“To us, in Australia, we never heard anything like that, we weren’t around that sort of culture,” producer and 1200 Techniques founder DJ Peril reflects on the immediate impact of Eric B & Rakim’s landmark debut, Paid In Full, which this year marks its 30th anniversary.
It’s still effusively praised by countless fans and followers as a vital breakthrough in hip hop.
“We were still at the stage where we were emulating,” Peril says. “A lot of guys were doing American accents. People weren’t saying too much, it was all sort of bragging, rhyming, and acting tough and talking about stuff on the block. But this record was about to change all of that.
“People started smartening up a lot of their rhymes too, not being so silly with what they were talking about. It definitely brought in a lot more subject matter.”
Peril says the scenes and stories depicted in Paid In Full provided insight into what was happening in New York, but also an understanding of what was possible as the genre spread around the world.
“Those guys were just street reporters in my book,” he says. “They were just reporting what was going on in ‘87 around where they lived. For some people, it was hard to picture where they were coming from, all you knew was you loved them.
“You had to find your own way if you were an MC to put your realism to what they were doing. but you’d take a leaf out of their book. ‘They did this, now I can do that.’ It did spawn a lot of people digging deeper and thinking more in depth about what they were doing.”
The duo’s first single was a huge revelation for Peril.
“’Eric B Is President’, for us old heads, when that hit, that hit really hard,” he says. “It was like nothing we’d ever heard before.”
He says it was possibly the clever selection of tracks and the bassline used over the beat that blew him away. In his Classic Recipes series, legendary producer Marley Marl talks about his role – although disputed by Eric B – in putting the track together using the bass groove from Fonda Rae’s ‘Over Like A Fat Rat’ with James Brown’s ‘Funky Drummer’, The Mohawks ‘The Champ’, and Mountain’s ‘Long Red’.
His concluding comments affirm the advantages of making the most of what you’ve got.
“Back in the day, with a little bit of sampling time, four tracks in a living room, and because we were limited to four tracks, we had to put the hottest things on those four tracks,” Marl continued. “Limitations made us what we were. We were making classic hip hop in the projects in a living room, so [quoting Rakim’s lyrics from ‘I Know You Got Soul’] ‘it’s not where you from, its where you’re at’.”
Being so far away from the action meant that Australian hip hop fans had to play a bit of catch up to all the fast-paced developments in the genre in the 80s.
“There was a series of breaks, called the Ultimate Breaks and Beats, which everyone used in those days.” Peril recalls studios forking out big bucks to buy double copies of this series, which gathered together some of the funkiest breaks from mostly 60s and 70s records which were widely used by DJs and music producers.
“But they’d [American producers] already had them for years, so they took all the funk from this Ultimate Breaks Series release. And these were all the breaks and beats that Cold Crush Brothers and Afrika Bambataa had given everybody, as a [lesson in], ‘this is where hip hop comes from sort of thing.’
“I’d say 90 percent of [Eric B & Rakim’s] stuff was from Ultimate Breaks and Beats. But, in saying that, you can’t take anything away from them. It’s what you do with what you have!”
In MC Rakim, the Long Island duo had its most striking element. His involvement with The Nation of Islam was a crucial factor.
“I was at the point where I needed something to uplift my world, I needed to go to the next level,” Rakim explained in a 1987 interview for Chuck D’s Hip Hop Hall of Fame.
“I was tired of running the streets, I just needed something you know, give me a little self-esteem and that’s what it did. I needed Islam to slow me down a little bit and take life more serious.”
Equally significant was the musical environment he was surrounded by as a youngster. His mother, brother and aunt (R&B singer and actress Ruth Brown) were all talented. Rakim himself grew up playing sax, drums and admiring John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk.
Rakim’s distinct skills and innovative approach was all too apparent to Peril.
“Where everybody was huffin’ and puffin…[being] overly loud, trying to say too much – which was cool, I loved that too – but when Rakim came on the scene it was real laid back, just mellow and his lyrical content was so on point and smart,” Peril says. “You could tell he took hours writing that stuff.
“The timings of his rhymes, the way they fall, it was the first time we heard that. Because he had those jazz timings in his head. People to this day, can’t believe the complexity of his rhymes so early on and how young he was. That album was a game changer, simple as that!”