The 20 Best Five-year Runs In Rap Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Rakim: 1986-1990

Solo Albums: n/a
Group Albums: Paid in Full (1987), Follow the Leader (1988), Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em (1990)
Biggest Hits: "Paid in Full" (1987), "Eric B. Is President" (1987), "I Know You Got Soul" (1987), "Microphone FIend" (1988), "Lyrics of Fury" (1988)

Here is something I wrote last year, on the 25th anniversary of the Eric B. & Rakim's 1987 debut album, Paid in Full. It's called, "Rakim is the most important MC in the history of rap music," and I think it speaks to Rakim's dominance in the first five years of his career.

It's still always weird to me to hear people argue about who's the best MC. This has to do my age, and the way that the things you think at certain points in your life crystalize into something more like objective truth than opinion. I was sixteen years old in 1987, and shortly after Paid In Full came out, there was simply no debating who was the best MC. The answer to that question was Rakim, period, the end. Everyone who listened to rap knew this. At least where I was from, in the suburbs an hour outside of New York City. I have since heard stories about how there was heavy argument and rivalry around that time in the city itself. Was Boogie Down Productions' KRS-One better? Was Big Daddy Kane better? Kool G Rap? Big Daddy Kane and KRS-One and Kool G Rap are phenomenally great rappers. And certainly, lots of people knew more about rap than my friends and I did in 1987 (and more about it than my friends and I do now.) But for us, in the halls of Red Bank Regional High School in New Jersey, it was not up for discussion: Rakim was the best.

My opinion has changed over the years: I now say that Biggie Smalls is the best rapper ever. (While Jay-Z is the "greatest" rapper ever, and Ghostface Killah is my "favorite." I am a nudnik who gets hung up on semantics.) But my first reaction, my reflexive response when anyone asks the question is always still the same: "What do you mean, 'Who's the best MC?' Don't be stupid. Everybody knows it's Rakim."

Listening to Rakim now, and listening to the styles of rapping that came before and after he arrived on the scene, before and after Paid In Full came out, I think I would argue, that while I think Biggie is technically a better rapper—more eloquent, more versatile, more skilled—Rakim remains the most important rapper of all time.

His flow-smooth, monotone, patient, cold-changed the way rappers sounded more than any other rapper before or since. And his vocabulary and his ability to put abstract intellectual concepts into rhyme expanded the rap palate in the same way. He was the first modern rapper. — Dave Bry

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