Rakim Allah, considered by many hip-hop aficionados (including myself) to be The Greatest Rapper of All-Time, appeared on the scene in 1987 with this album, originally released on Island Records. While most of the popular rappers at the time, from Run-DMC to LL Cool J were loud and boastful with their vocal delivery, Rakim was chill and laid back, making his song almost sound more like spoken-word than rap. He was also one of the first rappers to rhyme multiple words and phrases together, not just single words.
The only time I stop is when
Somebody drop and then
Bring ’em to the front cuz my rhyme’s the oxygen
This was a ground-breaking style at the time, we’d never heard anybody rap like that. So this album was a game-changer. Eric B. produced the music himself (with some help from Marley Marl) giving this album 7 full tracks (plus two instrumentals), which is short by today’s standards, but pretty standard-length for the time.
1/I AIN’T NO JOKE
First the sparse but uptempo beat hits you, and then you’re immediately hooked by Rakim’s rhymes. “I write a rhyme in graffiti and, every show you see me in, deep concentration cuz I’m no comedian“
Eric B.’s incestuous and hypnotic beat is immediately compelling and it’s the perfect track for Rakim to lay his vocals on.
I’m dropping bombs, but I stay peace and calm, Any emcee that disagree with me, wave your arm/And I’ll break, when I’m through breaking, I’ll leave you broke, Drop the mic when I’m finished and watch it smoke.
3/I KNOW YOU GOT SOUL
I start to think and then I sink, Into the paper like I was ink/When I’m writing I’m trapped in between the lines, I escape when I finish the rhyme.
Seriously, that line right there has always been my favorite Rakim lyric ever. I can actually visually that in my head, sinking into the lined notebook paper and then escaping when he finishing writing. It’s just so clever! And through it’s sample of Bobby Byrd’s music this is one of the first rap tracks to popularize sampling old funk songs, particularly James Brown (whom Byrd discovered).
4/MOVE THE CROWD
A nice laid-back mellow beat punctuated by smooth lyrics.
5/PAID IN FULL
A funky but mellow dance beat covers this title track, which is mostly a showcase for Eric B.’s DJ skills, with Rakim reciting just one short but memorable verse about his need for money, even reflecting on his past mis-deeds as a youngster.
I need money, I used to be a stick-up kid, So I think of all the devious things I did/I used to roll up, this is a hold up, ain’t nothing funny,Stop smiling, be still, don’t nothing move but the money/But now I learned to earn cause I’m righteous,I feel great so maybe I might just/ search for a 9 to 5, If I strive then maybe I’ll stay alive
6/AS THE RHYME GOES ON
I remember being entranced by this song when I first heard (and still am). It’s 4 minutes and Rakim raps almost the entire length in just one non-stop verse. I’d never heard of anything like that before.
I’m the R the A to the K-I-M, If I wasn’t, then why would I say I am/The microphone fiend if I was a fake,Whoever said it’s just buggin’ off the rhymes I make
7/ERIC B. IS PRESIDENT
One of their first singles, I love this song because Rakim shows how versatile he is by first preparing the listener for his lyrics (Taking off my coat, clearing my throat
The rhyme will be kicking until I hit my last note), and then switching between rapping about how dope Eric B. is as a DJ (His fingertips sew a rhyme until there’s no rhymes left,I hurry up because the cut will make ’em bleed to death), to putting a money-hungry female in her place (First you said all you want is love and affection, Let me be your angel and I’ll be your protection/Take you out buy you all kinds of things, I must have got you too hot and burned off your wings)
27 years later there are still few rappers who can hang with Rakim, he was and is truly in a class of his own. And with Eric B. backing him up on the beats and turntables they were nearly invincible. I’ve heard that they wrote and recorded this whole album in one week, doing each song in a single take, which makes it all the more impressive for a debut album. This one is definitely a classic. Chacebook rating: FIVE STARS