Monday, November 5, 2007

[035] Paid In Full

Album: Paid In Full
Artist: Eric B. & Rakim
Release Date: July 1987
Label: Zakia/4th & B'way; reissued on Island
Producers: Eric B. & Rakim

"Eric B. Is President" [audio]

Very few artists, and no others in Hip-Hop, can say that they changed the entire course of an artform the way Eric B. & Rakim did. To put it in simple terms, Eric B. was the Andy Warhol of beats, completely deconstructing everything you thought you knew about the DJ in the Rap world, and building it back up from scraps of James Brown records. Likewise, Rakim was the Kerouac or Bob Dylan of MCs, a wordsmith approaching the English language with the eye of a sculptor. By the end of the first verse of their first single, 1986’s atomic “Eric B. Is President” (backed with “My Melody”), the world of music was altered forever, a new open book with blank pages for artists to rewrite the rules. Rakim was the first MC to inspire the term “flow” to describe locution, diction, inflection, etc., and he was immediately dubbed The Lyrical God, a man who erased so many guidelines of rapping that I could spend 1000 words just on this single. And the duo only got better, and notably faster, which is frightening; if Biggie never got off the corner of Fulton & St. James, then Rakim would still be the greatest MC to ever grab the mic. With the exception of the handful of albums released in the preceding six months of 1987, none of these 100 albums, and nothing in the entire world of music in these last twenty years would be the way that it is without these songs. Nevermind is the only other album to come close to this level of impact.

"My Melody" [audio]

When I talk about Paid In Full, I usually end up speaking about it more as a collection of tracks than as a full-length album; Eric B.’s filler-like spotlight tracks haven’t stood the test of time, and 3 of the 7 tracks that feature Rakim were singles prior to the album’s release (with another 3 over the following year). But this mostly comes from my knee-jerk reaction to the all-powerful rhymes of “The R”, while Eric B.’s beats take a back seat and are there just to facilitate Ra’s greatness. That’s my own personal experience though, and for the world that Paid In Full was unleashed on, EB’s tracks were of equal recognition in a world where the DJ was still very important. Eric was a powerful presence in the Hip-Hop landscape, having had a pretty good reputation from working at NYC’s popular WBLS radio station with the legendary DJ/producer Marley Marl. But it’s no surprise that anyone that stands next to the greatest MC up to that point might be a little ignored. In their day though, scratch-fests like “Eric B. Is On The Cut” and “Chinese Arithmetic” were revolutionary in showing what you could do with two turntables. Today, Eric B. is remembered more for what he did in the studio, building tracks from songs by James Brown and his satellite acts, especially with “I Know You Got Soul” (the titular snippet comes from the Bobby Byrd song of the same name), and ushering in a new age of Funk worship in Hip-Hop.

"I Know You Got Soul" [audio]

The first element apparent with Rakim’s supremacy was that he was adamant about keeping a cool, calm, & collected voice while rhyming; at the time, Run-DMC had set the tone for Hip-Hop by yelling all the time, and KRS-One was the first to diss them for that. Rakim on the other hand took it to a new level-headed zone, accenting his lyrics with a clear delivery so you could understand every word; I have proven this by learning the lyrics to at least a few of these songs by heart without really trying, in just the last week while listening to the album on my way to work. But his verbal science went far beyond just tone. He broke down the barriers that anyone begins with when writing lyrics (or poetry), ignoring the ends of bars, and continuing his sentences from one bar to the next – and yet, still never losing track of the beat. He also had the breath control of a Jazz journeyman, able to rap for what seemed like an eternity without stopping to take a breath. Furthermore, he pioneered the use of internal rhyme schemes; instead of simply rhyming the words at the ends of bars, he would rhyme words within the bars too, sometimes going so far as to rhyme entire lines. This was unheard of, and it elevated MCing to a true art. You can hear the rhymes of Paid In Full sampled and interpolated into thousands of songs by every rapper you can think of, and some R&B acts too, from Biggie to Will Smith, from Aaliyah to Eminem; even right now, twenty years later, Jay-Z appropriates a little Rakim in his new single “Blue Magic”.

"I Ain't No Joke" [audio]

And don’t think his calm tone and brainy wordplay meant Rakim was soft; in fact he was the most intense MC blessing the mic. He remains to this day the portrait of the hard MC; even just his look, wiry and cut, was bitten by everyone from 2Pac to Lil’ Wayne. If you think of the history of braggadocio in Hip-Hop, rappers have been threatening violence on each other for years, from idle boasts of beating someone’s ass to the litany of cap-popping claims. Rakim came and made all the wannabe gangstas – past, present & future – look clownish. His disses were so expertly drawn that he could leave most opponents speechless. He lays waste to all in “I Ain’t No Joke”, absent of hollow declarations of greatness, illustrating how he raps better than you. Where most MCs would pull the lyrical heater and try and pull the trigger, Rakim kills with his mind; you might have a gat, but Rakim will “take you on a walk through hell, freeze your dome, and watch your eyeballs swell”. In an age where acts like The Fat Boys were in the top ten with Chubby Checker, Rakim made it very clear that he was deathly serious.

"Move The Crowd" [audio]

The duo’s advances didn’t end at mere Godfather samples and vocabulary manipulation either; with “Move The Crowd”, Rakim was one of the first MCs to actively discuss the Nation of Islam on wax. For years he would return to the notion of achieving “knowledge of self” and he would always praise Allah in his lyrics. “Move The Crowd”, “I Know You Got Soul”, and the bounce of the title track also openly courted the R&B audience, priming the genre for the countless crossovers we have today. And when British DJ Coldcut remixed the title track into a 7-minute Middle-Eastern-flavored dancefloor monster, it became one of the first commercially successful remixes, and helped influence the beats of the burgeoning Rave scene in the UK.

"Paid In Full" [audio]

What Rakim was doing with the English language was not something you could pick up tomorrow, like some wack rappers were thinking (although we did get a couple classic singles from the imitators – Rob Base, I’m looking at you). What Eric B. & Rakim did influenced the entire direction of Hip-Hop; it was like Hip-Hop was getting lost, and it stopped and asked them for directions. Paid In Full represents the moment when Hip-Hop ceased any semblance of a fad. The skill and creativity was too deep to ignore, the songs too jaw-droppingly awesome for me to truly be able to put into words – you just have to listen for yourself. In just ten songs, Paid In Full became the most influential Hip-Hop album of the Twentieth Century, and it will be a source of inspiration for centuries to come.
"Yo, what happened to 'Peace'??

01. "I Ain't No Joke"
02. "Eric B. Is On The Cut"
03. "My Melody" [Marley Marl remix]
04. "I Know You Got Soul"
05. "Move The Crowd"
06. "Paid In Full"
07. "As The Rhyme Goes On"
08. "Chinese Arithmetic"
09. "Eric B. Is President"
10. "Extended Beat"

- BONUS: "I Ain't No Joke" [video]
- BONUS: "Eric B. Is On The Cut" [audio]
- BONUS: "I Know You Got Soul" [single edit/remix - video]
- BONUS: "Move The Crowd" [video]
- BONUS: "Paid In Full" [single edit - video]
This is the short edit of Coldcut's game-changing "Seven Minutes of Madness" remix; you know when Diddy says he invented the remix? Yeah, he's lying. This was the first.
- BONUS: "As The Rhyme Goes On" [audio]
- BONUS: "Chinese Arithmetic" [audio]
- BONUS: "Eric B. Is President/I Know You Got Soul" [live at The Apollo, early 90's]
- BONUS: "Eric B. Is President" [w/ Kid Capri; live in Toronto, 09.06]
- BONUS: "Extended Beat" [audio]

And in case you think it's too old school, Ra's still doing it...
This is three days ago! See The R, on tour with Ghostface now

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