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ERIC B & RAKIM Reissue Review, Melody Maker, 1998


Melody Maker, 31 October 1998

IN THE LATE EIGHTIES, Eric B & Rakim were, simply, the coolest sonic and lyrical innovators hip hop had ever seen: street-level poets and musical visionaries burning past the rest of rap to find a chilled, ferociously avant-garde sound still unsurpassed a decade on, still being reinterpreted in kind by the cutting edge of the nu skool.

Eric B & Rakim were an object lesson in the uncompromising pursuit of your own soul, and as such influenced a whole generation of b-boys, fly girls and pop dissidents. What's immediately obvious, listening to this, their 1986 debut, again is just how much there's still to learn here.

The trick was the beats: manipulated is the word — torn away from the blood and sweat of their sources and put through the grinder ('I Ain't No Joke'), emerging as an ice-cold torture chamber of funk ('Eric B Is On The Cut'), a totally new mix of roboticised 808 harshness ('My Melody') and brutal souped-up grooves ('I Know You Got Soul').

The trick was the voice: Rakim's is one of the great maverick throats in pop, like Kristin Hersh or Tim Buckley, there's a unique timbre, a blunted yet furious incision to his grain, enabling him to slip from sidewalk to solar system to inner space in a syllable ('As The Rhyme Goes On').

The trick was the always astonishing remixes: collected here on a second disc, including that Coldcut remix of 'Paid In Full' which turned TOTP into a renegade art-terrorist workshop for five mad minutes; the brilliant Wild Bunch take on 'Move The Crowd' and the incredible dub mixes that still sound like hip hop done by My Bloody Valentine.

If you want lame pop-historical testimony then sure, Eric B & Rakim changed the face of pop, were making big beat records a decade ahead of their time, are a crucial part of anyone's collection who cares about where we've come from and where we're going in this pop lark. But I'd rather say: get this, get Follow The Leader, Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em and Don't Sweat The Technique and go on your own journey, find your own way through. You'll be absorbed for a lifetime.

A flare-up of genius still undimmed. Beyond essential.

© Neil Kulkarni, 1998


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