April 21, 2011

Silver Anniversary Series - Eric B & Rakim (1986)

First up in the Silver Anniversary Series has to be a record that wasn’t just a significant release in 1986, it’s probably one of the most important records in hip hop history. So, let me break it down a little further in case you might not be convinced.

The record in question is the 1986 12” release from Eric B & Rakim – Eric B is President b/w My Melody. You can listen to the remix version (from the Paid in Full LP) after the jump as well downloading a full copy of the original 12” (which has the non remix version for comparison).

For me personally, it is an all time favourite that I have never got tired of hearing. It’s a track that drew me further into hip hop and opened my eyes to what the future might hold. It provided optimism, particularly as I was starting to tire of electro which was becoming weaker and more mainstream and we hadn’t yet been blessed with the likes of PE or Cool J etc. But don’t let my personal feelings, memories and affections justify the accolade that I’ve given to this recording.

I’m not going to be breaking new ground or making any revelations if I say that Rakim is one of the greatest emcees of all time, or if I say that this is where it all started, or by listing the number of people he influenced, or by dissecting his use of internal rhymes. These topics have already been well documented and discussed, so instead, I’ll briefly explain why I think this record is so important and then provide some interesting points that are less well documented for your consideration.

When Eric B & Rakim dropped this 12” there was no telling how it would be received. It was like nothing else that had gone before it, musically or lyrically and therefore it was a huge risk, especially for an unestablished artist. It’s one of those stories that could have gone either way, and if it hadn’t been well received it could easily have been their first and final recording.

Wikipedia quote an AllStarHipHop.com interview with Eric B, in which he said:
"I took Fonda Rea’s “Over Like A Fat Rat” and said 'This is the bass line I’m going to use for this record.' Rakim spit the beer all over the wall and thought it was the funniest shit in the world. I told Rakim, just like you laughing now you going to be laughing all the way to the bank and be a millionaire one day because of this record."

Well, what if Rakim’s initial reaction had been right? In some respects he was right, as I doubt he ever laughed all the way to the bank and I suspect he’d have been lucky to make 5 figures from this record, not 7! But Eric had made a good call, and one that paved the way for a different approach from all future artists.

From day one, Eric B’s music and Rakim’s lyric’s were slower, heavier, and sounded a little more sinister than everything else that was being recorded at that time. Rakim was clearly confident, controlled and focused whilst his slow flow sounded almost menacing. Combined with his pioneering new style of using internal rhymes, and dropping science and metaphors on levels that hadn’t previously been explored, this provided an aural explosion that would leave heads craving for more.

The precedence that was set on this first single was the future blueprint for the duo, it became their trademark and they never really digressed from it. This wasn’t a fluke though, they just brought to the table what they had and were quietly confident that it was going to work.
We’re all aware of Rakim’s immense influence on many other emcees, but this particular song is probably responsible for more lyrical influences, references, replications, parody’s and interpolations than any other record in the history of hip hop (I’ve lost count of how many rappers have recited “I came in the door…”). Yet this record has hardly been sampled when compared to My Melody on its B-side.
It’s impossible to properly quantify the full scale of Eric B and Rakim’s impact on hip hop, or how much of it came from this particular record. But if you read the dozens of interviews with artists from that era, or artists that sprung up in the following years, you start to see that those early 12”s from Paid in Full raised the bar, set a new standard and motivated and inspired people.

Nerdology (the retention of trivia for later recital):

The version on the Paid in Full album is actually a remix. It contains extra background sounds at the start along with a new intro where a woman says "to show our appreciation for your support, thank you DJ's". I’m guessing this was a message to all the radio DJ’s that gave the original 12” heavy rotation.

The album track is much longer too, which is strange as the cover of the 12" claims to have the 'Extended Version' (see image below). The album version lasts 6:15 minutes, whereas the 12" is only 5:00 minutes. Confused? I am!

The cover (see image below) shows the name 'Eric B for President' but the title has always been more popularly known and published as Eric B is President. I prefer the ‘for’ version as it suggests that we should be voting for him, whereas the ‘is’ version just sounds big headed (especially for your first release).

Where does the title come from? There is no reference to Eric B’s presidency, nor justification for why he should have this role. It’s almost as if he knew that Rakim would steel the limelight so he made sure his name was all over the title so that he wouldn’t be forgotten.

Further releases, including the remastered double CD, still didn't include a copy of the original 12” version. To the best of my knowledge, there is no way of getting the original version unless you’re lucky enough to have the 12" (or you use the download link after the jump, wink wink).
It was originally released on the Zakia record label, then shortly afterwards it was released on 4th & Broadway. There are various prints of the Zakia label, some are a plain yellow/gold label, others have the pyramid logo on it.

On this first 12”, the label shows it as being Eric B featuring Rakim (see image below), not Eric B and Rakim. I’m not sure whether this is a gaff on the record companies behalf or maybe it’s the groups intended original name. Remember that (as the story goes) Eric B recruited a rapper (Rakim) to rap over his DJ’ing. If anyone has any further knowledge on this I’d be curious to know more, please leave a comment below.

Maybe it should have been called ‘Make em Clap to This’ given how many times it’s repeated throughout the song.

There is an incomplete rhyme on the LP version that I’ve never understood and it continues to irritate me to this day.
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
And then you get the annoying Make’ em, make ‘em clap to this sample dropped in somewhat erratically.
Did Eric hit a wrong button in the studio, or spill coffee on the mixing desk? Is it a form of censorship? Couldn’t Rakim think of a decent ending to that rhyme (surely not)? Maybe we should have some (sensible?) suggestions as to what that final line should have been in the comments section.
The B-side, My Melody, sounds a lot more dated than the A-side, but it’s still an outstanding tune. Within the lyrics Rakim refers to himself as both ‘The R’ and ‘Rakim Allah’ as well as his official moniker of Rakim. I can’t recall another artist at that time that had multiple pseudonyms (although I’m sure someone will point one out to me).

In the mid 1990’s various members of the Wu-Tang expressed in several interviews that too many emcees had jumped on their idea of having multiple pseudonyms (e.g. Method Man, Johnny Blaze, Tical, Hot Nicks etc). This was around the time they released their 2nd album. But Rakim had clearly predated them by some 10 years.

So, it ain't like you need to listen to this tune to remember it, in fact you could probably recite it in your sleep, but you know you want to hit the play button below and hear it just one more time, for old times sake :)

Download a copy of the full 12" (Incl. My Melody and Instrumentals)https://rapidshare.com/files/1117490794/Eric_B._Is_President___My_Melody_12____1986_.rar


  1. yo tc,

    i've always had the incomplete line down as...

    "must've got you too hot/burned off your wings"

    i presume in reference to the angel.

    in fact i'm certain he said that last night at the notts gig.

    enjoying the blog, i'm going to have a good shuftie through and catch up on your other posts.


  2. just checked the 12 when i got home, the zakia version actually has the line in it, it's the extended version on the lp that cuts it out.


  3. Thanks for your feedback. You've hot the nail on the head, unless you have the original 12 release then you'll never hear the lyric you've quoted!

    And yes, that was the line he dropped at the gig. I guess it's because he didn't have Eric B there to drop a clumsy sample over it ;)

    It was great to see him open the show with My Melody, thus taking everyone back to the begining but saving Eric B for President until later. I've uploaded the video for that tune to the YouTube channel and will update this blog with it as soon as I get time.

    Hey, with a collection (and knowledge) like yours, you should consider contributing an article of your own. What classic from '86 would you choose???

  4. Thanks bruh! I memorized it as kid and never understood why I always knew the "burned off your wings" part and never heard it past the 90s on any other recording. People used to look at me like I made up my own thing.