Producer: Eric B.
Album: Paid In Full
Label: Zakia Records, 4th & Broadway
"I came in the door, 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 off my coat, clearing my throat/The rhyme will be kicking it until I hit my last note."
That, friends, is pure lyricism at its best. Those are the opening lines to Eric B. & Rakim's first-ever single, "Eric B. for President," the opening salvo to the duo's game-shaking debut album, Paid in Full. "Eric B. for President," with a neck-snapping sample flip (of Fonda Rae's "Over Like a Fat Rat"), introduced Rakim as a new breed of MC. Before Rakim made his auspicious debut in 1986, the best rappers were lyrically excellent but at times abrasively so—Rakim, though, delivered his intricate, multi-syllabic rhymes with the coolness of a zen master.
Rakim redefined what an MC could be: a master swordsman who cuts through his competition with razor-sharp words. In 1986, as it's remained throughout his entire career, there was nothing flashy about Rakim. He wasn't a pretty boy, or a militant soldier in a rapper's garb. He was the dude you'd see on the corner or in the nearby Mickey D's. Rakim put his lyrics above all, and the six-minute rap-fest "Eric B. for President" was a positively and refreshingly one-dimensional exhibition of his writing chops—the same kind that post-Rakim disciples like Nas, Eminem, and current lyrical extraordinaire Kendrick Lamar continue to execute. —Matt Barone