Monday, July 4, 2011

Eric B. and Rakim -- "Eric B. Is President" (1986)

I came in the door, I said it before
I never let the mike magnetize 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

After our brief detour to Los Angeles to learn about early-day gangsta rap, we're returning to New York City for the next few "Hip-Hop 101" posts.

Eric B. and Rakim formed one of the great DJ/MC duos of old-school rap's so-called "Golden Age," which lasted from 1986 to 1992 (when gangsta rap became the dominant style).

Eric B. (Eric Barrier) was an up-and-coming 20-year-old DJ living on Long Island when he met 17-year-old MC William Michael Griffin, Jr., also a Long Island resident.  

Clarence 13X
Griffin had taken the name Rakim when he converted to The Nation of Gods and Earth, an offshoot of the Nation of Islam that was founded in Harlem in 1964 by Clarence Smith, who called himself Clarence 13X.

Followers of Clarence 13X are often called "Five Percenters."  That's because The Nation of Gods and Earth teaches that 85% of humanity is mentally dead, 10% know the truth but oppress the 85% by convincing them to believe in a "mystery God" who cannot be seen in this lifetime, while the remaining 5% constitute the "poor righteous teachers" who possess the truth.

(I don't about all this, but it's hard to argue with their theory that 85% of humanity is mentally dead and 10% are liars.)

A number of other hip-hop artists -- including Big Daddy Kane, Common, Brand Nubian, and Busta Rhymes -- are Five Percenters.  Click here to read more about The Nation of Gods and Earth.

The Paid In Full album cover
Eric B. and Rakim's debut album, Paid in Full -- which was ranked as the greatest hip-hop album of all time by MTV -- was released in July 1987, but "Eric B. Is President" came out as a single in 1986.  It's a hip-hop track about hip-hop -- Rakim's subject is MC'ing, not drugs, or guns, or sex, or expensive cars. 

Rakim took MC'ing to a whole new place.  Early-day rap lyrics were simple and sing-songy, heavy on end rhymes.  Rakim's style was jazz-influenced -- his rhythms were less predictable than the "flat-footed" rhythms used by older rappers, and his more complex raps were characterized by internal rhymes as much as by end rhymes.  (In the lines quoted above, "biting me, fighting me, inviting me" is an example of internal rhyming -- three rhymes within one line.) 

And Rakim's quiet, low-key delivery was the polar opposite of the high-energy, scream-into-the-microphone vocal technique that most rappers of the day utilized. 

James Brown
Eric B. was equally innovative as a DJ.  He was a master of live turntable mixing and scratching, and was the first DJ -- but far from the last -- to use James Brown samples.  (In fact, the "Godfather of Soul" sued to prevent the use of a sample of his music on this cut.)

"Eric B. Is President" also samples the bass line from Fonda Rae's 1982 disco hit, "Over Like a Fat Rat."  When Eric B. told Rakim that he planned to use that bass line, Rakim laughed so hard that he spit beer all over the wall.  "Just like you laughing now, you going to be laughing all the way to the bank and be a millionaire one day because of this record." Eric B. told him.  And he was right. 

Here's "Eric B. Is President":

Here's a link you can use to buy this record from Amazon:

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