Tuesday, July 19, 2011

July 19: Eric B & Rakim, "Paid In Full"

Artist: Eric B & Rakim
Song: "Paid In Full"
Album: Paid In Full
Year: 1987

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Over the course of the development of every musical genre, they each enter what can be considered a "golden age," where the form hits its creative height, and the basis for the style is firmly set into place.  While some of these periods can last well over a decade, for the most part, such a term covers a much shorter period, and it usually takes many years after for it to be termed as such.  When it comes to the hip-hop genre, one can claim this "golden age" as beginning in the mid 1980's, and coming to an end around 1993, as "gangsta rap" took over, and hip-hop entered the mainstream in foll force.  While in most cases, each distinctive style or approach in hip-hop has a difference source, when it comes to the entire modern delivery style, as well as a majority of modern sampling techniques, they all share the same root: Eric B & Rakim.  Though the duo never found great commercial success, there is no question that they can make a claim as the most important act in the history of hip-hop music, as they each trailblazed countless paths that remain essential to the genre to this day.  Their 1987 debut, Paid In Full, remains one of the greatest achievements in the history of hip-hop music, and almost every artist that followed would borrow heavily from the styles set forth on this record.  Almost every track has turned into a classic in its own right, yet one can cite the albums' title track as Eric B & Rakim's finest moment, as well as one of the two or three most important recordings in the history of hip-hop music.

Though hip-hop had already made its first "real" breakthrough courtesy of Run-D.M.C. about a year earlier, the reality is, "Paid In Full" would be where the genre was blown wide open, and almost every technique that remains the cornerstone of the genre to this day can be traced back to this song and album.  To say that Eric B uses samples is almost an injustice to the talent and style with which he mixes songs, as there is a sense of true understanding of the music itself, as well as a clear reverence of the music that comes through in his production.  That is to say, within the musical backing on "Paid In Full," there is a consistent melody and mood, and there is a sense of delicacy within his fusion of sounds.  Based around pieces of The Soul Seachers', "Ashley's Roadtrip" and Fab Five Freddy's, "Change The Beat," there is a smooth, yet aggressive tone to the song, and this is heightened by the addition of sounds from "When Boys Talk" by Indeep and Dennis Edwards', "Don't Look Any Further."  These samples work perfectly with the original beats and scratching that Eric B brings to the track, and one can cite his work as where the role of the DJ moved from "only" making break-beats to a far more central role as a musician and producer on any given song.  His techniques and approach would completely rewrite how DJ's were seen and how they worked, and to this day, it is his methods that remain the standard within hip-hop music.

While one cannot understate how influential Eric B has been on the state of almost every hip-hop song since "Paid In Full," there is no question that on the track and album, Rakim completely set the style for every emcee that followed.  Whether it is his tone, his rhythm, or the lyrics he brings, when looking at the chronology of hip-hop, it is this performance that serves as perhaps the most pivotal moment in the genres history.  Rakim's voice is beyond smooth and relaxed, and this enables his delivery to carry with it an amazing amount of confidence, and one can see his rhyming on "Paid In Full" as the very definition of the term "flow."  The way that he works the beat from every angle, often working off of the beat itself was also a largely new hip-hop approach, and while in a modern context his style may not seem that unique, the fact of the matter is that the modern hip-hop vocal style began in the voice of Rakim.  Furthermore, the lyrics he spits were far beyond nearly every other hip-hop performer of the day, as he pushed the limits both in the content, as well as adding a high level of intelligence and verbal mastery to the art of rhyming.  In fact, one can argue that until this point, rapping was not seen as an "art form," and it was Rakim's performance that changed that notion.  Both due to the words he wrote as well as his strong, yet calm tone, the entire history of hip-hop owes its longevity to the brilliant rhyming style of Rakim.

There have been a number of moments in the long history of hip-hop music that can be pointed to as essential to the preservation of the style, but the fact of the matter is, few have been as vital as the release of Eric B & Rakim's monumental album, Paid In Full.  Almost every track on the record is a hip-hop landmark in its own right, as the techniques that the duo displayed where completely revolutionary at the time.  When one listens to the musical arrangements and production throughout the record, it is easy to understand how it was leaps and bounds ahead of other songs being released at the time, and it is in Eric B's performance where the modern hip-hop background was born.  Furthermore, one simply cannot overstate the importance of Rakim's rhymes and vocal approach, as after the release of "Paid In Full," almost the entire genre shifted to be more similar to his sound.  As the decades have passed, it is amazing how well the Paid In Full record has held up, as even after more than twenty years, it is still as powerful and relevant as ever.  One can also grasp the impact of the song "Paid In Full" by the countless times the music, and especially Rakim's opening line of "...thinking of a master plan..." have been sampled over the years.  On every level, the song represents everything that makes modern hip-hop so fantastic, and there are only a few songs in history that are even remotely on par with the power and impact of Eric B and Rakim's iconic 1987 single, "Paid In Full."

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