Oct 22, 2015

#ThrowbackThursday: Paid In Full - @EricBAndRakim; A Niles P. Joint

Sometimes the smallest events can change history.  Legend has it that back in 1985, WBLS DJ Eric B. of Queens was looking for an emcee to rap over his beats.  A friend suggested trekking to Long Island in hopes of linking with Freddie Foxxx.  When they got there, Foxxx wasn’t home.  The friend’s second recommendation was William Griffin, better known as Rakim.  The two recorded an album together at Marley Marl’s home studio that became Paid in Full.  While the historical minutiae seems basic, think about this: one of the best albums in Hip Hop came to be because someone wasn’t home.  All praises due to Freddie Foxxx, he's a tough emcee in his own right.  But if he was home that day, history would’ve been altered and we may have never gotten to know Rakim Allah.
I’m glad things played out the way they did because Eric B. & Rakim wound up changing the game with their debut album.  The first song I Ain’t No Joke is a prime example of this.  Eric B. samples the horns from James Brown’s band and Rakim stakes his claim to lyrical supremacy.  This didn’t just set the tone for the album, it set the tone for the entire genre going forward.  Soul samples have been integral in production and have helped bridge the gap in Black music ever since.  Rakim’s use of internal rhymes delivered in a calm yet authoritative demeanor put him on a higher plateau than the standard 1980’s rapper that were in-your-face loud and used almost exclusively end rhymes.  My Melody has the iconic “Seven Emcees” lyrics that have been often cited as the best and duplicated by rappers paying homage.  If you were a b-boy, I Know You Got Soul was your jam.  It seemingly was made for breakdancing without sacrificing lyrical depth.  Move the Crowd contained some of the earliest bars containing Five Percenter ideology, which became played a massive part in the underbelly of Hip Hop culture.  The title track is also one of the most recognizable among the duo’s biggest hits.  Rakim’s verse serves as an inner monologue as he thinks about getting paid, a most relatable subject. His lyrics are under a minute long but prove that quality trumps quantity as not a bar is wasted.  On the original version the banter between DJ and emcee is legendary and remade constantly.  English duo Coldcut, however, brought the song to the clubs with their remixes that included a vocal sample from Israeli singer Ofra Haza.  This was a novel idea and helped make the concept of the rap remix popular and successful moving forward.  The sampled bassline also came about in other songs.  This bassline infatuation also happened in As The Rhyme Goes On which is the most underrated on the album.  Eric B. Is President was their first single released in 1986.  The sprawling record was the world’s first introduction to this dynamic duo and worked as the album’s penultimate song.  It also drove a wedge of sorts between Eric B. and Marley Marl as the latter claimed he produced the song while the former insists he did and used his mentor as an engineer.  
Speaking of Eric B., he deserves his own special credit for his genius.  While many people take note of Rakim’s wordplay, (and rightfully so,) Eric B. more than complimented the process.  His production style is the epitome of Hip Hop culture in the 1980s.  Any time I hear some older heads go glory days on me and tell me about fun times back in the day, I always have an Eric B. produced instrumental playing as background music as I try to visualize the story.  Even if it’s anachronistic to the narrative, it just works so well as a representation of an entire decade for me.  And besides producing, Eric B. is also a master DJ.  He gets three “solo” instrumental tracks.  Eric B. Is on the Cut and Chinese Arithmetic showcase his ability to use his turntables and mixer as instruments, with the latter using Asian motifs (including what sounds like tea being poured.)  True DJing is a lost art in an increasingly digital age but Eric B.’s scratches are timeless.  The third solo track of his Extended Beat lets you feel every intricacy of his beatmaking skills.

I initially wanted to write about all of the different artists that sampled/interpolated music and lyrics from Paid in Full.  But according to trusty resource WhoSampled.com, that list goes into the hundreds.  Instead of turning in a 20,000 word piece using that topic (that would likely give my editor an aneurism,) I realized something else.  This album is essentially Hip Hop’s answer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  Eric B. & Rakim made an album that at its most basic level is about the importance of DJing, being the man when it comes to rapping, having a good melody in your rhymes and having soul while rapping and/or breakdancing, being able to move the crowd while onstage, getting paid for all of it, and the audience’s ability to absorb your lyrics.  The four elements of hip hop as many of you may know are rapping, DJing, breakdancing, and graffiti.  The first three are covered extensively in the album and the latter is prominently displayed in the video for the album’s opening track.  Eric B. & Rakim have essentially made a love letter to Hip Hop culture as a whole.  Their genius has ignited creative fuses in hundreds, if not thousands, of artists in the years since 1987.  In fact there may only be one other album in history that has even come close to having a similar impact.  But that’s another story for another day.  So instead, just know that Eric B. & Rakim made the most important album in the entire history of Hip Hop.  Point blank, period.
Niles Cavanaugh
Niles Cavanaugh

Multimedia Journalist, Founder and Chief Editor of WTM Host of A-Side B-Side Podcast and more. I like to talk about stuff and write it down. Sometimes to a microphone. Either way, I need you to feel this.

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