Eric B. & Rakim – Paid In Full
Released July 7th, 1987 on 4th & B’way Records and Island Records
Is Paid In Full the peak of hip hop’s first Golden Age? No, because saying that implies that there has ever been a period in hip hop that couldn’t have been considered a great time for the genre (ok, ok, 1995-1999 weren’t mind-blowing but there was a lot of great stuff going on in the underground, etc. etc.) It is a definite guide-post of the Eighties, however, and it pioneered some stuff that would become standard in hip hop from 1987 onward. Rakim’s rapping is the key thing: he pioneered using internal rhymes, rather than the end-of-the-meter type that had been (and to an extent still is) the most popular way to rhyme in hip hop. Internal rhyming allowed Rakim to paint his words across the beats, rather than tie himself to them, which made his interplay with Eric B’s turntables that much more thrilling. It’s like hearing jazz give birth to itself (fitting, since Rakim was a huge Coltrane fan), and any great lyricist in the past thirty years has mentioned Rakim at least in passing in one interview or another. Rakim and Big Daddy Kane’s more intricate rhyme structures gave Marshall Mathers the inspiration to build his own style, and everyone knows that Eminem is the standard when sneering white boys want to assert that hip hop is just about “lyrics” and “flow”. On second thought, forget it. Rhyming was a mistake.
Eric B, meanwhile, lays down a solid foundation of beats that will rattle the foundations of whatever building you happen to play them in. They are also the product of a serious sampling jones, and the argument over whether sampling is a legitimate form of expression stems from here; James Brown himself sued the group over a sample in “Eric B Is President”. The ideas he put together here – gritty beats, thick bass, soul samples, horns, whistles, etc. – have an obvious if somewhat indirect influence on RZA, who was himself the most influential producer of his era. “Eric B. Is President” is still the funkiest track here, but others more than hold their own, notably “I Ain’t No Joke”, “Move The Crowd”, and the title track.
Ironically, Eric B. sued Island/Def Jam and Russell Simmons in 2003, alleging that neither he nor Rakim had ever been paid in full for the royalties from the album.