Actually, it’s been two weeks since we examined the first two albums from The Pharcyde, Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde and Labcabincalifornia. The results of that “This or That” were somewhat to be expected, although I was happy to see Labcabin get as much support as it did. I’ll admit that Bizarre Ride is probably the better album over and had the most impact, but for personal reasons, I went with Labcabin, it had much more of an impact on me. All good though, now if Fatlip, Tre, Imani and Bootie Brown can just recapture some of that magic and make another album, I’ll be happy.
Final Verdict – Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde 65 Labcabincalifornia 41
If you were to ask me who is the greatest MC hip hop has ever seen as far as technical skill, rhymes, delivery and voice, I’d have to say Rakim. Sure, there are other MC’s who I enjoy more, but as far as a straight up lyrical MC, there isn’t much better out there than Rakim Allah. That being said, as far as the Eric B & Rakim catalog goes, there are probably other albums I’ve listened to a lot more in my life. I’m not saying I don’t like them, nor do I dispute their importance in the hip hop culture, I just liked other things more. You can’t argue about the greatness of their first two albums. The duo’s debut album, Paid In Full, is a certified hip hop classic, something you can not argue with. In many ways, Rakim changed the game with that album. Instead of the simplistic back and forth rhymes of Run DMC, the MCs started to become more complex. The complexity of the rhyme style and just what was being said was ushered in. The start of the “Next School” was established and could be directly correlated with the release of Paid In Full, a true landmark album indeed.
How do you follow up a classic hip hop album? Well, as history shows us, it’s very difficult to do. “It Was Written”, “The Doggfather”, and others that I’m obviously not pulling out of my memory bank at this time. That being said, Eric B & Rakim dropped a worthy sophomore effort to be considered worthy enough to challenge it’s predecessor on “This Or That” this week. It’s what every artist that makes a second album should strive for….yeah right. Follow The Leader is responsible for two of my all-time favorite tracks, in the title track and “Microphone Fiend”. The album is strong enough, that if it had dropped as their debut, I honestly think it would be getting all the praise. But it didn’t, but I still think it’s worthy enough to debate: Which album is the better one? We shall find out.
Paid In Full Vs. Follow The Leader
My first introduction to Eric B & Rakim was actually not through Yo! MTV Raps, which makes it one of the rare instances during that time. I actually first heard Eric B & Rakim on the Colors soundtrack, their track “Paid In Full” was featured on the Dennis Hopper directed movie about the gangs in South Central L.A. A good portion of the soundtrack was populated with Cold Chillin’/Warner Brothers artists such as Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, Big Daddy Kane, Roxanne Shante and of course MC Shan. Ra & Eric B were tied in with Marley and his Juice Crew in the early days, with Marley being credited as the producer for the remixes of “Eric B Is President” and “My Melody”. The Colors soundtrack was an early fixture in my young hip hop listening years. Obviously it introduced me to several important hip hop acts, but after “Raw”, “Paid In Full” was my second favorite song found on that soundtrack. I still wouldn’t know what album it came from until later on, but it put the duo on my hip hop radar.
The production found on the album shouldn’t be written off as sounds for Rakim elaborate rhyme style, the beats were strong and provided an excellent soundscape for Ra to do his thing. It’s widely rumored that someone (or someones) other than Eric B & Rakim had more to do with the albums production than the credits give to him, but it’s one of the “hush, hush” rumors of the industry. Names such as Marley Marl, Ced Gee, Paul C and just Rakim himself (and Large Professor later on) have circulated around for many years, buts Eric B has also been known to beat down or chase out of town any artist that might jeopardize the album credits.
Let’s not kid ourselves though, the beauty of this album, is Rakim’s poetic and highly advanced (for the time, and even now) lyrics. As previously mentioned, Rakim was unlike any MC seen at the time. His cadences, his style, the complexity found in his rhymes, it was all different from the “hip hop y’all” found on the majority of pre-86 hip hop albums. The group’s first single, “Eric B is President”, is a prime example of what Rakim was brining to the tab
le at this time:
I came in the door, I said it before
I never let the mic magnatize me no more
But it’s biting me, fighting me, inviting me to rhyme
I can’t hold it back, I’m looking for the line,
Taking off my coat, clearing my throat
My rhyme will be kicking it until I hit my last note
My mind’ll range to find all kinds of ideas
Self-esteem makes it seem like a thought took years to build
But still say a rhyme after the next one
Prepared, never scared, I’ll just bless one
And you know that I’m the soloist
So Eric B, make ‘em clap to this
The sheer amount of classic lines found on Paid In Full is just amazing. You can’t talk about hip hop and be a fan of hip hop without quoting a Rakim line from this album, most of that thanks to the amount of times Rakim’s voice has been sampled. He has to be the most sampled artist in the music’s history.
Another personal favorite from Paid In Full, is “I Know You Got Soul”, in which Rakim does his thing over a surprisingly complex (sample wise) beat and just drops line after line. Anyone that doubts that Rakim ISN’T the greatest MC to ever walk the earth only needs to listen to the track to be set straight. “My Melody”, is another track that I go “ooooh” and “ahhhhh” over when I hear it. Rakim kickin’ the shit on this only further cement his greatness, as I realize that sometimes Rakim is so great you take him for granted.
The album does have some pitfalls. It’s obvious that it was rushed out to capitalize the string of 12 inch single hits the duo had. It’s already short and the fact that two of the tracks are basically “DJ” cuts only endorses the thought of filler. None the less, the album contains possibly one of the greatest lyrical performances found on any album EVER.
Follow The Leader
I can still remember the first time I saw the video for the Follow the Leader title track, which showed up on the first “Yo! MTV Raps”. The old style gangland adaptation for the video only made this song even more dope, if that’s even possible. I would play the video over and over again, while getting ready for school. Ra looked so damn dope in the video, it would be the reason I paid one of my hoodlum friends that just moved to my to my home town from Vegas twenty bucks to rip off a Mercedes emblem from a car for me. I would hang it on my fake cold chain a la Mike D from the Beastie Boys, just because Ra had one like it in the video. That is until my school resource officer caught me wearing it at a football game. It seems there had been a rash of thefts involving the high priced car. Without actually catching me doing it and me not talking, there wasn’t much they could do, but he would watch me closely for the next month or so. But the video was an excellent addition to an already dope track. This would be back when videos still meant something, and “Follow The Leader” is probably one of my favorite videos of all-time.
The track is an excellent lead-off to one of the best three song leadoff found on any album. Again, Rakim is at the top of his game on the song, as he drops ill line after ill line. I still know the track word for word and get amped when I have my headphones on going line for line with Ra. We could do a “This Or That” just one which of the three verses of “Follow The Leader” is the best, but we’ll save it and I’ll pick verse two….I think:
This is a lifetime mission, vision of prison
In this journey you’re the journal
I’m the journalist
Am I Eternal?
Or an eternalist?
I’m about to flow long as I can possibly go
Keep ya movin cause the crowd said so
Dance – cuts rip ya pants
Eric B on the blades, bleedin to death – call the ambulance
Pull out my weapon and start to squeeze
A magnum as a microphone murderin’ MC’s
Let’s quote a rhyme from a record I wrote (follow the leader) Yeah – dope
Cause everytime I stop it seems ya stuck
Soon as ya try to step off ya self-destruct
I came to overcome before I’m gone
By showin and provin and lettin knowledge be born
Then after that I’ll live forever – you disagree?
You say never? Then follow me!
From century to century you’ll remember me
In history – not a mystery or a memory
God by nature, mind raised in Asia
Since you was tricked, I have to raise ya
From the cradle to the grave, but remember
You’re not a slave
Cause we was put here to be much more than that
But we couldn’t see it because our mind was trapped
But I’m here to break away the chains, take away the pains
Remake the brains, reveal my name
I guess nobody told you a little knowledge is dangerous
It can’t be mixed, diluted; it can’t be changed or switched
Here’s a lesson if ya guessing and borrowing
Hurry hurry, step right up and keep following
The best lyrical performance caught on wax? Quite possibly. But the madness doesn’t end there. Another top 20 song of all-time (according to the last time I posted my favorite 100 hip hop songs of all-time, “Follow the Leader”: came in at #13 and “Microphone Fiend” was right behind at #16), “Microphone Fiend” doesn’t let the wicked rest. The little guitar jingle comes on and the listener is once again treated to Rakim riding the beat, then simply taking it over. Yes, I know this is turning into one huge Rakim jocking session, but the man is truly gifted on these two tracks.
Just the link for “Microphone Fiend”……thanks Universal.
Ra turns it down a notch, energy wise on “Microphone Fiend”, but it’s kicked through the roof once again on the albums third track, “Lyrics Of Fury.” Funky Drummer never sounded so good as if this shit doesn’t put you into a b-boy pose, then nothing will. The next two tracks on Side A happen to be more instrumentals. You’d think they wouldn’t have to rush this album out, but apparently they did.
This was in the days of wax and tapes, so things were split up into sides as I just mentioned. It makes albums look/sound weird in CD form, where everything is one long playlist more or less. I’m sure the track order for Follow The Leader would look different if this was released during the reign of the CD, but it wasn’t. The lead off track for Side B was “Put Your Hands Together”, and this, for me, is where Follow The Leader will start to lag against it’s predecessor. Side B just doesn’t match the greatness of the first three songs found on Side A. Don’t get me wrong, “The R”, “Musical Massacre”, and “No Competition” were great tracks in their own right, but they don’t stand up against Ra’s better songs in his catalog. The only track on Side B that in fact holds up against the other greats is “To The Listeners”, which is unfortunate, because a strong side B could have possibly made Follow The Leader mentioned in the same breath as Paid In Full.
This is kind of a weird match up. Two weeks ago, when I was discussing the upcoming lineup of this series with Jaz from Cold Rock The Spot (who actually picked Follow The Leader, so maybe this will be more interesting than I think it might be) I told him I was probably going to go with Follow The Leader, simply on the strength of the first three songs. Once I sat down this afternoon though, and started listening to the albums, I knew it was clear that the better album is Paid In Full. Then once I started writing about the two albums, it was a KO. I have a strong suspicion that this could end up in a major land slide, which would be unfortunate. This match up sounded better on paper than it did in real time, but oh well. I’m sure, as we usually do, we’ll have a few die hards for the underdog, which they have my respect, as I was about to go that way. Also this week, we have an “option C”, a sort of “none of the above”, where if you dig one of the other two albums, either Let The Rhythm Hit Em or Don’t Sweat The Technique, more, you can make that be known. I won’t even get into my analysis of those two albums, but I’ll just say there was a reason I didn’t choose to include them in the discussion, although I’m a bigger fan than the average person of Don’t Sweat The Technique.
Peace out party people, until next time…..
The Winner: Paid In Full