I was introduced to hip-hop the same way the world was introduced to hip-hop. Growing up in the ‘90s, I listened to a lot of my family’s collection of old Motown and funk (especially James Brown). But I was especially drawn to old school hip-hop hits like Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” and The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” But it wasn’t until I heard Eric B and Rakim’s “I Ain’t No Joke” that I fully fell in love with hip-hop. This was in the early 2000s--just before Kanye West dropped College Dropout--and ringtone rap was at it’s peak. But between the radio playing hits like D4L’s “Laffy Taffy,” Dem Franchize Boyz “Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It” and Chingy’s “Right Thurr,” there was the old school hour on my hometown’s hip-hop stations, Power 96 and 99JAMZ. And although the aforementioned tracks still fill me with nostalgia, “I Ain’t No Joke” was the first song that I wanted to memorize.

From there, I naturally went digging for other Eric B. & Rakim tracks. My older brother grew up during the golden age of hip-hop and had the CDs on deck; so I learned that “I Ain’t No Joke” was just a glimpse of the noteworthy music in Ra’s discography. I was enamored with Ra’s ability to be boastful, paint a picture in my mind with his words, convey a message and be hella creative with puns and metaphors. He effortlessly flowed over funk-sampling tracks, conveyed his message and provide something that to bop your head to or dance to. I was hooked. It offered me something that I didn’t realize I was missing in my music rotation -- substance.

As time flew, I would later hear whispers of the legend in other rappers songs like Tupac’s “Old School” where the late rhymer rapped “Eric B. & Rakim was the s--- to me” or in 50 Cent’s “Hate It or Love It” where he rapped “My favorite rapper used to sing, ‘Check check out my melody.’” I knew I wasn’t alone in my recognizing the greatness of The God MC.

Now, as Eric B and Rakim’s debut album Paid in Full -- which was released four years before I was born -- celebrated its 30th anniversary, Rakim still remains my favorite rapper of all time and the undisputed GOAT who will forever be able to “move the crowd.”

 

Worst to Best: Every Eric B. & Rakim Album Ranked