site logo

Eric B. & Rakim Biography

Last updated: 03/17/2000 01:49:36 AM

FORMED: 1985

"Thinkin' of a master plan/Cuz ain't nuthin but sweat inside my hand/So I dig into my pocket, all my money is spent/So I dig deeper but still comin' up with lint..." -- "Paid In Full"

Indisputable Fact #1: The Technics 1200 SL direct-drive turntable is the most important musical instrument of the last two-and-a-half decades. Indisputable Fact #2: Hip hop is the new rock n' roll; today and tomorrow. Indisputable Fact #3: Eric B. & Rakim are the most influential DJ/MC combo in contemporary pop music period.

While the cold truth of Facts #1 (DJs as remixers/producers/pop stars) and #2 (post Public Enemy: MTV/BET/The Box, covers of Rolling Stone/Spin, automatic gold/platinum) is even obvious to Homer Simpson ("Doh!"), some of y'all probably have a problem recognizing #3. Waddabout Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, PE, NWA, yadda yadda; you shout? No dis to these Riddim Devils -- GMF&FF set it off, R-DMC rocked the world first, BB blew up the playing field, PE retired the guitar, NWA invented gangsta -- but they merely innovated while Eric B. & Rakim originated.

"So I start my mission - leave my residence/Thinkin how could I get some dead presidents/I need money, i used to be a stick-up kid/So I think of all the devious things I did ..."

It's hard to believe, but back in 1980, rap was dismissed as a South Bronx, NY-underground sham; doomed to fade away. After six years of B-Boy-stilo crossover hits like "The Message", "Walk This Way", Blondie's "Rapture", Clash's "Magnificent 7" and Whodini's "Friends", only the deaf, dumb and clueless (more than you think) were in deep denial. The Luddites were right 'bout one thing -- rap wasn't a progressive music, too-stereotypically "street". Enter Eric B. & Rakim.

The living hip hop embodiment of the old Caribbean folk adage, "from small things, big things come", Eric and Rakim spent their formative years in surburban Manhattan (Elmhurst, Queens and Wyandanch, Long Island respectively). A cerebral child, Eric (nee Barrier) was attracted early on to the metaphysical disciplines of the musician's art. A natural, he excelled on the trumpet and guitar. In high school, EB switched to a new instrument: the turntable. By 1985, he was swivey enough on the wheels to snag the mobile DJ gig for NYC's WBLS-FM. Off the clock, youngblood lamped at the feet of beat-guru Marley Marl (on-air mixer for pioneering B-Boy show "Mr. Magic's Rap Attack"). After months of post-graduate studies under Professor Marl, Eric B. contacted riddim n' rhime partner Rakim (nee William Griffin, Jr.).

The nephew of R&B legend Ruth Brown, William grew up in a housefull of singers, players and non-stop music on the stereo. Inspired more by vocal phrasing and instrumental flow than by the songs themselves, he discovered as a seventh grader (honor roll) that he had the ability to channel that whole vibe through 'sing'-speaking rhymes over beats (translation: serious MC skills). While his seductive command of language and rhythmic instincts set him apart from most of the early '80s braggadocious MCs, Rakim's 16th-year embracement of Islam gave an already radical cipher its spiritually-defining moral edge. When Rakim met kindred soul Eric B. in '85, they made a pact to make music when the time was right. A year later, hip hop's future was set off by two words, "it's on."

"I used to roll up, this is a hold up/Ain't nothin' funny/Stop smilin' and still nothin' move but the money/But now I learned to earn 'cuz I'm righteous/I feel great so maybe I might just search for a 9 to 5/If I strive then maybe I stay alive ..."

In the middle of Reaganomics winter number six, the duo dipped into Manhattan's Power Play Studios fiending to make some history. While media inside/outside the Beltway were pushing wack Twilight Zone scenarios for the coming presidential race, Rakim go-rilla'd the mic with the quit-frontin'-on-the-hardcore manifesto "Eric B. Is President" (b/w "My Melody"). A cavernous aural funhouse of Marley Marl's phantom samples and towering boombastics, Eric B.'s cross-cutting, itch-scratching beat poltergeists and Rakim's go-for-the-jugular verse rips ("I came in the door, I said it before/I never let the mic magnetize me no more/But it's invitin' me, invitin' me, invitin' me to rhyme/I can't hold it back, I'm lookin'for the line"), "Eric B. Is President" became the party jam of NY summer '86.

Immune to the vapors of instant stardom, EB&R locked themselves into Power Play's lab in early '87; mad intent upon creating the Perfect Beat. They emerged in July with a revolutionary cipher of ten musical sequences that would change the world: Paid In Full. Leading off with the still-deep B-Boy highjack of Bobby Byrd's "I Know You Got Soul" (Rakim's intro: "It's been a long time, I shouldna left you/Without a strong rhyme to step to/Think of how many weak shows you slept through/Time's up!, I'm sorry I kept you."), Paid In Full 's remaining nine tracks were presciently deja vu. Wildstylin' from the Kraftwerkian beat-feast of "Chinese Arithmetic" to "Move The Crowd"'s body-rock rapture to the title tune's four minutes-of-phat-science, EB&R authored a veritable Dead Sea Scrolls that has influenced two generations of hip hop kids from Gangstarr to Wu Tang. Like Lady Day and Lester Young, Lee Dorsey and Allen Toussaint, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, EB&R were the perfect synthesis of compellingly dark-edged
lyrical flow and melody/ rhythm-maxed vibe swings.

"So I walk up the street whistling this, feelin' outta place 'cuz man do I miss/A pen and a paper, a stereo, a tape or me and Eric B. and a nice big plate of/Fish/Which is my favorite dish/But without no money it's still a wish ..."

Paid In Full: The Platinum Edition takes you back to a time when hip hop was still The Final Frontier; when two fearless breakbeat bushido-bound samauri kicked mad ballistics for common people. Combining the digitally-remastered original tracks with a bonus CD selection of previously-unavailable-on-CD US/UK 12" DJ mixes, Paid In Full: The Platinum Edition is definitive testimony to the timeless funkativity and sheer innovation of EB&R's beat street visions.

The second CD is a DJ mixer's wet dream. A beat-blurring rush of technique-sweating variations on the masters's lessons, the remixes freestyle from Coldcut's exhilharating Seven Minutes Of Madnes kitchensink chaos visited on "Paid In Full" to Chad Jay In Effect's stunning gospel choir-Malcolm X-human beatbox demolition of "As The Rhyme Goes On" to the subtle poetics of Rakim's acapella version of "I Know You Got Soul"Lee ".

Original or remixed, Paid In Full: The Platinum Edition is irrefutable evidence of Eric B. & Rakim's influence on hip hop yesterday, today and tomorrow.

"'Cuz I don't like to dream about gettin' paid/So I dig into the book of the rhymes I made/Soon I test to see if I got pull/Hit the studio 'cuz I'm Paid In Full."

By Tom Terrell, August, 1998