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Eric B. and Rakim

Eric B. and Rakim

Rap duo

Presidential 1986 Debut

Moved to Major Label

Rhythm Too Hard for Radio

Selected discography

Sources

With their debut single Eric B. Is President/My Melody, Eric B. and Rakim introduced themselves as a tough, frosty rap act devoid of gimmickry and hype. DJ Eric Barrier laid down funky, soulful, and occasionally spacey sounds to support the supple, powerful rhymes of rapper Rakim. Nelson George of the Village Voice declared Rakim the master rapper of 1987 (damn near 86). The duo followed these auspicious beginnings with a series of straightforward albums that largely ignored fashionable musical and cultural trends. Reflex magazine noted that such consistency would translate into stylistic stagnation for anyone else. But hip-hops supreme poet was always years ahead of his time. As Rakim himself told Rolling Stone, We dont change. We make changes.

As the 1980s drew to a close and the 1990s brought an ever-widening mainstream audience to hip-hop music, rap began to separate into schools: the gangsta sound of N.W.A., Ice-T and the Geto Boys; the Native Tongues psychedelic funk-rap of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest; the consciousness-raising of Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions; and, of course, the highly staged pop rap of Hammer and Kriss Kross. Eric B. and Rakim, however, remained true to their own unique sound, described by Rolling Stones Alan Light as Rakims cool, menacing delivery of intricate rhymes over Erics subtly shifting beats. The Voices George elaborated, revealing, Rakims intonation itself conjures wintry images of cold-blooded killers, chilly ghetto streets and steely-eyed hustlers. Theres a knowing restraint in his voice that injects danger into even harmless phrases. A series of successful albums solidified Eric B. and Rakims place at the top of their medium, despite a two-year hiatus between 1988 and 1990. With 1992s Dont Sweat the Technique, the pair showed no sign of slowing down. The music Eric B. and Rakim make kicks because it sneaks into the ear like careless whispers before exploding on the brain like dynamite, wrote Havelock Nelson in his Rolling Stone review of Sweat. Eric B.s tracks are mellow and mean, while Rakims lyrics are at once eloquent and threatening.

Presidential 1986 Debut

Eric Barrier grew up in Queens, New York, while William Griffin, alter ego of Rakim, was raised in Wyandach, Long Island, New York. Eric told Melody Maker that he grew up loving the music of versatile composer Quincy Jones and the Beatles. I always wanted to play music and be up on the stage, he confessed. I guess thats every little kids fantasy, to be up on the stage with 20,000 people screaming. You see rock stars on television,

For the Record

Members include Eric B . (born Eric Barrier in New York City, c. 1965), DJ; and Rakim (born William Griffin in New York City, c. 1968), rapper.

Recording and performing duo, 1986. Released debut single Eric B. Is President I My Melody, 4th & BWay Records, 1986; released album Paid in Full, 1987; signed with MCA Records, 1987, and released MCA debut Follow the Leader, 1988. Contributed to soundtracks of films House Party II and Juice. Eric B. founded Lynn Star-Productions and Mega Starr Management companies, 1990.

Awards: Gold records for Paid in Full and Follow the Leader.

Addresses: Record company MCA Records, 70 Universal Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608; 1755 Broadway, 8th Floor, New York, NY 10019.

like in the Beatles movies, and people screaming and ripping their clothes off and going crazy. Thats always your dream. That person onstage, you always see it as being you. Griffinwho took the name Rakim when he became a Muslimwas only 18 when the duo hit the rap scene with Eric B. Is President/My Melody. In 1987 the duo released their debut record, Paid in Full, on 4th & BWay Records. Melody Makers David Stubbs called it an alienating, enticing album, a reminder of the endless possible permutations for hip hop. Village Voice contributor George reported, Throughout Paid in Full there are moments when Rakims voice and words, complemented by Eric B.s dictionary of James Brown beats, make mesmerizing hip hop.

Indeed, Erics sampling of Brown, the undisputed King of Soul, helped begin one of raps sturdiest trends. The single I Know You Got Soul was a case in point and one of the reasons the album went gold. In 1992 Rolling Stones Nelson asserted that Rakims claims in the song defined the essence of great hip-hop. Fellow rappers Stetsasonic immortalized the duo and their contribution to the art form when they rhymed: James Brown was old/Till Eric and Rak came out with I Got Soul. As Rakim insisted in a Rolling Stone interview, I dont think we were the first ones to use James Brown, but we were the first to use it right. Eric pointed out to Melody Maker that unlike other rap acts, people see our group as a unity. Im more than just a DJ, just somebody putting on records. Maybe in other groups people dont see the DJ as having any significance at all but, in our group, Im more of a figure. By way of illustration, he also revealed, I always said to Rakim, the money should always be split 50-50. If were partners were partners and friends all the way through.

Moved to Major Label

Eric B. and Rakim scored again with their sophomore effort, Follow the Leader. Released in 1988 on MCA Records, this album went gold as well. Melody Maker dubbed it seminal and superb. Vince Aletti of the Village Voice observed, Follow the Leader is powerful not just because Rakims boasting rocks so hard but because its so convincing. Fueled by a mixture of arrogance, anger, wit, and brilliance, he raps like a man on fire. Aletti further noted that Eric provided a sound that leads rap back into left field rather than further into the pop mainstream, capturing hiphops mood of apprehensive exhilaration, the excitement of peering over the edge of oblivion, the delusion of being totally in control. Earlier in the year, however, control of Eric B. and Rakim as an act was disputed in court. According to Variety, Zakia Records and Profile Records both sued MCA, claiming to have signed prior agreements with the act. Zakia and Profile alleged that MCA had urged Eric B. and Rakim to breach their previous agreements. Nonetheless, the duo remained with MCA, leaving the battle to the labels legal department.

The two years that elapsed before the release of their next album led many to believe that Eric B. and Rakim were history. Despite the recording lapse, the two were indeed busy; in 1989 they appeared on Jody Watleys Top Ten single Friends, and January of 1990 saw Eric founding two companies dedicated to new talent, Lynn Starr Productions and Mega Starr Management. Still, the demand for innovation and constant need for visibility is particularly steep in hip hop, and many worried that the duo wouldnt recover from such a long hiatus. It was even rumored that Rakim was in prison for selling cocaine. There were a lot of setbacks, the rapper told Rolling Stones Light. My father passed, one of the kids who was helping us make the music passed, then there were a lot of problems at the studio.

Rhythm Too Hard for Radio

Finally, in 1990, Let the Rhythm Hit Em hit the stores. James Bernard of the Village Voice noted that the pairs vocal and instrumental nuances threaten to whiz past you, unless you drop everything to listen hard. Like [metal hitmakers] Metallica, the focus and fun are in the technical proficiency. Mark Colemans Rolling Stone review insisted that the duos traditional approach was no gold-chain throwback but a way of upholding the Seventies funk canon and advancing raps original verbal mandate. Even so, Coleman admired the groups versatility: Masters of their appointed tasks, 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 others moves with chilly intuition. The resulting music is as stark, complex and edgy as Rakims stone-cold stare on the album cover. Let the Rhythm Hit Em concluded with the track Set Em Straight, on which Rakim explained that he was never imprisonedbut stated, If I go to jail it wont be for selling keys I Itll be for murdering MCs. Rakim told Reflex that Rhythm was too motherfing hard for radio stations, and that the record label was like, Yo, your shit is slamming, but you dont get radio. The rapper admitted that he toned down his material somewhat on the pairs next album, though one listen put to rest any worry that he had streamlined his concerns.

When Rolling Stone contributor Nelson once called the groups sound cinematic, he wasnt kidding. Eric B. and Rakim sent MCA a seven-song tape while working on their next album, and the label selected Whats On Your Mind for the soundtrack of the film House Party II. Rakim was also approached by noted hip-hop producer Hank Shocklee and asked to contribute a song to the soundtrack of the film Juice. Shocklee told Pulse! he thought of Rakim as one of those people who doesnt like anything, but in this instance the producer was pleasantly surprised. After viewing the film, Rakim wrote Know the Ledge, a tense, jazzy song about the perils of gang warfare. The tune became the Juice theme, and a video of Rakim and Eric performing it was interspersed with clips from the movie.

Know the Ledge also appeared on Eric B. and Rakims 1992 album Dont Sweat the Technique. The title track, like almost all of the other cuts on the album, wrote Dimitri Ehrlich in Pulse!, is steady, mid-tempo and extremely tasteful. The record included the relentless boasting of The Punisher and an unorthodox take on U.S. military involvement in the Persian Gulf called Casualties of War. Sweat activates the mind, Nelson proclaimed, calling it erotic, playful, violent, dramatic, funky, jazzy and definitely dope.

Hip-hop may have changed since Eric B. and Rakim emerged in 1986, but the duo have stuck with their original vision. Even so, Erics inventive repertoire of sounds and Rakims thoughtful, ferociously versatile rhyming remain the standard against which most rap is measured. We try to give people more than just rhymes, something they can take home and use for themselves in everyday life, Rakim told Rolling Stone. For his part, Ericnormally the silent onecouldnt help trumpeting the pairs achievements in a Melody Maker interview: People say we got a strong style, strong bass, strong vocal, strong feeling. Nobody can do what we do best, nobody can take our place. People already say our albums are legendary, they say our albums are like rap archives.

Selected discography

Eric. B. Is President/My Melody (single), 4th & BWay, 1986.

Paid in Full (includes I Know You Got Soul), 4th & BWay, 1987.

Follow the Leader, MCA, 1988.

(Contributors) Jody Watley, Friends,Larger Than Life, MCA, 1989.

Let the Rhythm HitEm (includes Set Em Straight), MCA, 1990.

(Contributors) House Party II (soundtrack; Whats on Your Mind), MCA, 1992.

(Contributors) Juice (soundtrack; Know the Ledge), MCA, 1992.

Dont Sweat the Technique (includes Whats On Your Mind, Know the Ledge, The Punisher and Casualties of War), MCA, 1992.

Sources

Melody Maker, September 12, 1987; June 25, 1988; July 30, 1988; August 6, 1988; August 11, 1990.

Pulse!, July 1992.

Reflex, October 1992.

Rolling Stone, August 23, 1990; October 18, 1990; July 9, 1992.

Variety, February 17, 1988.

Village Voice, August 25, 1987; July 26, 1988; October 16, 1990.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from MCA Records publicity material, 1992.

Simon Glickman

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