Class Of ’88: Paid In Full

When you look at Rap music as a whole and more importantly understand its make up, the term classic should only be used sparingly. Too often the new Hip-Hop generation rushes to christen the latest release by a Johnny come lately as Godly. Whether or not they were musically raised by wack rappers or just […]

When you look at Rap music as a whole and more importantly understand its make up, the term classic should only be used sparingly. Too often the new Hip-Hop generation rushes to christen the latest release by a Johnny come lately as Godly. Whether or not they were musically raised by wack rappers or just feel braver talking online, they still know not the error in their ways. But time is the only factor that can dictate if something is timeless and Eric B. & Rakim can attest to that fact.


Originally released on July 7, 1987, Paid In Full would be a flawless debut. Prior to Rakim picking up the microphone, rappers put very little focus on lyrical technique. While most would employ rudimentary flows, The R. ushered in complex rhymes, striking imagery, and educated flows all stemming from the streets and the teachings of Islam. This different style of emceeing would be soon adapted by numerous acts to follow as the standard manner to rhyming. Production wise the beats were a stunning blend of multiple sounds layered over knocking drum patterns. Joints like “Move The Crowd” and “I Know You Got Soul” would be made up of ten or more samples alone. Clearly this was a turning point in Rap.


With twenty years in the bank, we pay tribute to a true masterpiece. To put Paid In Full in the proper light, we speak to founding member Eric B. The man behind it all gives us a rundown on this epic, clears some confusion, and paints a clear picture of how influential this album was and always will be. Let’s start with the opening track “I Ain’t No Joke.”


Eric B.: You know what Martin, at the time for me to sit here and say we put together this calculated album to be a great album would be a lie. We were just doing records that felt good. I could go for track for track and it wouldn’t really make any sense. For me to sit here and talk about I did this record for this reason wouldn’t really be the truth. Understood. Let’s get into some of the sessions if you don’t mind.


Eric B.: You know what’s so funny, it wasn’t track by track. The reason Paid In Full is so short is because we stood in the studio for dam near a week. The whole album came together in a week. Listen to Paid In Full and listen to the lyrics on it and listen to how short they are. That’s because Rakim wrote it right there and we been in the studio like for a whole forty eight hours trying to get the album finished. We basically did the album in a week. That’s when you have guys like EPMD; it’s so funny. I laugh at some of the stuff we used to do. Eric Sermon is one of the funniest guys in world when it comes to recording. The reels at the time would cost two hundred a piece. Eric Sermon would put his whole album on one reel. You could take one reel and get a whole EPMD album. I laugh at all our recording practices and all the stuff we used to do. It’s simple but it’s really complex to go back and say we did this and we did that. At the time we were just into making feel good music. How did you know the music was going to work?


Eric B.: One of my biggest critics and one of my greatest friends was Doug E. Fresh. I would do tracks and songs and after I do them I would take them to Doug E. Fresh’s house. Doug was and still is one of the greatest entertainers in music, and we all respected Doug’s ear for music. He had been traveling around the world. I used to always take the records by Doug’s house. Was there anything he wasn’t feeling from Paid In Full from jump?


Eric B.: No. It’s pretty funny; it wasn’t like he wasn’t feeling a record. It was like taking your paper to your professor. Doug would say “Eric, how did you come up with this?” He would sit there and pick it apart and I would tell him well I got this from that and I got this from here. Doug would look at me and say “You know what Eric, that’s kind of interesting.” He would sit there and listen to the lyrical content and say “This is an ill record.” There were a couple of people I would bounce the records of off. My brother Ant Live was definitely one of my biggest critics. You can come off stage in front of twenty thousand people, Ant Live can make you feel like got boo’d. That’s how much of a tough critique he was. So to get past those two critics, I knew that it was going to be a successful record. I was speaking to Marley about three weeks ago and I asked him to give me some commentary about the two records he produced on Paid In Full so I can combine it with your words for the track by track layout. This is some of what he had to say:


“Those two songs I did were their first two records. Let me make that clear. “My Melody” was Rakim’s first recording with Eric B. When the first MC didn’t show up, which was Freddie Foxx; we gave Eric B. another shot to get someone else in the studio. He was like “I know my boy from Long Island will come out here, so give me another shot.” So I gave him another shot and he came. Just think if Foxx would have showed up the first day. There probably would have never been a Eric B. and Rakim. That’s crazy.”


Eric B.: That’s not true. First of all let’s go back. Marlon was the engineer of the session, not the producer of the session. If he produced on the record it would have said he produced and he would have got publishing. Am I correct? Correct.


Eric B.: Marlon has not gotten a dollar in publishing and never has taken us to court to get publishing and he is not the producer. What happened was Marlon was the engineer. Let me give you how the whole thing started. When I went to Long Island I met a guy named Alvin Toney. Alvin took me around and I was working for WBLS at the time I was their mobile DJ and I used to play at all their mobile events. I met Alvin all the way in Wyandanch Long Island, and he’s like “We got MC’s out here and this and that, I got my man Freddie Foxx.” We went to Freddie Foxx’s house and he wasn’t home. He was like “I got another dude, he nice too!” “He has a totally different style than Foxx; he got an aggressive style.” “This dude got a smooth laid back style.” So Alvin takes me to Rakim’s house and we start talking.


So I meet Rakim’s brother Stevie Blass. Stevie was working at a plant that was making bootleg records. It was a backdoor pressing plant so he had every record there was. So I chose some records and I was cutting it in the basement. I’ll never forget this. Rakim was down there drinking beer. I put the beat on and I had to put a bass line on it. So I took Fonda Rea’s “Over Like A Fat Rat” and said this is the bass line I’m going to use for this record. Rakim spit the beer all over the wall and thought it was the funniest sh*t in the world. I told Rakim, just like you laughing now you going to be laughing all the way to the bank and be a millionaire one day because of this record.


I took the records to Marley Marl’s house in Queensbridge and paid Marley Marl to be the engineer. Marley got paid. That’s why he’s not a producer, that’s why he is not getting publishing. I brought the music. I just couldn’t work the equipment because that’s not what I did. If you look on the record, it says mixed by Marley Marl and MC Shan. The reason for that is, Marlon used to tell me that Rakim was wack. “Yo E. this guy is rhyming too slow and he’s giving me a headache.” He would do all these different excuses. Shan was in the house. The record company agreed to put out “My Melody” but we needed a mix. Me and Shan sat there the whole time trying to figure out a mix ourselves. If you listen to the record, it has highs and lows. There were great sounding records at the time, but I listen to stuff on the record now and it sends chills through me like dam how did we deliver this? Me and Shan did all the mixes because Marley Marl didn’t want to do them because Rakim was rhyming too slow and he was Marley a headache. Okay, here is what Marley said in regards to Shan engineering the session:


“What’s ironic about those two sessions was MC Shan was an assistant engineer or an apprentice at my studio. So I let Shan record Rakim’s vocals for those songs.”


Eric B.: That’s not true. Them dudes were at a different place in their life and they were getting high and I don’t get high so I remember everything. I am so sick of all these lies that these dudes tell. They continue to perpetuate these lies and it’s ridiculous. Shan wasn’t trying to get his feet wet with the engineering. Shan was down there with me and he was like “You my man, let’s try to see if we can work these records.” That’s how it came about. I know what it is. Marley can’t tell you where he got the records from. I brought the records with me, I knew what I wanted. That’s why he’s not a producer and he don’t get a publishing. In regards to making “My Melody” this is what he had to say.


“For “My Melody” me and Eric we were “Rising To The Top” lovers. He was like “Why don’t you replay “Rising To The Top?” So I was like bet, so I just chopped up a beat off the head.”


Eric B.: Dude, that’s not true. “My Melody” was a song Rakim already had and all the other melodies came from stuff Rakim’s brother Stevie Blass. That’s another lie. Rakim already did a record called “My Melody,” and he had rhymed for like a half an hour on the tape. That’s the short version you hear on the album. Rakim had a record he had written a long time ago, and Stevie had played the music and when me and Marlon came back in we did the song over. Just like the movie Paid In Full, they always talk about that Alpo always played “Paid In Full.” They did not play “Paid In Full.” They played “Eric B. Is President.” “Paid In Full” hadn’t come out at that time when Alpo was doing that stuff they were doing. It’s a lot of inconsistencies. Production wise some of the records on the album were stacked with ten different samples on them.


Eric B.: It was the engineer Patrick Adams. Pat would let me dream and he would push the envelope for me. With “Chinese Arithmetic” I was just in the studio scratching. Patrick was recording and put everything together. Pat was definitely my internet; he was my eyes and ears to the world. He knew how to take any dream I had and search it out and make it happen. I was like Patrick, I want to put ten different records on top of the record, I want a sound here, I want this to happen and that to happen, he would go out and smoke a cigarette and come back and say I got it. I would come back in an hour and everything I asked for would be on the record. Let’s switch gears a little. Can you describe the time when the album dropped?


Eric B. You know what, we were on the road and we laughed because we thought our records were never going to make it on radio. The record just took a life of its own. We went to anywhere from the Apollo to Puerto Rico to Helsinki Finland. We were in so many different places. I remember being in Finland and we were the only Black guys in the club. I went to Africa a couple of times. It’s pretty funny how people are just getting on to Dubai. We were doing so much at the time but now it’s the norm for someone to do a Rap record and go to Finland. We were on a real rollercoaster ride in such a short time. It’s a common opinion in Hip-Hop that when Rakim came out he changed the game with his flow. What’s your stance?


Eric B.: When I heard him rap, it was something totally different and out of the norm. I liked it; it was like this kid got a different swagger and a different style than everyone else. At the end of the day when RUN-DMC was doing the leather suits and the hats; they were doing the mainstream pop music, what Eric B. And Rakim was doing was street music. It was a change of the guards. When N.W.A. came around saying “F*** The Police,” they changed sh*t up. When Biggie came around on our side, it was another changing of the guards. It was gutter music what he was doing but it was just the changing of the guards. That’s all it is. Music changes every six months. When did you know you made a classic record with Paid In Full?


Eric B.: When someone sent me an email saying Yahoo and AOL said that Paid In Full was the number one record in the first thirty years of Hip-Hop. Another thing that made Paid In Full so hot was the album cover. You and Rakim rocking the suits and the ropes; it’s a timeless shot.


Eric B.: Rakim grew up in Brooklyn before he moved to Long Island. It was all our street guys that we were rocking with. It was Supreme, I consider him the album designer because that was his call. We were at [Dapper] Dan’s and it was his idea for the suits. Are you referring to Supreme from the Supreme Team in Queens or Supreme from Fort Greene?


Eric B.: Supreme Magnetic from Fort Greene. I’ve only seen Supreme from Queens in passing about four or five times in my life. What about the truck jewels. Do you still have that stuff?


Eric B.: The Rolls Royce [piece] is all in the garage. I would never wear that stuff again. Come on, I come into a party with that stuff on I would look like a clown. It’s a new day.

When we were touring, we were good for the economy. I didn’t have a good idea of economics at the time. We were responsible for making the Rolls Royce popular; we were responsible for making Mercedes Benz popular. When I bought a Rolls Royce, they told me that’s an old white man’s car. My first car that I ever owned in my life was a Rolls Royce. I didn’t have a hooptie; I didn’t have a van or nothing. When I had the Mercedes, back then only dentists drove Mercedes. So we made all these things popular. Let’s go back to the jewelry; we made gold and diamonds popular. On the back of the album cover we all had velour Fila suits. I had a conversation with Puff one time and he was like “Eric, the reason why I made velour Sean John suits is because I remember when ya’ll used to come with the Fila suits.” We got those suits from a tennis store. We had a certain sense of style that is still popular right now; the jean jackets, the jean suits. We made all of that Fendi, Louis Voitton, Gucci cool. Black people didn’t do all of that, that wasn’t cool for us to do. It also came up a couple of years ago that you and Rakim were never properly compensated financially for Paid In Full.


Eric B.: That’s the truth. It is an ongoing thing; Universal and these guys want to hold onto the masters and want to play games. It’s really a sad situation. They want to hold onto the masters twenty years later and you know you can’t hold onto masters after five years. After five years you supposed to release the masters. When we went to court they said they aren’t making any money from the masters. Every year or so you see a couple of different volumes of Eric B. and Rakim records. Anything else you want to touch on?


Eric B.: If you got a partner and you and your partner never had a falling out about money and the money got split 50 / 50 from the door, because I remember people would try to keep sh*t going. When we first came out people were saying Eric was getting all the money and he was trying to shine more than Rakim, that’s not true. Eric would go to all the interviews, Rakim didn’t want to go to the interviews. He didn’t like that part of the business. So when it came to making up the name of the group, Rakim made the name of the group. We split all the money from dime one. I’ll never forget we played at a place in Long Island. We got fifteen hundred dollars. Rakim said to me “Well Eric you paid for the studio time, you paid for the rental cars, you should keep the money.” I said no, if you’re my man we are going to rock. I don’t care what money I spent in the past, that money is never coming back. Whatever money we made we split 50/50. Even up until now, we split every dime 50/50. And we never slept with the same girl we don’t have no beef. I decided I rather do business and Rakim wanted to still do music which is fine. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. It ain’t no beef. Ask Rakim. Did Eric take any money from you? Did ya’ll sleep with the same girl? Then we ain’t got no beef! It’s made up bullsh*t.


Eric B. & Rakim

“My Melody”

Eric B. & Rakim

“Move The Crowd”