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Friday, November 26, 2010

Eric. B & Rakim production mysteries

Eric. B & Rakim will forever go down in history as one of the greatest duo's of all time. Together they dropped some of the most timeless hip-hop music the world has ever heard; four albums that were all incredible and in many ways changed the way a great rap album should sound - both vocaly and sonically. All the music on these discs are credited as being "Produced by Eric B. & Rakim". While it's clear that Eric B.'s role for the music was important, all too often rumours about ghost producers working on either one of these albums pop up. Rarely, a rumour tell even half the whole story but at the same time, when they are so consistant as they have been in this case, there is most definitely quite a bit of truth to them.

Me being a beathead that's always interested in production aspects find these albums and the mystique surrounding them intriguing. How much did Eric B. really do as far as the music goes? Was Rakim involved in hookinjg up the beats? Who where the other guys that was part of lacing these classic sounds? It adds a certain amount of mystique to the music that often have been lost in todays hip-hop (what up Brandon) and we have to remember that back in '86, many times the guy credited for engineering would get production or co-production credit today. I've studies this subject for several years, coming across various interviews with producers and artists which all adds small pieces to the puzzle. I have compiled all my knowledge into the article you'll find below which I hope you will find interesting. Beats For the Listeners!

Eric B. & Rakim first met up in 1986 to record their debut single "Eric B. is President" / "My Melody" for Zakia Records. Eric B. had come into contact with legendary Juice Crew producer Marley Marl whose studio the duo were using to record the two cuts heard on the single. Many people believe Marley Marl produced these songs as he and MC Shan are credited as engineers on the original vinyl single. Eric B., however, told his side of that story to "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...". This sounds like a very plausible scenario, especially considering this was a rather usual work dynamic between the engineer and producer back in those days. It's likely that Marley's involvement on the "Paid in Full" LP, released the following year, stopped with the inclusion of the A- and B-side of the single.

Yet, there are eight more classic joints on the album, filled with seamless samples ranging from AC/DC, to Barry White, and Chick Corea's Return to Forever. Was the formula the same here? Eric B. and Rakim coming up with how the music should sound, and what to use as far as sample material goes; and letting the engineer being the actual "hands on". The engineer in this case is Patrick Adams, a talented and musically experienced producer and technician with more than a load of credits to his name; in fact, he had even released a solo album back in 1978. Looking at his discography he was originally best known for producing soul- and disco records back in the '70s and early '80s. Starting sometime in the mid-'80s, Adams had gradually moved over to the emerging rap music, participating in sessions for acts of legend like Craig G, Spoonie G and The Cold Crush Brothers. Rakim mentions Adams' work on "Paid in Full" in Brian Coleman's "Check the Technique"; "With the drum programming on the album, our engineer Patrick Adams did a lot of that. He's a real talented cat. I'd basically just take my break beats and ideas in, and he'd sample it up and put the 808 on it. Patrick was the guy who first introduced me to the 808."

So, it's clear that the engineer played a major role in shaping the sound of this groundbreaking, modern classic. Eric B. and Rakim came up with the concepts for the songs, what records to use and the overall musical direction, while Patrick Adams did all or most of the programming; the only exception being the original single that sparked the recording sessions - "My Melody" and "Eric B. is President". In Coleman's book Rakim gives credit to Eric B. for the turntable work but claims to have initiated the majority of song concepts on the LP himself:  "Most of the tracks on the first and second albums, I done those myself, no question. Back then, Eric B. wanted to be a businessman so I said 'Okay, you can take care of the business, I'm going to stick with this notebook right here'. So by not getting involved, he was right there telling them to print whatever he wanted them to print on the album cover. That was my mistake. If we did ten tracks on the album, I did like seven of the beats myself. A lot of times they were just old park records. I had a record collection, I had turntables, I had all the breakbeats". Rakim also brought in his brother, Stevie 'Blass' Griffin, to play live keyboards on the track "Move the Crowd" over sampled excerpts from James Brown and Return to Forever.

Eric B. & Rakim followed up with their sophomore LP "Follow the Leader" in 1988, an even stronger effort to many (including myself). The sound had evolved several steps, both from a sonic and vocal perspective, with Rakim delivering some of the strongest and most defining rap verses ever laid down on wax. The beats on the disc again relied on funky breaks, but the music were now more multi-layered, deeply intense and often driven by deep grooves. As on the previous LP, all production credit are given Eric B. & Rakim, with Patrick Adams as the assigned studio engineer. Considering the similiar credits and the somewhat familiar, but updated, sound, one can draw the conclusion that the formula for producing the records remained the same as on its predecessor; with Adams hooking up whatever idea that Rakim and Eric B. brought to the table. As seen by the quote above, Rakim takes most of the credit for initiating the majority of songs on "Follow the Leader"

The sleeve also credits Ra's brother, Stevie 'Blass' Griffin for playing "all music" which is a very confusing and misdirecting note considering that the vast majority of the music on here were created from sampled records. My interpretation is that Griffin played all any live instruments heard on the LP. However, the only really obvious live instrumentation are the synthesizer sounds heard on "To the Listeners", which Griffin undoubtedly is responsible for, as it bears a striking resemblance to his earlier performance on "Move the Crowd".

There have also been rumours about Mark The 45 King working behind the scenes on much of the "Follow The Leader" sessions. He did officially work with the duo in the capacity of doing 12" remixes for songs like "The R" and later "Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em". However, in an interview with, the producer confirmed he did the beat for "Microphone Fiend" which he created with Fab Five Freddy in mind. 45 King also ended up doing a remix of the song which appeared on the single release of the song the same year. In the same interview with Unkut, On the question whether or not he did any additional work on that album he responded, "I did "The R" I think. The drum beats or the bassline…yep. Eric B. was the first person to give me some real money." This explains where the rumours about 45 King producing the album comes from, but it also puts it to rest. It seems that he worked on the two songs mentioned and that Rakim, Eric B. and Patrick Adams produced the rest of the album in the way described above.

This one is a little clearer since it's been revealed from several sources (including Large Professor, Nas, Rakim, people close to Paul C, etc.) that Paul C was contacted by Rakim to be the engineer of the "Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em". As already stated most of those engineers in those days (especially Paul C from what i read about his work) would have be credited as the main producer today. From an amazing and in depth article on Paul C (by Dave Thompson) i learned the following:

* Paul C prouced "Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em" with Rakim,
(Paul hooked up the Commodore's loop and drums while Rakim added the keys from a Bob James song).
* Paul C produced all of "Run For Cover"
* Paul C produced all of "In The Ghetto"

Paul C passed away during the making of the album, but his protogé who had attented most of the studio sessions continued the production on what still remained to be done on the album. An article in XXL on Large Pro claimed he ended up producing the bulk of "Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em", so we can assume that the remaining 7 songs on the album was produced by Large Professor and Rakim (possibly with some input from Eric. B.... Or not).

The final album from the duo is the most confusing of all to find out who really did what. First of it was hard to find any concrete information on the production tip but once I really started digging for answers the picture got clearer, but still not. The album sounds very much like a typical 1992 hip-hop album, lots of jazz samples and hard breaks which is reminiscent of what Large Professor was doing at the time. Now the sleeve says "produced by Eric. B & Rakim" and even "all programming by Eric. B & Rakim" but it also mentions Large Professor, Kerwin Young and Richard Sims as being  "Production Coordinators" (whatever that means). It's possible that Rakim produced a lot of this album, as he must have learned alot of production techniques working with Paul C, Large Professor, Marley Marl and The 45 King (later beats credited to him like "Long Island" on 'The Master' LP sounds great). Every release of the track "Juice (Know The Ledge)" (singles and soundtracks) except the actual album says it was done by Rakim himself but remixed by Hank Shocklee and Gary G-Wiz (the latter which The God MC worked on for his first single after the break-up with Eric, "Heat It Up"). Kerwin Young and G-Wiz was associates of Shocklee's Bomb Squad at the time. 

But things get even weirder as I happened to stumble across an article on Rashad Smith of Tumblin' Dice productions, where he and ?uestlove played a live set off some of his biggest hits. Tracks included "Juice (Know The Ledge)" and "Don't Sweat The Technique" and other (less reilable sources indiciate that Rashad Smith actually produced about 50% of that album but as he was a new producer on the scene he didn't get the credit - more like a paying dues situation) (SOURCE of the Rashad Smith article)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Great read and research. Thanks for the info.

  3. Thank you for digging into this. I had a little Eric B & Rakim revival this week, rediscovered how much I loved the production, and remembered all the rumours from back in the 90s.

    I think you've come as close as anybody to the truth here. Dynamics in the studio are much more complicated than "you do the beats, I do the rhymes".

    Another observation, btw: Eric B did Freddie Foxx's debut, and those beats can't hold a candle to anything he did in his own group. If he could produce, he wasn't that good without his team.

    Also: neither Eric B nor Rakim produced anything worthwile after splitting up.