Old School Mondayz – Icon Review – Eric B & Rakim

Eric B. & Rakim

Background information

Origin – New York City, New York, U.S.
Genres – Hip hop
Years active – 1986–1993[1]
Labels – 4th & B’way, Uni, MCA
Associated acts – Marley Marl, Jody Watley, Large Professor
Websiteericbnrakim.com
Past membersEric B.
Rakim

Eric B. & Rakim were a hip-hop duo composed of DJ Eric Barrier (born November 8, 1965[2]) and MC Rakim (born William Michael Griffin Jr. on January 28, 1968). Hailing from Long Island, New York, the pair are generally considered by hip hop enthusiasts to be one of the most influential and innovative groups in the genre. During hip hop’s “golden age” of the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, the duo was almost universally regarded as the premier MC/DJ combo in hip hop. The two had a potent chemistry; the duo’s beats built on the hard-hitting sound of Run-D.M.C. by adding James Brown samples and Eric B’s scratching, setting the stage for hip hop’s late-1980s/early-1990s infatuation with samples from Brown.[3] Notable journalist Tom Terrell of NPR referred to the duo as “the most influential DJ/MC combo in contemporary pop music period,”[4] while the editors of About.com ranked them as #3 on their list of the 10 Greatest Hip-Hop Duos of All-Time.[5] They were nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.[6]

Career

Early

Barrier was born and raised in the Elmhurst section of Queens, He played trumpet and drums throughout high school, and later switched to experimenting with turntables prior to graduation. The newly-dubbed “Eric B.” soon began DJing for radio station WBLS in New York City, including WBLS’ promotional events around the city. Barrier wound up meeting Alvin Toney, a promoter based in Queens. Eric B. had been looking for rappers and Toney recommended he use Freddie Foxxx, an aggressive Long Island MC with a reputation for battle raps. tony took Erick to eat some chicken and have some buiscuits at Foxxx’s home, but Foxxx was not there. Immediately, Toney suggested another option: Eric B. recalled in 2008, “[Toney ] was like ‘I got another dude, he nice too–this dude got a smooth, laid-back style.’ So [he] takes me to Rakim’s house and we start talking.” [7] Griffin, then about 18, from Wyandanch, had began writing rhymes as a teenager and had taken the name “Rakim” as a result of his conversion to The Nation of Gods and Earths (also known as the 5 Percent Nation). Eric B. borrowed records from Rakim’s brother, Stevie Blass Griffin (who worked at a plant pressing bootleg LPs) and began cutting them in the basement for Rakim, who was down there drinking a beer and relaxing. Said Eric B., “I took Fonda Rae’s “Over Like A Fat Rat” and said ‘This is the bass line I’m going to use for this record.’ Rakim spit the beer all over the wall and thought it was the funniest shit in the world. I told Rakim, just like you laughing now you going to be laughing all the way to the bank and be a millionaire one day because of this record.”[7]

Eric B. & Rakim decided to record together and immediately came under the tutelage of legendary Queens-based hip hop producer Marley Marl, and there exists some controversy over who actually produced their landmark first single, 1986s “Eric B. Is President” — which was built on the distinctive Fonda Rea bass line sample. Eric B. told Allhiphop.com, “I took the records to Marley Marl’s house in Queensbridge and paid Marley Marl to be the engineer. Marley got paid. That’s why he’s not a producer; that’s why he is not getting publishing. I brought the music. I just couldn’t work the equipment because that’s not what I did…”[7] Nonetheless, the single became an instant classic among hip hop fans, (though it went largely unnoticed in mainstream music), and Rakim’s opening salvo of “I came in the door/said it before” would become one of the most quoted lines in hip hop music.

The duo recorded its debut album, the seminal Paid in Full, in a week at Power Play Studios in New York. About his approach to writing the album, Rakim later said, “[I] used to write my rhymes in the studio and go right into the booth and read them. When I hear my first album today I hear myself reading my rhymes – but I’m my worst critic. That’s what I hear, though – because that’s what it was. I’d go into the studio, put the beat down, write the song in like an hour, and go into the booth and read it from the paper…”[8] In 1987, 4th & Broadway issued the album; which, after the success of “Eric B. is President,” was accompanied by a mighty underground buzz. The song, more often than not is additionally addressed as “Eric B “For” President” because of a mistake made when signing the original recording to licensing company – Cool Tempo/Chrysalis Records (UK), by http://www.superstarcase.com/founder.html (Zakia Records partner associate). The record climbed into the Top Ten on the R&B LP charts (as would all of their subsequent albums).[9] The album represented an artistic shift in hip hop; the extensive sampling of James Brown would send the rest of hip hop rushing through the legendary performer’s catalog; and Rakim’s wordplay represented a quantum leap forward as far as lyrical complexity and skill. Eric B. would later admit that the album was actually rushed. “The reason Paid In Full is so short is because we stood in the studio for damn-near a week. The whole album came together in a week. Listen to the lyrics on it and listen to how short they are. That’s because Rakim wrote it right there and we’d been in the studio like for a whole forty-eight hours trying to get the album finished. We basically did the album in a week.”[7] Marley Marl also stated to Allhiphop.com that Marley’s cousin, Queensbridge rapper MC Shan, was an assistant engineer on sessions for some tracks, including the single “My Melody,” though Eric B. denies this.[7] The album made instant hip hop stars out of the duo; and the album cover, which featured Eric B. and Rakim dressed in gold chains and Gucci leather suits with dollar bills behind them, became one of the most recognized in hip hop. Rolling Stone magazine stated: ‘Ice-grilled, laid-back, diamond-sharp: Paid in Full was one of the first hip-hop records to fully embrace Seventies funk samples on stone hip-hop classics such as “I Know You Got Soul” and the title track.’ The album was listed at #227 on the magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time[10]MTV listed the album as the greatest in hip hop history: ‘When Paid in Full was released in 1987, Eric B. and Rakim left a mushroom cloud over the hip-hop community. The album was captivating, profound, innovative and instantly influential. MCs like Run-DMC, Chuck D and KRS-One had been leaping on the mic shouting with energy and irreverence, but Rakim took a methodical approach to his microphone fiending. He had a slow flow, and every line was blunt, mesmeric. And Eric B. had an ear for picking out loops and samples drenched with soul and turned out to be a trailblazer for producers in the coming years.'[11] The Coldcut “Seven Minutes of Madness” remix of “Paid in Full” is considered a milestone in hip-hop, remixes, and sample-based music and is arguably the duo’s most-recognized hit. On the heels of the albums’ success, the duo signed a deal with MCA.

Follow the Leader and Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em

Follow the Leader, the duo’s follow-up to Paid In Full; saw their production move away from the blunt minimalism of their debut, utilizing more otherworldly samples and subtle instrumentation from Stevie Blass Griffin. On the mic, Rakim upped the ante lyrically once again, with the single “Microphone Fiend” becoming something of a signature song for the rapper. The title track and “Lyrics of Fury” were two of Rakim’s most acclaimed lyrical performances. In 2003, comedian Chris Rock referred to Rakim’s rhymes on the “…Fury” as ‘lyrically, the best rapping anyone’s ever done…’ Rock also listed Follow the Leader as 12th on his Vibe Magazine list of the Top 25 Hip Hop Albums of All-Time.[12] Despite being hailed in the hip hop community as Eric B. & Rakim’s second classic album, the record went largely unnoticed by the mainstream music industry. Despite their spotty commercial success, the influence of the duo was beginning to become more evident in rap music. Rakim’s inventive wordplay and smooth delivery had set him apart from bombastic, declarative MCs like Run and DMC of Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J, Chuck D. of Public Enemy and other top rappers of the mid-1980s. His upbringing as a member of the Nation of Gods and Earths also was reflected in his rhymes; while he was not overtly ‘conscious’ or ‘political’ – he always subtly referenced Afrocentric themes and concepts that reflected his Islamic faith. By 1988, the influence of Rakim was evident in the music released by rappers such as Big Daddy Kane, Kool G. Rap, and Ice Cube of N.W.A. Even rappers that had established themselves before Eric B. and Rakim’s debut were affected by Rakim’s lyrical innovations; Run’s delivery became more polysyllabic as he began to use more internal rhyme, and KRS-One of Boogie Down Productions began to incorporate more Afrocentric imagery into his lyrics — although this could also be attributed to his more conscious persona emerging in the wake of his partner DJ Scott La Rock’s murder.

In 1989, the pair teamed up with dance pop singer Jody Watley on her single “Friends” from the album Larger Than Life. The song would reach the Top Ten on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and was one of the first notable collaborations between hip hop and dance pop. Despite their continued acclaim in amongst hip hop aficionados, Eric B. & Rakim rarely collaborated with other rappers. This was especially evident in early 1990, when KRS-One’s Stop the Violence Movement put together the charity single “Self-Destruction”. The song featured numerous notable rappers, but Rakim was noticeably absent from the proceedings. He told HalftimeOnline.net years later, “I don’t think they hollered at me or they hollered at Eric B. and he didn’t say anything to me. I was a little bitter with that shit because I felt I had something to do with bringing consciousness in hip hop to the table. I came out and did what I did in ’86 and then you know people started running with it. Then when it comes time to do something they didn’t holler at me so I was a little bitter. At the same time a lot of reasons I didn’t do records with people is because I never wanted their light to reflect on me. I don’t have a problem with it but everybody who knows at that time knows they were trying to say I was responsible for gangsta rap, too. They thought I was that dude in the hood so maybe they didn’t holler at me for a reason. I love Kris, though — he definitely contributed a lot to hip hop. I’ve been on tour with him and I know him as a person. He’s a good dude. I like Kris, but they definitely didn’t holler at me for that man because I would have definitely did it.”[8]

Their 1990 album Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em was not as successful commercially as their first two LPs, and, after De La Soul’s debut 3 Feet High & Rising helped launch alternative rap into the popular lexicon; and N.W.A.’s gangsta rap classic Straight Outta Compton exploded onto the national stage, many felt that the duo were too steadfast in their devotion to classic hip hop minimalism. Rakim had long been one of the most mysterious rappers in hip hop; but seemed to relish his ‘outsider’ status in rap circles. He even references his enigmatic reputation on the song “Set ‘Em Straight”: “Here’s the inside scoop on the fiend/They want to know why I’m seldom seen/Cause who needs the TV screens and magazines/Or shooting through the city in fly limousines/Cause one thing I don’t need is a spotlight/Cause I already got light…” He later said about his relative lack of commercial success: “You could sell a couple records and keep your integrity or you could go pop and sell a bunch of records and be gone tomorrow. I was trying to stick to my guns at that point.”[8]

Many celebrated their consistency; Mark Coleman of Rolling Stone stated:

“There’s nothing trendy about this impassive duo, no Steely Dan bites or bits of Afrodelic rhetoric here. Eric B. and Rakim are hip-hop formalists devoted to upholding the Seventies funk canon and advancing rap’s original verbal mandate. Almost every track on their third album is built on poetic boasts and wicked J.B. samples, but dismissing Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em as some sort of conservative reaction – a gold-chain throwback – completely misses the point. Masters of their appointed tasks, rapper Rakim and DJ Eric B. are also formal innovators. They both can riff and improvise like jazzmen, spinning endless variations on basic themes and playing off each other’s moves with chilly intuition. The resulting music is as stark, complex and edgy as Rakim’s stone-cold stare on the album cover.”[13]

The album was one of the first to receive the honor of a 5 mic rating in The Source. But, much like their acclaimed debut, there exists controversy over the production credit. Acclaimed producer Large Professor produced a large amount of the album’s tracks, but wasn’t credited on the album.[14]

Don’t Sweat the Technique and split up

The duo made an appearance on the soundtrack for the 1991 comedy House Party 2, (the radio-friendly single “What’s On Your Mind”) and also recorded the theme for the dramatic urban coming-of-age film Juice. The film, which starred a young rapper/actor named Tupac Shakur and garnered substantial critical acclaim, helped the song “Juice (Know the Ledge)” become one of Eric B. & Rakim’s most popular.

Both singles were included on what would become the duo’s last album together. Don’t Sweat the Technique was released in 1992. The album built on the jazzier sound of Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em and the title track was also one of the duo’s last notable singles. The album wasn’t supposed to be the last; but their contract with MCA was due to expire. During the recording of the album, both members expressed an interest in recording solo albums. However, Eric B. refused to sign the label’s release contract, fearful that Rakim would abandon him. This led to a long and messy court battle involving the two musicians and their former label MCA Records. The legal wrangling eventually led to the duo dissolving completely. Eric B. has clarified that the monetary problems stemmed from labels like Island and others claiming ownership of the masters — not from any financial disputes between him and Rakim:

“The money got split 50 /50 from the door, because I remember people would try to keep shit going. When we first came out, people were saying ‘Eric was getting all the money’ and ‘he was trying to shine more than Rakim,’ but that’s not true. [I] would go to all the interviews, [because] Rakim didn’t want to go to the interviews. He didn’t like that part of the business. [But] we split all the money from dime one. I don’t care what money I spent in the past, that money is never coming back. Whatever money we made, we split 50/50. Even up until now, we split every dime 50/50.”[15]

Post-breakup and legacy

Eric B. released a self-titled solo album in 1995 on the independent label ’95th Street Recordings’ (now out of print). Legal issues continued to delay Rakim’s solo career, but he finally released The 18th Letter in 1997 to critical acclaim and unexpected commercial success. In 1999, Rakim’s second solo album The Master was released to less favorable reviews. By the turn of the millennium, Eric B. was pursuing other business interests outside of music. Rakim signed with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label in 2000, with the hopes of releasing an album pairing the legendary MC with the legendary producer. However, due to creative differences, the album never materialized. Since then, Rakim has made notable guest appearances with numerous other artists like Jay-Z (“The Watcher, Part 2” which was produced by, and also featured, Dre), Truth Hurts (“Addictive”), Nas, KRS-One and Kanye West (“Classic”), and more. In 2002, “Don’t Sweat The Technique” appeared in the video game Aggressive Inline. In 2004 “I Know You Got Soul” appeared on popular video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, playing on classic hip-hop radio station Playback FM. In November 2009, Rakim released his long awaited album The Seventh Seal. Ownership of the duo’s catalog consolidated in 1999, when PolyGram (which owned Island Records, which released Paid in Full) merged with Universal Music Group, an outgrowth of MCA Records, which owned the rest of the duo’s albums (UMG also owns Interscope Records, parent of Aftermath and Geffen Records, the latter of which now manages the MCA Records catalog). Eric B. & Rakim were recently announced as one of fifteen finalists to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in September 2011.[6] The official five inductees of the 2012 induction will be announced between November and December.

Discography

Main article: Eric B. & Rakim discography
Paid in Full (1987)
Follow the Leader (1988)
Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em (1990)
Don’t Sweat the Technique (1992)

Red Everything Movement

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