Posted April 17, 2019 by Jeff in Tunes

Eric B. & Rakim Never Missed a Beat

Eric B. and Rakim
Eric B. and Rakim

A classic hip-hop due that stormed out the gates in the 1980s with its debut album, Paid in Full, Eric B. & Rakim inked a deal with MCA and continued to release albums throughout the ’90s. The two would go their separate ways but three years ago they reconvened and began touring. While they haven’t released any new tunes, producer Eric B. says they plan to eventually go back into the studio. He recently spoke to us via phone from his Las Vegas home.

I think the two of you first met through a promoter Alvin Toney. What made you realize you’d be able to make music together?

I worked at a radio station called WBLS in New York. Frankie Crocker was our boss. We used to go to all the surrounding cities every weekend and promote the radio station. I used to go to Wyandanch Long Island, which is about 50 miles outside of New York City. I met Alvin Toney there and we became friends. I used to play Wyandanch at least twice or three times a month. Every different street would have a block party, so we’d bring the van out there and give out buttons, jackets and hats. I had met some people in all those different cities and was going to put together an album featuring all the best MCs from the Tri-State area. Alvin says he has a guy who’s really great. I knocked on the door. We sat there and talked and his brother was there. We talked about making a record and I said I wanted to use a record like James Brown’s “Funky President” and put music on top of it and go from there. I can remember it like it was yesterday. Rakim was drinking Ballantine Ale with the triple XXs on it. I told him I wanted to take that drum beat and cut it up and add a bass line from another song. He spit the beer all over the wall. He thought it was the funniest shit he ever heard in his entire life. His brother said, “Eric, that’s a brilliant plan. Don’t abandon that plan. Don’t listen to my brother. He just writes rhymes. That’s all he does. I’m a trained musician, and that sounds like a brilliant plan.” The funny thing is that I told Rakim, “You laughing now but when you get paid in full, I want to see you have that same laugh.” That’s where the album title came from. We just hit it off.

My plan to make records with other people got set aside because we had such a great working relationship.

You were one of the first hip-hop acts to start sampling. What pushed you in that direction?

Being a DJ and playing the parks and learning different breakbeats
from other DJs before me, like King Charles. There was Infinity Machine and
Grandmaster Flash. Listening to that, they used to cut all the breakbeats. When
it was my turn to make music, I had to remember what they did and how I felt
when I heard them.

What was the first song you wrote?

“My Melody.” It was a song Rakim had written. I just went in and
changed the melody. We had to cut it down because the original was so long. He
kept rhyming and rhyming and wouldn’t stop.

You went to Power Play Studios in New York to make Paid in Full. What was that experience like?

It was uncharted territory. There was no blueprint for us to
follow someone else. We were left on our own to take these ideas in our head
and get them down to multi-track. We were kids. I’d tell people all the time
that I’d love to say there was a great scheme. We were just figuring it out.

Did you know the song “Paid the Full” would be a hit when you first cut it?

Never. “Paid in Full” was the last record we did. That’s why the
vocals weren’t that long. It was just a song we put together.

The lyrics reference how you were just trying to finish the record.

That’s what it was. We were on the phone and we were there so we were
laughing and joking and getting things done because this was the last record and
we had nothing left to talk about. I told Rakim, “I’ll just write something.”
We were in the studio. It was 6 or 7 o’clock in the morning and we had to do
something to fill it up.

I’ve always like the Coldcut remix of the tune. Are you a fan of that remix?

We hated it when we first heard it. We thought it was the worst
stuff we ever heard in our life. I remember when we first heard it too. We
played the Red Parrot in New York and did the morning show in New York and left
at 4 or 5 in the morning. We got on the Concord and by the time we got to
London, we went straight to the stage. We were in the car and they played the
Coldcut remix. We told them to turn that mess down. If you look at the video, what
they did was take our performances from a London TV show called Top of the Pops. It was a family show
and your family would eat dinner and watch European artists. We went through
the airport and everyone was looking at us like we were aliens because we were
a bunch of black kids with jewelry. We went from that and everyone was
screaming and wanted our autographs. They thought we were so brilliant on Top of the Pops. I thought, “Oh, ‘Top of
the Pops’ must be the show.” We go to the airport and everybody knows us.

You signed a deal with MCA after Paid in Full was so successful. What were the MCA years like?

Greatest experience in the world. One of my favorite documentaries
is called The Last Mogul. Lew
Wasserman was there. I learned a lot from him. He always told me that when you
have meetings, leave nothing on your desk. People see things on your desk.
Every timeyou come in the office your desk should be clear. He must’ve had about
200 black suits and all of them looked the same. He built Universal Studios. I
came in with the original guard. Al Teller was the president at the time. He’s
the one who build Live Nation. I had a great education. 

At some point, you two drifted apart. What drove you apart?

It’s like a family. You get tired of your brothers and sisters every
day, but you’re still family. You argue with your brother and sister, but
you’re still family. I wanted to do other things. I did boxing management. I
wanted to learn movies and television. Time has a way of escaping and getting
past you. I realized I needed to call my brother.

You reunited in 2016. What was that reunion like?

It’s just like being with your brother. It’s like you were
together yesterday and you never missed a beat. People see us on stage and they
think we did rehearsals. That’s not the case. We just have good chemistry. We’re
family first and foremost. It’s not like you take two individuals and have
forced them to be on stage together.

Have you worked on any new tunes?

Not yet.

What is the live show like?

We’re having a great time. We have great visuals. Sonically, it’s really together, and the energy we bring with the clothes and the costumes gives it a whole different energy than a rapper who’s wearing the same clothes as a guy you just walked past. We’ve always done iconic. It’s not just a rapper with a T-shirt and a pair of jeans on. We worry about costume changes and how it looks. The records are just as important as your look. Who wants to see someone on stage looking all dusty? You have to keep the audience engaged.


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].