The Story Behind Eric B & Rakim's Groundbreaking Paid In Full | Album Review

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How Classic? 5 out of 6

Released: July 7, 1987

Eric B. & Rakim's debut album was released (July 7) in the summer of 1987 about a year after the group was formed when Eric B., who was a DJ at WBLS in NYC, began looking for rappers to work with.  He then met a promoter who suggested he work with a guy named Freddie Foxxx from the Paid In Full Posse. Freddie Foxxx was based in Long Island and soon they went out to see him, but when they arrived at his house, he wasn't there! So the promoter suggested they go see another Long Island MC named Rakim. As history goes, Rakim was home that day! They began their collaboration immediately, and Eric B. borrowed some records from Rakim's brother and they headed down to the basement to begin creating their first track. Rakim opened a beer and just kicked backed while Eric. B started the process setting up his equipment and finding the records to sample. After setting up his gear and listening to the records he borrowed from Rakim's brother he settled on Fonda Rae's 'Over Like A Fat Rat'. When he told Rakim "This is the bassline I'm going to use for the record", Rakim couldn't control his laughter and sprayed beer all over the wall when he burst out laughing! Rakim thought it was the funniest thing ever and Eric B. replied, "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."

 Photo from one of the CD re-issues of 'Paid In Full'. Rakim (left), and Eric B.

Photo from one of the CD re-issues of 'Paid In Full'. Rakim (left), and Eric B.

After that initial meeting they decided to record together, then Eric B. took the Fonda Rae record over to Marley Marl's house and began work on their first single 'Eric B. Is President'. The reason Eric B. needed Marley Marl to help out was because Eric B. couldn't really use the equipment needed to record the record. After the release of the 'Eric B. Is President' single, they went into Power Play Studios in New York City to record their debut record which became the now legendary and classic record we all know as 'Paid In Full'. The album was done in a mad hurry and was entirely done in about one weeks time. The process was, go into the studio, lay down the beat and write the rhymes in about an hour, and then go into the booth and read the lyrics off the paper, and that would be one song in the box. This way of recording lead to Rakim's biggest critique of the album:

On my first album I was inexperienced. I used to write my rhymes in the studio and go right into the booth and read them. When I hear my first album today I hear myself reading my rhymes but I’m my worst critic.

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One of the reasons that some of the raps on Paid In Full are so short, and that the album contains three instrumentals, is because the time for recording was so short. But still, when the record came out in the summer of 1987 it left a mushroom cloud over the rap scene. It was captivating, innovative and instantly influential. Rakim's flow was in stark contrast to most other MCs at the time who would grab the mic with reckless abandon and bring a high amount of energy to their performance. Rakim took a methodical approach which was slow, mesmerizing, yet very blunt with every line leaving a massive impact on the listener. And despite Eric B.'s lack of technical knowledge he had an ear for picking out loops and samples drenched in soul and turned out to be a trailblazer in the coming years. Eric B. summed it up when he told AllHipHop:

"To sit here and say we put together this calculated album to be a great album would be a lie. We were just doing records that felt good."

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How Classic Is Paid In Full?

CLASSIC: I Ain't No Joke, I Know You Got Soul, Paid In Full, Eric B. Is President DOPE: My Melody, As The Rhyme Goes On SOLID: Move The Crowd A'AIGHT: Eric B. Is On The Cut, Chinese Arithmetic
  • Each track receives either a: classic, dope, good, a'aight, subpar, or wack score

  • A classic song = 6 pts, a dope song = 5 pts, a good song = 4 pts, etc.

  • The points are added up and divided by the number of songs

  • The score is then rounded to the nearest whole number

  • The most classic rating for an album is 6 and the most wack rating is 1

Alexander Ramalho