paid in Full” is 31 years old, the group’s final album, “Don’t Sweat the Technique,” is 25 years old, and some reading this are younger than either. So, as a public service, amNewYork has put together a playlist of Eric B. & Rakim’s greatest hits, with thoughts about both the songs and the influence of the iconic duo. Turn the bass up, and don’t be afraid to look up some of Rakim’s lyrical gems online.
‘Eric B. is President’
“Make ’em clap to this” is one of the most sampled phrases in hip-hop history, showing up in songs ranging from Nas’ “You Wouldn’t Understand” song to P.O.D.’s “West Coast Rock Steady,” and it comes from the first verse of the first Eric B. & Rakim song to hit the streets. Similarly, “I came in the door/I’ve said it before” has kicked off countless verses since starting this one.
‘I Ain’t No Joke’
Rakim’s verbal dexterity is on display here, but it’s also a showcase for Eric B.’s sampling a style. Flipping the now-classic “Pass the Peas” by the J.B.’s into a full track motif, the producer of the duo proves himself to be as groundbreaking as the emcee.
‘Paid in Full’
Before DJs made livings remixing hit songs regularly, there was Coldcut, an English dance music duo who turned this track into seven-minute sample-heavy dance floor hit across Europe. It was definitely after Rakim had started dropping lyrical gems; “Thinking of a master plan” has been used by countless emcees to start off a verse, and even made it onto a Sprite can during the soda’s Obey Your Verse campaign.
‘Follow the Leader’
The duo’s second album has a heavier production hand, and it shows in the title track; with its deeper bass lines, it’s not surprising that it was a slightly bigger hit on Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart than the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs one.
“Follow the Leader” is cited by some to be less influential than “Paid in Full,” but “Fiend” shows up everywhere. Rage Against the Machine covered it on their album “Renegades,” while WhoSampled.com claims that 178 other tracks have sampled it.
Technically, this is a Jody Watley song “featuring” Eric B. & Rakim, but it’s a genre-defining track; early in the New Jack Swing era, it’s one of the first-ever collaborations between an R&B singer and a rapper where the emcee got equal time to shine.
‘Let the Rhythm Hit ’Em’
Eric B. & Rakim’s third album isn’t known for its singles, but the title track sees the production take a turn toward the Bomb Squad’s (Public Enemy’s producers) harder sound and Rakim keeping up with intricate rhyming patterns.
‘Know the Ledge’
The song saw the light of day originally on the soundtrack to the film “Juice.” It cracked the Billboard Hot 100, making it the best charting crossover single of the duo’s career.
‘Don’t Sweat the Technique’
The title track for the duo’s final (to this point) album furthers Eric B.’s jazzy production turns with Rakim showcasing braggadocio once defined by rock critic Robert Christgau as “Rakim boasts … but he never brags.”
‘Guess Who’s Back’
Rakim’s post-duo career has only included three albums in 25 years, but “The 18th Letter” is a clear highlight. On that 1997 collection, “Guess Who’s Back” features a DJ Clark Kent beat and the same flow that has made him a hip-hop legend.