Band of the Week: Eric B. & Rakim

MEET THE BAND: Eric B. (turntables), Rakim (vocals)

DYNAMIC DUO: Back in the early '80s when he worked on the street team for a New York radio station, Eric B. decided he wanted to put out a compilation album featuring some of the best MCs from the Tri-State area. But after he met rapper Rakim, he changed his course of action, and the two teamed up to release the single "Eric. B Is President"/"My Melody" and the full-length Paid in Full. "[When I first met Rakim], 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," says Eric B. "I can remember it like it was yesterday. Rakim was drinking Ballantine Ale with the triple Xs on it. I told him I wanted to take that drumbeat and cut it up and add a bass line from another song. He spit his beer all over the wall. He thought it was the funniest shit he ever heard in his entire life." But he decided to let Eric B. do his thing, and in the wake of the success of both that first single and their debut album, Paid in Full, Eric B. & Rakim inked a deal with MCA Records and continued to achieve success into the '90s.

DON'T CALL IT A COMEBACK: In the early 2000s, the duo drifted apart. Both artists pursued other projects. Eric B. says that they never officially broke up even though they didn't tour or record during that time period. "It's like a family," he explains. "You get tired of your brothers and sisters every day, 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." Three years ago, Eric B. & Rakim resumed touring together. Eric B. says they instantly bonded once the group reformed. "People see us on stage, and they think we did rehearsals," he says. "But that's not the case. We just have good chemistry. We're family, first and foremost."

WHY YOU SHOULD HEAR THEM: With its funky bass riff and Rakim's vocal delivery, "Paid in Full" remains one of hip-hop's essential tracks. The shimmering Coldcut remix of the tune that brings Middle-Eastern instrumentation into the fold holds up as well. Eric B. says the current tour recaptures that initial magic. "We're having a great time [on tour together]," he says. "The energy we bring [to the stage] 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 on the street. 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. Who wants to see someone on stage looking all dusty? You have to keep the audience engaged."


WHERE YOU CAN SEE THEM: Eric B. & Rakim perform at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 3, at House of Blues. 

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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