Celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Eric B. & Rakim’s “Paid in Full”
On July 7, 1987, Eric B. & Rakim dropped Paid in Full, their debut album in 4th & B’way Records, and forever changed the game with a style of rhyme so fly Rakim still stands as Top 5 today.
As was the tradition of Hip Hop acts back in the days, Eric B. (Eric Barrier) was the DJ, so he got top billing. A native of Queens, Eric B. was DJing on WBLS-FM, the inky black-owned radio station in New York City at the time. He started a search for “New York’s top MC” and hooked up with Rakim (William Griffin), who hailed from Suffolk County, Long Island.
Rakim took his name after joining The Nation of Gods and Earths, bringing the Five-Percent nation to Hip Hop. The first cut they made was “Eric B. is President,” which was released as a single in 1986 with “My Melody” on the B side. The moment Rakim started rhyming, it was a wrap. Hip hop had never seen anything like it before—and it sure hasn’t since.
“I came in the door, I said it before / I never let the mic 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 of my coat, clearing my throat / My rhyme will be kicking it until I hit my last note.”
For the track, Eric B. told All Hip Hop, “”I took Fonda Rae’s ‘Over Like A Fat Rat’ and said ‘This is the bass line I’m going to use for this record.’ Rakim spit the beer all over the wall and thought it was the funniest shit in the world. I told Rakim, 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.”
How right he was. When Paid in Full was released the following year, Eric B. and Rakim were fully decked out in matching tops from Dapper Dan and massive gold jewels, with greenbacks floating behind them. At a time when Hip Hop was still underground, when MTV refused to play videos and pop radio shunned anything that didn’t sound like a novelty act, Paid in Full predicted Hip Hop was a billion dollar industry—and their promise was proved right.
After the single dropped, the group was signed to the 4th & B’way imprint at Island Records—named after the famed cross streets that was home to the flagship Tower Records store—then, the most important record shop in the nation. In the span of one week, they laid it down: 10 tracks that would set the benchmark for a five-star album.
“I Ain’t No Joke” was the first release after the album came out followed by “I Know You Got Soul,” which put James Brown back in the forefront of the music scene after what had been a quiet decade as funk gave way to disco and lost its steam. On “Talking All That Jazz,” Stetsasonic paid homage to the group that paved the way, letting it be known, “Tell the truth James Brown was old until Eric and Ra came out with I Got Soul.”
Eric B. had previously sampled “Funky President” on “Eric B. Is President,” without clearance. Brown brought a lawsuit, igniting the debate on the legality of unauthorized sampling in and out of the courts. Paid in Full was deep with samples of classic joints from The Jackson 4, The J.B.s, Bobby Byrd, Funkadelic, Barry White, AC/DC, the Beastie Boys… Eric B. even went so far as to sample “Eric B. Is President” for the tracks “Move the Crowd” and “Eric B. Is on the Cut.”
In turn, the album has been sampled at length over the past 30 years by artists including Jay-Z, Nas, Tupac, Aaliyah, Lil Wayne, The Game, Eazy –E, Mos Def, Warren G, Eminem, Busta Rhymes, Master P, Swizz Beats, P. Diddy, the list goes on. The album title was used for a 2002 movie inspired by the lives of Harlem’s own Azie “AZ” Faison, Rich Power, and Alpo Martinez, which has become a cult film in its own right.
Paid in Full has set the gold standard for classic Hip Hop albums because it reached the pinnacle: reinventing the possibilities of lyricism by bringing poetry to the mix, with seemingly effortless rhyme patterns that came from the brilliance of the mind of Rakim paired with a style of music so original it wasn’t like anything anyone had heard before, reminding us that the DJ invented Hip Hop.
For the inside story on the making of Paid in Full, check out Brian Coleman’s amazing book Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies.
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Online, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Aperture Online, and Feature Shoot. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.