Way before Rakim was rocking a graying beard next to the luscious lips of Truth Hurts, or even before he pioneered the idea of rap and R&B collaborations on Jody Watley’s “Friends” (yes, it was all his fault), there was Paid In Full, the debut album from Eric B. & Rakim, which ushered in a new era of hip-hop music in the year 1987.
While everyone else at the time was either struggling to hold on to what was left of hip-hop’s fantastic romantic era, or was carving a new sound in Russell Simmons’ new school of rappers who yelled their rhymes (LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, Run DMC - and we loved every minute of it), with Paid In Full, Rakim not only brought a then unheard, incredibly cool and confident smoothness to the mic (one that would become even better defined over the span of his next two albums), but also introduced a complexity that revolutionized the structure of emceeing. The typical A-B rhyme schemes were traded in for something that was much more appealing and endlessly quotable, (as evidenced on “My Melody”, in which just about every line of the song has been sampled over the last 15 years). Giving birth to a whole new generation of emcees, Rakim’s influence was so heavy, that it virtually changed the way lyrics were written and delivered, and is still being quoted by a million lazy rappers that came in the door, as if Rakim never said it before.
Not only that, but the style of production that Eric. B (along with silent collaborator Marley Marl) brought to the table was something much different than the heavy electric guitar power-chords of the time, which then helped Rick Rubin disguise hip-hop as rock & roll, pushing it into the mainstream, with tracks like “Fight For Your Right To Party”, “Rock The Bells”, and “King Of Rock”. Rather, the production on Paid In Full instead looked to it’s roots, employing the sound of the funky drummer, opening the floodgates for hip-hop’s raping of papa’s brand new bag of unused samples. After Paid In Full made its mark, it was only a matter of time before everyone was doing the James.
Putting it all together, Paid In Full is easily placed in numerous top ten lists, not only because its influence is still being felt today, but because after fifteen years, this is still a slammin’ album. It’s been a long time, but “I Know You Got Soul” still pops up in old school sets, pleasing crowds, while the shadow of the title track, “Paid In Full”, lingers in the minds of eighteen year-olds as the backdrop for the pinnacle of the 2Pac and B.I.G. battle, whether they know it’s origin or not. And while Buckshot successfully remade it, and Master P made crack to it, there’s no topping the original “I Ain’t No Joke”, where Eric B. and Rakim stripped it down to bare bones complimenting each other with timeless rhymes and cuts that would forever be imprinted in the b-boy’s consciousness. And obviously, we can never forget “Eric B. Is President”, where Rakim makes his entrance with that classic first line that immediately hooked us, with lyrics so quotable that they would, bite, fight, and invite us to rhyme along with them (just ask Britney Spears). Even the tracks that get lesser burn from the general public such as “Move The Crowd” and “As The Rhyme Goes On”, were incredible, still helping shape Paid In Full as the classic record that it is today.
Sure, younger hip-hop fans (backpack, thugged-out, or jiggy) might scoff at this album if they only heard it for the first time in 2002, just as bedroom Beat Junkie hopefuls would at Rakim for nominating his DJ for president, but that’s only because they simply don’t know the time. Regardless, Paid In Full was a record that gave birth to at least one of those seven emcees of today, whether their legions of fans realize it or not. Experienced listeners will tell you, every rapper – from the most flossy (Master P) to the most underground (Edan), will site Paid In Full as one of their primary influences. It’s certainly one of top five greatest hip-hop albums of all time, archived from an era that wasn’t concerned about who or what is “gangsta”, but only what happened to peace. (Peace.)
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