Rarely do pioneers stay relevant some thirty years after coming on the scene to redefine a genre as one William Griffin, aka Rakim bka “The R.”
Over two decades ago, my only knowledge of hip hop—or better yet “rap”—revolved literally on my first vinyl album, a compilation of the Sugar Hill Gang’s record label greatest hits featuring Grand Master Flash, Whodini, The Sugar Hill Gang and a cast of others not even worth mentioning. That album would take a back seat to the only album that mattered to me for years to come and still ranks on my top 10 of all time.
Paid in Full by all accounts did what Nirvana’s Nevermind did to the music landscape back in ’87 and is widely considered to every bit as influential and important as the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Musically, it broke open the vault to every James Brown beat ever made. It also all but killed the common theme of sampling disco and rock albums to create the music for hip-hop artists to rhyme to. Before Rakim blessed the mic, the themes of hip-hop were fairly light-hearted concentrating primarily on party themes and less on thought-provoking rhymes.
While Run DMC was screaming about being Kings of Rock, Rakim challenged our minds and challenged emcees to put more thought and emphasis on lyrics while charting his way to being labeled God Mc.
“I take 7 emcees put em in line, add 7 more brothers who think they can rhyme, it will take 7 more before I go for mine and that’s 21 emcees ate up at the same time.” – “My Melody”
Few other hip-hop albums have been sampled more or listed in the top ten as Paid in Full. Stetsasonic, Gang Starr, 2pac, NWA, Lord Finesse, Warren G, Smif-N-Wessun, Birdman, Lil Wayne, Girl Talk and so on have all sampled Paid in Full.
Back in ‘87, hip-hop still had a negative view from the critics and was really thought to be a fad that would die out. It was perceived as crude noise with no real background or foundation for credibility when compared to other genres, which at most had their ties to soul, jazz or rock. Like punk rock the previous decade you had a lot of acts and crew who just simply had no talent or business picking up a microphone hopping on the scene and further contributing to the assertion that the fad would soon die. Paid In Full ushered in a new era of rap by throwing out all the whack conventions and made emcees go back and rethink their careers.
Over 30 years later, Rakim still ranks up there in every artist’s G.O.A.T. list. Kanye and Jay-Z may have you watching the throne but all kings and queens (you can decide who’s who) must answer to a higher power. Paid in Full, is the best and most influential album ever made and there’s nothing wrong with coming in second to it.