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Eric B. & Rakim

Background information
Origin Long Island New York
Genres East Coast hip hop
Golden age hip hop
Years active 19851992
Labels 4th & B'way/Island/PolyGram
Uni/MCA Records
MCA Records
Associated acts Marley Marl
Jody Watley
Large Professor
Dr. Dre
Former members
Eric B

Eric B. & Rakim were a hip-hop duo composed of DJ Eric Barrier and MC Rakim Allah (born William Michael Griffin Jr.).

Hailing from Long Island, New York, the pair is generally considered by hip hop enthusiasts to be one of the most influential and innovative groups in the genre. During hip hop's so-called golden age of the mid-1980s to the early 90s, the duo was almost universally regarded as the premier MC/DJ combo in hip hop. The two had a potent chemistry and each represented the height of innovation in their respective roles: Rakim was the master lyricist, an innovative talent who pushed the art of hip hop lyricism to new creative heights with his use of internal rhyme, sophisticated metaphors, and with a methodical-yet-effortless delivery; the duo's beats built on the hard-hitting sound of Run-D.M.C. by adding James Brown samples and Eric B's extensive scratching skills, setting the stage for hip hop's late-1980s/early-1990s infatuation with samples from the Godfather of Soul.[1]





Eric Barrier was born in 1965 and raised in the Elmhurst section of Queens. Born in 1968 and raised in Wyandanch, Long Island, William Michael Griffin converted to The Nation of Gods and Earths (also known as the 5 Percent Nation) at age 16 and began writing rhymes. Barrier, who had played trumpet and drums throughout high school, switched to turntables prior to graduation and soon, the newly-dubbed "Eric B." began DJing for radio station WBLS in New York. Eric B. would DJ for WBLS' mobile events around the city and 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 Queens MC with a reputation for battle raps. Toney took Eric B. to Foxxx's home, but the rapper wasn't 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." [2] 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."[2]

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, 1985s "Eric B. Is President"—which was built on the distinctive Fonda Rea bass line sample. Eric B. told, "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..."[2] 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.

An accidental masterpiece and a shift in hip hop

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..."[3] In 1987, 4th & Broadway issued the album; which, after the success of "Eric B. Is President," was accompanied by a mighty underground buzz. The record climbed into the Top Ten on the R&B LP charts (as would all of their subsequent albums).[4] 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."[2] Marley Marl also stated to 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.[2] 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[5]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. We'd been used to MCs like Run and DMC, Chuck D and KRS-One 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.'[6] 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. Despite its world wide success which led to the track entering many overseas top ten music charts, the duo claimed not to like the remix during its release. 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 highly-anticipated 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..[7] 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-80s. His upbringing as a member of the Nation of Gods and Earths also was reflected in his rhymes; while he wasn't 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 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 wasn't 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."[9]

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."[10]

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.[11]

"Don't Sweat the Technique" and the Split

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 **** 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."[12]

Post-Breakup and Legacy

Eric B. released a self-titled solo album in the mid-1990s on an independent label, it is now out of print. The 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. His follow-up, 1999s The Master. 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. But, due to creative differences, the album never materialized. Since then, Rakim has been working on a new project, tentatively-titled The Seventh Seal. While he hasn't released an official album (keeping with his enigmatic persona); Rakim has made notable guest appearances with numerous other artists like Jay-Z ("The Watcher, Part 2"), Truth Hurts ("Contagious"), Nas, KRS-One and Kanye West ("Classic"), and more.

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.

Ownership of the duo's catalog consolidated in 1999, when PolyGram (which owned Island Records, which released Paid in Full) merged with the MCA Records family of labels, which created the Universal Music Group (and which owned the rest of the duo's albums).


Studio albums

Album information
Paid in Full
Follow the Leader
Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em
  • Released: May 25, 1990
  • Chart positions: #32 US, #10 Top R&B/ Hip Hop
  • Last RIAA certification: Gold
  • Singles: "Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em", "In the Ghetto", "Mahogany"
Don't Sweat the Technique
  • Released: June 23, 1992
  • Chart positions: #22 US, #9 Top R&B/ Hip Hop
  • Last RIAA certification:
  • Singles: "Don't Sweat the Technique", "Know the Ledge", "What's on Your Mind?", "Casualties of War"


Year Single Chart positions Album
U.S. Hot 100 U.S. R&B Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales
1986 "Eric B. Is President" - 48 40 Paid in Full
1987 "I Ain't No Joke" - 38 -
"I Know You Got Soul" - 64 34
1988 "Move the Crowd" - - 3
"Paid in Full" - 65 -
"Follow the Leader" - 16 5 Follow the Leader
1989 "The R" - 79 28
1990 "In the Ghetto" - 82 - Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em
"Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em" - 23 9
1992 "What's on Your Mind" - 34 30 Don't Sweat the Technique
"Don't Sweat the Technique" - 14 4
"Know the Ledge" 96 38 - Juice (soundtrack)

Compilation albums

Album information
The 18th Letter/The Book of Life
  • Released: November 4, 1997
  • Chart positions: #1 Top R&B/Hip Hop
  • Last RIAA certification:
  • Singles: "Paid in Full", "Lyrics of Fury", "I Ain't No Joke", "Microphone Fiend"
The Best of Eric B. & Rakim
  • Released: June 19, 2001
  • Chart positions: N/A
  • Last RIAA certification:
  • Singles: "I Know You Got Soul", "I Ain't No Joke", "Microphone Fiend"


External links


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