Eric B and Rakim nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and what it means
September 28, 2011
On September 27, 2011, the nominees for the next class of artists to be enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were revealed. Although I am uniquely surprised and wondering why that Public Enemy, after 77 world tours and 25 years, wasn’t on the short list, I was more than happy to see Rufus and Chaka Khan, War, Donna Summer, The Spinners, and Eric B. and Rakim. I’m humbly proud to report that thanks to technology, and the fact that I make sure to catch up on my music news over blogs and BS, that I saw the list, and was able to share it with Rakim via Facebook to start his week. He posted it 5 minutes after I hit him. Now that’s what I like about social media.
I remember when Eric B and Rakim’s Paid In Full was released. I had the vinyl and cassette, and for some reason, I couldn’t stop listening to “Check Out My Melody”. It was the bass and sonic sound of the record, it was almost 7 minutes long, which was crazy, and when he said “that’s what I’m saying I drop rhymes like a scientist,” I was like, who is this?
Rakim’s cadence, delivery, the way the chorus had the echoes with the scratches, and the way he presented his verbal skills and style, was how we approached emceein’ in my neighborhood in East Cleveland, Ohio in the 80’s. You had to say you were the best, but it wasn’t by being vulgar, nasty, or using every curse word you could think of, or disrespecting your opponent by your growl, it was with your style. It was about your ability to come up with clever words—and if you think about it, “Check Out My Melody” was profanity-free. It wasn’t soft, it was rugged and the beat was a certified head banging music. It was a totally new experience as a listener to hear Rakim. When he said, “I’ll take 7 MC’s put them in a line / and add 7 more brothers who think they could rhyme / and it will take 7 more before I go for mine / now that’s 21 MC’s ate up at the same time,” Kool Moe Dee, LL, Run-DMC, everyone at that time knew that Rakim came in the door, and took over. I remember reading somewhere that Russell Simmons had Rakim’s first demo with “Check Out My Melody” and everyone was trying to get it from him, and when they heard Rakim it was official, the GOD MC had it.
Honestly, I think in the timeline of hip-hop, you can call Rakim in terms of emceein’ as a benchmark. He absolutely changed the way you thought about rhyming, and originated a way of expression on the microphone that was unique, fresh, better than anything else out, and cultural.
And Rakim has had it since 1986. Very (very, very) few MC’s out today can compete with the first four albums by Eric B and Rakim, namely, Paid In Full, Follow The Leader, Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em, and Don’t Sweat The Technique. And remember, when Eric B and Rakim came out, it was 1986—no Facebook, no Twitter, and no CD’s yet, no apps, no iPhones, and no Blackberrys. I think it’s a powerful statement that 25 years after their first records were made they are still relevant today, and being nominated for a prestigious honor of being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Some artist have already made more than four albums in hip-hop that are already forgotten, but records like Paid In Full, for example, will be around in 100 years. I predicted that Grand Master Flash and The Furious Five would get in to the Rock Hall on a song called “We Rock”, and I’m putting myself out there saying Eric B and Rakim are going to make hip-hop proud of it’s socially conscious, intelligent, spiritual, political, and lyrical side when they are inducted (hopefully) next year.
Here’s a list of the songs that are of vital importance, in my view, in Eric B and Rakim’s discography. I would say every person who represents Hip Hop should stop, grab some headphones or a place to turn up your speakers, and instead of having a party, bar-be-que’ing, or cleaning up your spot, sit down and listen to these songs, in their entirety.
- Check Out My Melody
- Paid In Full
- I Ain’t No Joke
- I Know You Got Soul
- Move The Crowd
- Eric B is President
- Follow The Leader
- Microphone Fiend
- Lyrics of Fury
- In The Ghetto
- Don’t Sweat The Technique
What’s interesting about one of these songs, “Move The Crowd”, was how Rakim was different from everyone else’s. I remember at Fresh Fest, in 1986, when Rakim’s album came out, at The Front Row Theater right outside of Cleveland, LL Cool J’s “I Need Love” was hot, and LL, who went on before Rakim I think, pulled out a couch on stage, really gave an entertaining performance, and the crowd was into it. Public Enemy was on this bill too, and they had the S1W’s with the uzis and fatigues, but when Rakim came out, he was really just standing mostly in the same place, spitting his rhymes. No antics, no jumping all over the place, just beats and rhymes, but he was moving the crowd. He didn’t overbear the audience with hip-hop aerobics (throw ya hands up, say ho, bla bla bla), he just spit his rhymes, and it pulled you in. Eric B, like Terminator X, spoke with his hands, and no one was smiling on stage during Rakim’s set. It was all business.
My all-time favorite line by Rakim is, “Write a rhyme in graffiti in / every show you see me in / deep concentration cause I’m no comedian”. And he never was or has been since, and yes, I have Rakim’s latest work the Seventh Seal, and I can tell you the lyrics to “Won’t Be Long”, “Put It All To Music”, and “Holy Are U”. I felt it was my duty as an MC to know Rakim’s catalog, out of respect for the culture I represent, and the skill I practice, and I think this is another one of those times where I have to say it, people need to slow up from trying to make music, and listen to more music already created. There’s no need to ask if Eric B and Rakim’s music is classic. The proof is in the staying power, and with an industry full of goons and goblins, some intelligent, higher conscious, insightful lyricism would be a fresh air to the game, just like it was in 1986.
Sending maximum respect and salute to Eric B and Rakim. We stand on your shoulders.
Jahi, a hip-hop artist and educator, writes a bi-weekly column on the music industry, politics, technology and education for Hip-Hop.com. He is the CEO of Microphone Mechanics, and an avid reader, chess player, and birdwatcher.