Rakim. The invincible microphone fiend. Regarded by some as the best lyricist ever to bless a mic. As part of the classic duo "Eric B. and Rakim", he most certainly helped revolutionize the rhyme game with the debut album "Paid in Full". Starting heavy right off the bat with all-time hit "I Ain't No Joke", and continuing with songs including "My Melody", the title track "Paid in Full", and "Move the Crowd", right there you have a grouping that includes some of the best hip hop songs ever put to wax.
It was the late 80's and I was in junior high, growing up in New York. Buying tapes (yes, audio cassettes; what) at The Wiz on 96th and Broadway; stuff like Biz Markie's "Going Off" and Doug E. Fresh's "Greatest Entertainer". Listening to DJ Red Alert spin on WBLS. Video Music Box with Ralph McDaniels. Rakim is right smack in the middle of this beautiful era of hip hop music. I remember watching videos and seeing Eric B. and Rakim with their ever-present chains and rings. Listening to Rakim's deep and rough voice. Eric always all stoic in the background, moving slowly.
Their follow up album - aptly titled "Follow the Leader" - boasts one of the most recognizable beats ever: "Microphone Fiend". It takes about 0.2 seconds of hearing those bells drop in to identify it. Anyway, this is also where Rakim lays down some of the most intense battle rhymes ever heard. Although for most, the remainder of the album might be a bit forgettable (I happen to love tracks like "To the Listeners" and "The R", but I doubt this is too common), between "Microphone Fiend" and the title track, you still have more than enough classic material.
The third Album, "Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em", continued with singles "The Ghetto", "Mahogany", and of course another title track.
Rakim ushered in a new breed of rhymers with his complex patterns and bold storytelling. Looking back, I'm not quite sure if I fully realized this at the time, but he was at least a decade ahead of most of his peers. For this tribute bag, I took a photo from this interview and surrounded him with money signs. Similar to the dollar bills that rained down behind him and Eric B. on their debut album cover.