With a smoother, more hypnotically listenable version of Run-DMC's streetwise forthrightness, Eric B. & Rakim added another layer of depth to 1980s rap music. Among the first acts to articulate a hip-hop worldview, the duo represented the first flowering of rap into a full-blown subculture. Rakim's skill as one of hip-hop's premier wordsmiths carried him over four records of mindblowing rhymes, exemplified by classic singles like "Microphone Fiend" and "Juice (Know the Ledge)." The duo even sparked the long-running trend of hip-hop acts guesting on R&B hits in 1989, with Jody Watley's top ten hit "Friends." The pair parted ways in 1992 with Rakim embarking on a hit-or-miss solo career.
After getting paid in full on their near-perfect 1987 debut, success didn't spoil the legendary Eric B. and Rakim on their 1988 follow-up. A more complete "album" than their previous singles-dominated release, Follow the Leader still stands as one of the definitive documents of hip-hop's fabled golden age. Though Eric B contributes strong production and two early turntablist blueprints ("Eric B. Never Scared" and "Just a Beat"), this was clearly Rakim's time to shine. His smooth baritone flow never tires, even when the album's energy wanes in the second half. Rakim's verses on the album's first three tracks ("Follow the Leader," "Microphone Fiend," and "Lyrics of Fury") are the stuff of hip-hop legend, and the subject matter rarely strays from the swaggering, chest-thumping template of these three classics. On "Follow the Leader," he confidently boasts "I can take a phrase that's rarely heard / Flip it / Now it's a daily word." He ain't no joke. --Hua Hsu
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