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Eric B. & Rakim change the flow of rap with ‘Paid in Full’

todayAugust 4, 2023

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    Eric B. & Rakim change the flow of rap with ‘Paid in Full’ NPR

Rakim (left) and Eric B., 1987 David Corio / Contributor/Getty Images
Rakim (left) and Eric B., 1987 David Corio / Contributor/Getty Images

When hip-hop got its start 50 years ago, it was a DJ cutting between two record albums and an MC rhyming over the beats. The the rhymes had predictable patterns; they almost always fell at the ends of the lines.

But in 1987, there was a seismic shift in the complexity of rap activated by Eric B. & Rakim and their album Paid in Full. They introduced internal rhyme schemes that pushed rap into new directions and challenged every MC that followed.

https://open.spotify.com/album/3miZDfDnP7SmOXAJXWdFmz?si=A_KNGMH-TQi-ygwjvRflNQ

“I wish I could rap like him,” says culture critic and music journalist Kiana Fitzgerald.

She says early hip-hop artists like Kurtis Blows or Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were more focused on preserving the sound of hip-hop as it was in the beginning.

But not Rakim.

“He said, you know what, I’m going take these complex concepts and ideas and I’m going to place them in unconventional places for hip-hop,” Fitzgerald says.

In one of his early songs, “My Melody,” Rakim places the rhyme in the center of the bar instead of at the end, which Fitzgerald says flipped the traditional customs of hip-hop rhythm and lyrics at the time.

“A repetition of words, just check out my melody/

Some bass and treble is moist, scratching and cutting a voice/

And when it’s mine that’s when the rhyme is always choice.”

“I was shooting for something different,” Rakim told NPR in 2009. “You know, like, some of my influence was John Coltrane. I played the sax as well. So, listening to him play in the different rhythms that he had, I was trying to write my rhymes as if I was a saxophone player.”

A lot of MC’s have been inspired by Rakim’s rhymes and rhytms from Eminem to Lil Wayne to Houston artists like Bun B and Z-Ro, says Fitzgerald.

“They’ve all interpolated or sampled direct lines from Paid in Full,” she says. “And that really goes to show that, you know, Rakim ain’t no joke!

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Transcript :

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

When hip-hop got its start 50 years ago, it was a DJ cutting between two records and an MC rhyming over the beats. But for rap’s first decade, the rhymes had a bit of a predictable pattern.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “THE BREAKS”)

KURTIS BLOW: (Rapping) Brakes on a bus, brakes on a car, breaks to make you a superstar.

FADEL: The rhyme almost always fell at the end of the line. But there was a seismic shift in the complexity of rap in 1987 with the debut of Eric B. and Rakim. Cultural critic Kiana Fitzgerald is looking back at a few of the game changing moments in hip-hop. And today, she examines the album “Paid In Full.”

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “ERIC B IS PRESIDENT”)

ERIC B AND RAKIM: (Rapping) I came in the door. I said it before – I’ll 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…

KIANA FITZGERALD: The early hip-hoppers, from the Kurtis Blows to the Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Fives, were more focused on preserving the sound of hip-hop as it was in the beginning. When Rakim came along, he wanted to really put the emphasis on the internal rhymes. He said – you know what? – I’m going to take these complex concepts and ideas, and I’m going to place them in unconventional places for hip-hop.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “ERIC B IS PRESIDENT”)

ERIC B AND RAKIM: (Rapping) I don’t bug out or chill or be acting ill. No tricks in ’86, it’s time to build. Eric, be easy on the cut. No mistakes allowed because to me, MC means move the crowd. I made it easy to dance to this.

FITZGERALD: So listen to this song. It’s called “My Melody.” And it was one of the first songs that Eric B. and Rakim worked on together.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “MY MELODY”)

ERIC B AND RAKIM: (Rapping) A repetition of words, just check out my melody. Some bass and treble is moist, scratching and cutting a voice. And when it’s mine, that’s when the rhyme is always choice. I wouldn’t…

FITZGERALD: I wish I could rap like him (laughter). All right. He says, a repetition of words, just check out my melody. Some bass and treble is moist, scratching and cutting a voice. And when it’s mine, that’s when the rhyme is always choice. He placed the rhyme in the center of the bar instead of at the end, which is what we were typically used to hearing in hip-hop. Rakim talked to NPR in 2009 about his style and influence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

RAKIM: I was shooting for something different. You know, like, some of my influence was John Coltrane. I played the sax as well. So listening to him play in the different rhythms that he had, I was trying to write my rhymes as if I was a saxophone player.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “MY MELODY”)

ERIC B AND RAKIM: (Rapping) When I approach, I exercise like a coach – using a melody and add numerous notes. And when the mic and the R-A-K-I-M is attached, like a match, I will strike again.

FITZGERALD: I feel like Rakim is like a master weaver. He’s someone that can take a concept and stick it through this, you know, entry point and then make it come out this other side in a way that you wouldn’t have anticipated. And I think that’s what made this song and this project so special.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “MY MELODY”)

ERIC B AND RAKIM: (Rapping) Ch-ch-ch-check out my melody.

FITZGERALD: After “Paid In Full,” hip-hop really was never the same. It became a playground for people to just experiment. A lot of MCs that are still working today have directly utilized the way that he speaks and raps and rhymes. From, you know, an Eminem to a Lil Wayne, to, you know, Houston artists like Bun B and Z-Ro, they’ve all interpolated or sampled direct lines from “Paid In Full.” And that really goes to show that, you know, Rakim ain’t no joke.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “I AIN’T NO JOKE”)

ERIC B AND RAKIM: (Rapping) I ain’t no joke. I used to let the mic smoke.

FADEL: That was Kiana Fitzgerald. Her new book is called “Ode To Hip-Hop: 50 Albums That Define 50 Years Of Trailblazing Music.” She’ll break down another album next week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Written by: NPR

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