That Paid in Full is one of the most quoted hip-hop albums of all-time makes sense, because I don’t think any rapper ever sat down writing a verse without Rakim’s words passing through his mind, influencing him consciously or subconsciously. Because, simply put, this is where MC-ing as an art was taken to a whole other new level for millions to follow. And the damnedest thing is that Rakim, in a rare instance for an artist, managed to not only revolutionize his field but also remain among the best in it still to this day.
But what exactly makes him so different from his predecessors? Well first of all, it’s the technical ability. I’m usually not the one to go into these types of aspects, but Rakim’s internal rhymes, multi-syllable rhymes and bar-free continuity were something simply unheard before in rap. And then in perfect accordance with his skill is his attitude – he’s the first MC to sound wise and experienced, as opposed to young and hungry. He just oozes confidence, delivering everything in a laid-back manner; because what’s the urgency when you know you’re the best in the game anyway? He takes time with every line, making sure you’re not only gonna hear but also memorize the clever metaphors. And yet he never stops, the verses go on and on and on ‘till the break of dawn.
The pairing with Eric B. makes sense then because the DJ’s beats are the perfect platform – steady for Rakim to go in what direction he damn pleases, sparse because who would want to overshadow the rapper, and yet always in search of new sounds and samples to keep the listener’s attention. This formula is exemplified and perfected as early as the album’s first song – I Ain’t No Joke boosts a wonderfully 80s sax-and-scratching beat and Rakim doing his thing for three equally impressive verses. You know you’re in for a treat.
In terms of historical importance, I Know You Got Soul is the album’s central piece for it pioneers another aspect: the incorporation of James Brown samples that would dominate the hip-hop world for many years. Naturally, it is the album’s funkiest song, but it’s also one of the most memorable lyrically with so many quotables that Rakim even built new songs around some of them for the group’s next album (“microphone fiend”, “follow the leader”). In terms of sheer greatness, you just can’t beat the title track – and no, I don’t mean the abomination that is the Coldcut remix of it. Don’t let yourselves fooled by the gimmicky, sample-amalgam appeal of that one; how can a remix that takes one of the greatest hip-hop verses of all-time and dares to interrupt it halfway through really beat the original? No, no, the album version is the real deal, folks.
None of the album’s remaining songs are that good or relevant, but if you enjoy Rakim’s style you’ll most likely dig every song he’s featured on – the synth-driven Move the Crowd and rugged-and-raw As the Rhyme Goes On. Maybe even My Melody and Eric B. Is President, although the effect they put on his voice has dated rather badly (yeah, I know President is supposed to be a classic because it was their first single, but in retrospect and in the context of the album it really doesn’t stand out). True problems only occur when Eric B. decides to go solo, with 3 instrumental jams that don’t really have any purpose of existence – he’s simply not interesting enough of a producer to afford losing Rakim.
But that’s doesn’t really hurt his legacy; too many reviewers seem to understate the DJ’s contributions because of his solo songs. It’s true that Rakim will always be the star here, and deservedly so, but it’s the combination of the two that made the album so influential at the time of its release and that guaranteed its classic status for as long…for as long as hip-hop will exist as a genre, I guess.
Categories: Album Reviews