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The Underrated: Eric B. and Rakim's Follow The Leader



By @CherchezLaPorsh 


Tracklist 
1. Follow the Leader 
2. Microphone Fiend 
3. Lyrics of Fury 
4. Eric B. Never Scared 
5. Just A Beat 
6. Put Your Hands Together 
7. To The Listeners 
8. No Competition 
9. The R
10. Musical Massacre 
11. Beats For The Listeners 

Hip hop duos have never been in short supply throughout the years. Sure, some are better than others, some have more impact and some are just one hit wonders, but these two are a cut above all of them. They not only revolutionized hip hop, they brought a standard of production, lyrical ability and wordplay that is unmatched. No, I’m not talking about Outkast, let's go further back by about 5 years or so, I’m talking about Eric B & Rakim. These two came together in 1987 with their debut album “Paid in Full” and the story of that album is remarkable. I won’t spend too much time detailing it, but it’s worth mentioning because it CLEARLY shows the caliber at which both Eric and Rakim were at. Their debut album was started AND recorded in ONE WEEK. IN 1987!!!! There were no crazy computer programs that could mix and master sounds and digitally record everything with ease. Rakim wrote all the lyrics on the spot and then immediately went into the booth and rapped them. Now keep that in mind because guess what? That album, as rushed as it was, is still regarded as a huge classic in hip hop. They secured themselves as a powerhouse duo and lyrical masterminds. They would become the influence and mentors of future emerging artists and Rakim would be the standard of a “God MC”

Now, let's get to the actual fun stuff. Fast forward to July of 1988. With better time management and fresh production ideas, Eric and Ra would once again come together to bless the hip hop world and truly show that their claim to fame was factual and merited. From this, “Follow The Leader” was born. This would be the follow up to their previous release, with only 9 tracks upon official release (11 are on the album now), none of which are “fillers”, this album is short, sweet, and to the point. Let’s take a look at how both of these guys kill it on lyrics and production.



The album starts off with the title track and first single from this album, “Follow The Leader” and of course it starts off with the familiar scratches (we would have heard on their first album).  The beat incorporates an interesting, almost horror movie like instrumental, but works well against the lyrics, here take a look at the first verse:

“Astray into the Milky Way - world's outasight/
Far as the eye can see - not even a satellite/
Now stop and turn around and look/
As ya stare in the darkness, ya knowledge is took!/”

What Rakim does best besides wordplay is imagery. He has this impeccable ability of painting a vivid image. Check out verse two:

“Eric B on the blades, bleedin to death - call the ambulance/
Pull out my weapon and start to squeeze/
A magnum as a microphone murderin' MC's/"

Like I said, this album is to the point and with great track placement. This was not only a great song to start with because of the title, but basically they are elaborating on what the fans already knew: these two are leaders. without a doubt.

The second track is also the second single from this album, and it’s definitely interesting to me. Anyone who is familiar with Rakim knows that he is constantly referring to himself as a “Microphone Fiend”, so it comes as absolutely no surprise that there would be a song with the same title. I have an immense appreciation for this song, as it’s essentially a rundown of the process, the thought, the heart and the evolution of (his) rhyming. My appreciation for this lies in the ease at which it flows and as a listener, I truly get a sense of the passion for the craft. The lyrics are ridden with insight into this and I would honestly have to quote the entire song, but I’ll attempt it with chronological snippets (again note the imagery that Ra includes here as well)

Here starts with a young Rakim:

“I was a fiend before I became a teen/
I melted microphones instead of cones of ice cream/
Music orientated/
so when hip-hop was originated/
Fitted like pieces of puzzles”

And he continues with the imagery of how rapping sort of stuck with him throughout life:

“Don't it sound amazing 'cause every rhyme is made and/
Thought of, Cuz it's sort of...an addiction/
Magnatized by the mixing/
Vocals, vocabulary, your verses, you're stuck in/
The mic is a drano, volcanoes erupting/
Rhymes overflowing/
Gradually growing/”

And here we have that passion and heart I mentioned:

“Ladies and Gentleman, You're about to see/
A pasttime hobby about to be/
Take it to the maximum/
I can't relax see, I'm/
Hype as a hyperchrondriac 'cause the rap be one-/
Hell of a antidote/
Something you can't smoke/
More than dope/
You're trying to move away but you can't”

and before we get to the next track, I have to mention how much I love the way he ends this song with “you'll remember you seen the fiend of a microphone, I'm the microphone fiend” and this leaves me at almost a loss for words. What do you even say to that? He absolutely killed it with this track.



This next one is probably the most talked about on the album and the third single, “Lyrics of Fury" and the track title and track placement here is flawless.  Although the singles from this album didn’t have much commercial success, fans loved them and this was no different. Chris Rock is quoted as saying “"Lyrics Of Fury" is probably, lyrically, the best rapping anyone's ever done" and he wasn’t wrong. Eric B. samples James Brown on this one, which was a great choice because the beat definitely drives the “fury”, and that saxophone sound is dizzying coupled with Ra’s lyrics. This song is forceful. I love intricate wordplay in rap songs, this track is stacked with them, here are my favorites:

“the fiend of a rhyme on the mic that you know/
It's only one capable/
Breaks-the unbreakable/
melodies-unmakable/
pattern-unecsapable..”

“...I'm a tear you apart/
But I'm a spare you a heart/
Program into the speed of the rhyme, prepare to start/
rhythm's out of the radius/
insane as the craziest/
musical madness, MC ever made”

Chris Rock was right, this track is intense. The beat, the lyrics, everything about it just works. Rakim spitting verse after verse and Eric on the tables is just pure hip hop perfection.

Speaking of perfect, I can’t say enough about this next one for a few reasons. Here’s why:

1) I feel like it’s a follow up track on a follow up album, basically this to me is an extension of “Eric B Is President” from the Paid in Full album.

2) This is a perfect showcase of Eric’s abilities on the turntables hence “Eric B is Never Scared” and I absolutely love the title, because he’s not. He kills it on this track. I also love that they included this because there are minimal lyrics so the beat is never overshadowed by Rakim.

3) TRACK. PLACEMENT. As a midway point, it’s definitely like a 5 minute intermission. We had just listened to crazy lyrics, intense flow and incredible energy from Rakim so this is a dope “reset” before getting into the next set of tracks. I think it’s incredibly gutsy to put something like this on an album, but if anyone can pull this off, it’s definitely these two.

Next up is “Put Your Hands Together” and much needed! The way this track starts out speaks once again to Eric’s exceptional abilities on production. The song starts off with noticeably slow piano instrumentals and then livens up with a jazzy orchestra, of course Rakim’s voice and the familiar turntable scratching. This song  has a much more fun and “dance-y” beat, perfect for the overall feel of the album and shows a more relaxed side of Rakim, one that doesn’t need rough, sharp sounds to convey his point.

If anyone wonders why Rakim is held in such high regard and isn’t convinced he merits the rank up until this point, the track “To The Listeners” would support this claim. This is like an “educational piece” where Ra is essentially teaching how this entire rap/music/DJ-ing thing is done as he opens with:

“It's to the listeners, for those that have a ear for this/
State of the art, engineered for the mix/

And then verse after verse is just laced with references to the art, his previous songs, previous albums, even what could be considered as foreshadowing of his future album (the 18th Letter), whether intentional or not. This man is a genius, they both are. This track really is an extension of the overall concept of the album, as they are definite “leaders” no question about it and this sort of plays into challenging those who don’t agree to show otherwise. Personally, I don’t think that’s possible and I have yet to see it. And OF COURSE that exact thing is addressed in the song that follows. “No Competition” is amazing. I love the confidence, and lines like “Competition is none, I remain at the top like the sun” or “We can go topic from topic, whenever I drop it, try to stop it” and in ’88, no one was doing what these two were doing with the same ease. These bold statements and self-boasting words are well deserved.



Here’s the only problem with such a short track list, we’re almost at the end. We are left with two more songs, both of which are great. “The R” which is pretty self explanatory, just from the title the listeners know what to expect: another boastful and accurate depiction of Rakim. Once again, for those who recognize the talent and greatness, this song is a reiteration of what we know and love. Critics will constantly say Ra “oversells” himself, but he really does have the talent, consistency and quality to back it up. My favorite part of this track is this one right here:

“Hurry up and learn the words and repeat it wit me/
Then soon you're in tune and up to par/
And then you're doing it wit the R../”

The connectivity piece is what I, as a fan, look for in every artist, and I get it, right there. I can’t ever explain how much I appreciate when artists allow their listeners to connect to their music and of course Eric killing it in the background as always, the beat on this one is unlike any other track thus far. It’s rhythmic in a way that smooths out Rakim’s already amazing voice and the breaks are amazing for emphasis. I really like every aspect of this track.

And finally, we have “Musical Massacre”. These two leave us with everything we know and appreciate from them. Eric’s scratching and Ra’s dope rhyming. Consistency is definitely their thing and the wordplay is phenomenal on this. Rakim sort of throws in a lot of subtle shots here too, though I’m not even sure who he was referring to (reports say maybe BDK, but who knows), as there was no known beef at the time, but he says things like “Nothin’s pumpin, who do you think ya foolin?  Tommy tucker, the neighborhood sucker”, which is an interesting reference. Then he goes on to say: “James Brown must have been dusted, disgusted, now he can’t be trusted”. This was an obvious reference to a lawsuit mess with James Brown, which happened at the time of the “Paid in Full” release. Either way, the lyrics stay in true reflection of the title. It was a massacre on MC’s/artists in general and a fantastic way to end the album.

As I said, this duo was truly unstoppable. Eric on production capturing the sounds the 80’s was known for, incorporating dope samples and infusing tracks with his own “flavor” would be the perfect pairing to Rakim’s aggressively smooth flow. The talent doesn’t stop there, to think this was entirely written and self produced just one year after their debut is remarkable. The talent in Hip hop is plentiful, but every now and then legends emerge and come together to bring nothing but utter greatness and that’s exactly what happened here. Eric B and Rakim will forever be ranked as one of the top duos, if not THE BEST duo in the history of hiphop. They really perfected the craft and blessed us with it.

-Porsha 

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