Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Eric B. & Rakim

  • Paid in Full [4th & Broadway, 1987] B
  • Follow the Leader [Uni, 1988] A-
  • Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em [MCA, 1990] A-
  • Don't Sweat the Technique [MCA, 1992] A-
  • The Best of Eric B. & Rakim: 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection [Hip-O, 2001] A

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Paid in Full [4th & Broadway, 1987]
Rakim raps quick and clean and almost quiet about the business at hand, which is moving the crowd. Eric B.'s grooves approach a classic swing on nothing but scratch and sampled percussion, with touches of horn or whistle deep in the mix. If you spent your life listening to people brag, sometimes without opening their mouths, you'd overrate the new crew too. B

Follow the Leader [Uni, 1988]
Ahh, sampling--it'll turn a minimalist into a melodist every time. If like me you've found their Brownian motion grooveful but a touch austere, maybe you'll get hooked by the obscure Arabian-nights snatches (first a snatch of the snatch, then finally completion), or the girls (speeded-up guys?) singing (this can't be, beatmasters please advise) "You're so stupid, you're so rough." Or the symphonic intro. Or maybe Rakim's ever-increasing words-per-minute ratio--the man loves language like a young Bob D. Beatmaster's P.S.: It's the fucking Eagles, speeded up, singing "You're so smooth, the world's so rough." A-

Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em [MCA, 1990]
Like every rapper, Rakim boasts: "I'm pushin' power that's punishin'/Prepare to be a prisoner/The hit man is the/Brother with the charisma." But he never brags. Even at warp speed, as in the title track where the four seconds just quoted can be found if you listen up, he's always calm, confident, clear. On their third album, as on their phase-shifting 1986 debut, Eric B.'s samples truly are beats, designed to accentuate the natural music of an idealized black man's voice: it's Rakim's rhythm that hits us. Whether we find that disquieting or reassuring depends on what we were scared of going in. A-

Don't Sweat the Technique [MCA, 1992]
Rakim didn't really frag that general in Iraq--wasn't even there. He's just trafficking in the metaphors nightmares are made of, exploiting the interface between horror movies and the postmodern imagination. Putting it literally: "My intellect wrecks and disconnects/Your cerebral cortex/Your cerebellum is next." And metaphorically: "I took a kid and cut off his eyelids/Killing him slow so he could see what I did/And if he don't understand what I said/I push in his eyeballs way to the back of his head/So he could see what he's getting into/A part of the mind that he's never been to." As for the star of the show, Rakim calls Eric B.'s new groove--a jazzy minimalist funk trailing uncentered horn hooks--relaxing with pep. When he hits it right, it's like the mouth you love doing the spot you forgot. A-

The Best of Eric B. & Rakim: 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection [Hip-O, 2001]
One more once, I played the six other titles on the legendary 1987 Paid in Full. They're pure, innovative, in-your-face--no doubt. But they're also turntablism with spoken decoration, of small use to anyone who hasn't internalized the "real" hip hop aesthetic. Adding seven songs from their three excellent later albums to the debut's four groundbreaking masterworks, this is where the rest of us go with their flow; I don't know another hip hop album that sweeps by so easily and rapidly. Not that there are no bumps--in a way, the terrain is all bumps. Sometimes the effect is mountain-hopping the rooftops, more often kayaking through Hell Gate. Always the mind is quicker than the beat. A