1. Eric B. & Rakim, Paid in Full (1987)
Label: 4th & B'way/Island Records
From the Dapper Dan custom suits, massive gold medallions and stacks of bills Eric B. and Rakim rocked on the cover to the subtle, ingenius way the "God MC" indoctrinated his listeners to Five Percent Nation philosophy, Paid In Full captured the streets in a way no rap album had before.
Collectively, songs like "Eric B. Is President," "My Melody" and "I Ain't No Joke" elevated MCing from a lighthearted pursuit into something dead serious, worthy of scholarly precision and study. Even “I Know You Got Soul,” Rakim’s call to dancers to get hype, was deeply lyrical, leading with one of his most unforgettable and oft-quoted lines: “It’s been a long time/I shouldn’t have left you/Without a strong rhyme to step to.”
Amidst all of Ra’s verbal innovations, the album’s production (a joint effort between Eric and Ra, with Marley Marl, engineer Patrick Adams and Ra’s brother Stevie Griffin also deserving some credit) sometimes gets short shrift, but it shouldn’t: From Marley's innovative sampling techniques on “Eric B. is President” to the title track’s DJ-friendly use of the Soul Searchers’ “Ashley’s Roachclip” (a break since used on everything from Milli Vanilli’s “Girl You Know It’s True” to Lil Wayne’s “Girls Around the World”), its impact was greater than any other rap album of the era. Not bad for a rapper from a small, Long Island town—Wyandanch—which few people had ever heard of before, and still haven't really.