I was a child in 87’ coming from a birthday party at the legendary Rooftop roller skating rink in Harlem, across the street from Rucker Park. Before the advent of noise pollution tickets and that bullshit quality of life stuff that doesn’t concern people just fighting for life. A red Jeep Wrangler rolled by blasting music out of ridiculously loud speakers. Boom Boom Bap Boomboomboom Bap was all you heard until “I came in the doooor…”
That was the first time I ever heard “Eric B For President,” the lead single from what would be the ground breaking album, Paid In Full. It wasn’t the song with the video. It wasn’t even what would become my favorite joint from the album (“Move The Crowd.”) But that was the one that changed everything stylistically. The Planet discussed b-side “Check Out My Melody” at length a while ago, but it was just a precursor for what was to come.
Rakim was still a teenager back then but he was well on his way towards changing the way that rappers rapped. He came from a musical family and played alto sax in high school, which gave him an idea about syncopation and rhythm that far surpassed rappers who didn’t have an understanding of music. The records on Paid in Full were infused with his skill and stark, jarring sample choices designed to rattle speakers. Eric B.’s scratches were not smooth and rhythmic like the masters of the day but hard and noisy, which added to the rush of the music.
The album featured a Rakim with a slow, measured emcee style that would form DNA spirals that would manifest in generations of emcees after him, including EPMD, Ma$e, Guru and any other rapper that wasn’t trying to jump out their pants with energy or high paced rhyming. It also featured the first consistent attempts to create rhyme opportunities within the measure of a line. Verse were freed from bar slavery and you could no longer almost predict what was coming next.
We take it for granted when we live under the umbrella of an advancement. We used to have to walk, then bike. Now we drive. He kept food cold with blocks of ice, now we have refrigerators. And we once played games on the mic. Even when we did have a message, it was delivered with the advanced tools of parchment and ink. The addition of Paid In Full to our history was the equivalent of the PC. Words were no longer trapped. No matter what comes after, it’s all based on that construction, no matter how advanced the microchips become. Rakim was Prometheus bringing fire to Hip-Hop, setting the stage for every detonation to follow. For that we owe him our eternal gratitude. Obama is the Pres but many in ’87 voted for Eric B. Paid In Full stands as the reason why.
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