Reviews: Paid In Full by Eric B. & Rakim

Paid In Full is about figuring out a way to make some money, but also figuring out a way to make yourself complete without money. It’s also about a plate of fish. Rakim perfected rapping on this song.

Background

Eric B & Rakim’s debut album Paid in Full was released on July 7, 1987, by Island-subsidiary label 4th & B’way Records. Following Eric B.’s search for a rapper to complement his disc jockey work in 1985, Rakim and Marley Marl recorded the album at Marley Marl’s home studio and Power Play Studios in New York City. On the Billboard 200 chart, the album reached number fifty-eight, and on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart, it reached number eight, and five singles were released: “Eric B. Is President”, “I Ain’t No Joke”, “I Know You Got Soul”, “Move the Crowd”, and “Paid in Full”.

As a benchmark album of golden age hip hop, Paid in Full is regarded as a classic. Rappers like Rakim, who pioneered the use of internal rhymes in hip hop, set the standard for lyricism in the genre and influenced future artists. Eric B’s heavy sampling on the album influenced hip-hop production. The RIAA certified the record platinum in 1995 after it sold over a million copies. Rolling Stone magazine ranked the album number 61 on its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2020.

Music

Rhyming patterns in Rakim’s songs diverged from those in early 1980s hip hop. His free-rhythm style had been compared to Thelonious Monk because it ignored bar lines. According to Ben Ratliff of the New York Times, Rakim’s “unblustery rapping developed the genre beyond the flat-footed rhythms of schoolyard rhymes”. 

As with his pioneering use of internal rhyme, Rakim was one of the first rappers to demonstrate the benefits of a writerly approach, which can be seen in his method of developing his technique through improvisation. In contrast to previous rappers like LL Cool J and Run-DMC, Rakim’s delivery is relaxed and stoic.

According to MTV, Rakim’s calm delivery was a result of his jazz influences; he had played the saxophone and was a fan of John Coltrane. MCs like Run and DMC, Chuck D and KRS-One leapt on the mic shouting with energy and irreverence, but Rakim had a methodical approach. His subject matter usually focused on his own rapping skills and lyrical superiority.

Rakim was praised for his “literate imagery, velvet-smooth flow, and off-the-beat rhythms” by AllMusic editor Steve Huey. Pitchfork writer Jess Harvell called him an “authoritative, burnished rapper.”

Hip-hop records began to heavily sample when Paid in Full was released in 1988, containing gritty, heavy, and dark beats. There are three instrumental tracks on Paid in Full. In his capacity as a disc jockey, Eric B had revived the art of live turntable mixing. Eric’s soul-filled sampling influenced hip hop production in the future. Eric B’s sampled percussion and scratches contain touches of horn or whistle, noted music critic Robert Christgau.

Rakim’s Influence on Rap

Rakim introduced rap’s materialism explicitly on “Paid in Full” (the song is called “Paid in Full”), but also on the album cover (he and Eric B. are both holding stacks of money and wearing large gold chains and medallions, and the background behind them is a screen of money, too, and also the album is called Paid in Full, too). 

All of the complexities of the Five Percenter philosophy hiding inside the song don’t negate that it’s a rap song about getting money.

Everybody wanted to be the next Rakim. Nobody was. However, all of the attempts at replicating him or his style changed rap—but sometimes not in good ways.

In this case, and this is truly how Rakim became a king, what he did was take the very basic rap style that all of the first rappers were doing—that hat-store style—and then placed it in a super-missile and fired it toward irrelevance. 

The sophisticated terms for what he did are internal rhyming schemes (where words within a sentence rhyme rather than just the words on the ends of sentences) and multisyllabic rhyming schemes (more than one syllable rhymed). He used these instead of the end rhyme style. But another way to describe this that is just as accurate is: He was making shit that could never be considered corny or unartistic.

Example: Run-DMC rapped, “You can see a lot in this lifespan / Like a bum eating out of a garbage can,” on a song called “It’s Like That” in 1983.

Example: Kurtis Blow rapped, “Basketball is my favorite sport / I like the way they dribble up and down the court,” on a song called “Basketball” in 1984.

On “Paid in Full,” Rakim said, “I used to roll up, this is a holdup, ain’t nothin’ funny / Stop smiling, be still, don’t nothing move but the money,” and all of the lithospheric plates on earth shattered into a trillion pieces and everyone died wow you’re a ghost right now R.I.P. you.

On “My Melody,” he said, “I take seven emcees, put ’em in a line / And add seven more brothers who think they can rhyme / Well, it’ll take seven more before I go for mine / Now that’s twenty-one emcees ate up at the same time,” and oh wow your spirit was just raised from the netherworld you’re no longer dead wow welcome back your family is going to be so happy.

Nobody had ever done anything like that, said anything like that, the way that Rakim rhymed. He took it seriously. He rapped seriously. He was an orator, and he was so utterly skilled that he was able to rap in this supreme way without spreading his personality all over the track, which is what people who weren’t even talented enough to do what he was doing were unable to avoid when they came along later.

This is no hyperbole and no half-truth: All of every style of rapping that has occurred since 1987 and will ever occur can be traced back to when Eric B. and Rakim released Paid in Full.

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