October 27, 2017

Eric B. & Rakim - Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em (May 22, 1990)



I haven't actually listened to any full albums with the intent of writing reviews for quite a while now. Sorry. But before my unintentional hiatus (which I'm trying to break, but it's hard to find the time, you know?), I tried to bank some posts with no underlying theme. There aren't many of these lying around on my end, but I found one, made some edits, and present it for your bathroom reading and/or killing-time-at-the-office perusal.

As an aside, the response this post receives will help me determine whether it's worth attempting to keep the site afloat, or if I should scrap the whole fucking thing and come up with another creative outlet, so hint, hint.

Eric B. and Rakim's Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em it is, then.

 
Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em is the third album from the Hall of Fame hip hop duo Eric B. and Rakim, released by MCA Records over twenty-seven years ago, so now I feel old and I'm going to shoot myself for bringing this up. It didn't sell quite as well as their previous efforts, Paid In Full and Follow The Leader, and didn't have any hit singles, but Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em is frequently touted as the most consistent project from the duo, due to the darker (some may say 'sinister') sounds present and the deeper, calculated lyrics from Rakim, which, while still primarily about how much better a rapper he is when compared to you, attempts to keep things interesting.   

Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em was critically acclaimed, however, receiving the coveted five-mic rating in The Source, and not in a retroactive fashion, either. This was back when the magazine's rankings held far more weight, pre-Benzino era, so this was considered a big deal. However, it isn't as though Eric B. and Rakim ever crossed into pop radio (except for occasionally during dance club mix shows, thanks to one of the many remixes to "Paid In Full" that caught on), so this didn't exactly translate into major sales.

Production is credited to Eric B. and Rakim, if one were to believe the liner notes. As most older hip hop heads are aware of now, however, there are two additional big names that contributed to the making of Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em: the late and prolific Paul C. (whose murder in 1989 remains unsolved to this day), and a guy I'm sure you're familiar with, Large Professor (who picked up where his late mentor left off), in addition to Rakim himself, his brother, and the album's engineer, which begs the question: so what the hell did Eric B. do, anyway? Neither Paul C. nor Extra P received any credit for their work on this project, which is complete bullshit, but it is what it is. Because it isn't absolutely clear who provided what in the studio, I'm not going to assign anyone specific any credit for the instrumentals within the write-up itself, with the exception of one track, as I would prefer to not give credit to an incorrect party.

1. LET THE RHYTHM HIT 'EM
Our hosts let loose this title track as the very first song of the evening, and it's a motherfucking doozy. Over a dramatic, police-chase-through-a-neighborhood-paced instrumental that sounds like what would happen twelve separate beats were played at the exact same time, Rakim flows like lava through four powerful verses that epitomize why he's the grandfather of everyone's rhyme style and, quite possibly, the best to ever do it. (He's got my vote, anyway.) “Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em” is easily my most favoritest song ever from Eric B. & Rakim, and it still holds up fantastically well today. Which is more than I can say about the rest of the album. Whoops!

2. NO OMEGA
Rakim treats “No Omega” as a natural extension of “Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em”, ripping shit the fuck apart with his many bars of fury. The instrumental isn't quite as dense and dramatic as on the previous track, but not everything is required to be overproduced: the simple break serves as a fuel-efficient, eco-friendly vehicle for Rakim Allah to straight-up crush shit. The horn samples toward the end elevate “No Omega” toward greatness, while the vocal samples, also curiously placed near the end, that repeat the phrase “I can't stop!”, pull it right back down to earth. Not the best song ever recorded or anything, but this was still entertaining.

3. IN THE GHETTO
Subdues the energy level like the audio equivalent of Benadryl. Rakim adopts a relaxed flow that still manages to be concise, because that's just what that motherfucker does with ease, to match the calm instrumental, which is made up of hardly more than a drum break and some harmonizing. “In The Ghetto” also has the distinction of being the first truly boring song on Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em: to listen to this shit immediately after the one-two punch that was the title track and “No Omega” is to hit the jackpot on a slot machine twice in two spins and then to have a cocktail waitress beat you over the head with a stool before stealing your wallet. Yep.

4. STEP BACK
Also isn't helping all that much. Rakim boasts about his rhymes being chock-full of energy, but he obviously wasn't listening to himself on playback, as “Step Back” is boring, with our host sounding at his most apathetic. The beat also weighs down the track, making it more of an obstacle than even Rakim could overcome, which is a weird sentence to write, since Rakim is supposed to be one of the greats. You wouldn't believe that after listening to this shit, though.

5. ERIC B. MADE MY DAY
Rakim steps out of the booth to pick up his dry cleaning while his co-host provides listeners with his expected deejay cut. It's consistently entertaining, I'll say that, but you're kept on pins and needles waiting for The R to pop up somewhere, anywhere.

6. RUN FOR COVER
After meandering down a couple of back alleyways with no true destination, Rakim picks up the pace once again with “Run For Cover”, which is dope as fuck not necessarily because of the lyrics, which are good as usual, but because of the teamwork behind the boards, meshing multiple samples together over a hype-ass drum break that'll get your heart racing, your head nodding, and your hands doing whatever the hell it is your hands do when you're listening to a badass rap song. “Run For Cover” was the shit, even though it doesn't hit as hard as this project's title track, because, really, how could it?

7. UNTOUCHABLES
The hard-hitting, militant tracks on Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em that resemble the title track hold up much better today than all of the other stuff present, and “Untouchables” is no exception, although it's hardly in the same category as the rest of the excellent songs in Eric B. & Rakim's back catalog. The R's lyrical content rarely strays from “look at how great of a rapper I am”-territory, but his flow still runs laps around most current emcees, so I approve of this message. The beat is a bit simplistic, but the drums are fucking hard, and hell, this is just entertaining, really.

8. MAHOGANY
Here's the part where I'm sure I'll lose most of you two: I never could get into this song, and I still can't. “Mahogany”, Rakim's ode to an “all-world cover girl“ who is European (a strange description, not unlike Biz Markie's girl from "the U.S. nation" from "Just A Friend") but “almost looked Korean”, is one of the rare instances where our host's lyrical content strays from the pack (although, this being Rakim, he still manages to promote his microphone prowess), but although the bars are descriptive and uniformly good, the slow-moving, awkward beat lying underneath that performance completely turns me off to this day. Kudos for trying to write something different, but fuck it, I'll own it: I'm probably the only hip hop writer in history who doesn't like “Mahogany”. So be it.

9. KEEP 'EM EAGER TO LISTEN
A late-game surge that runs with the big boys (hell, even the song title sounds like a continuation of the title track's command), but manages to slow things down just a bit, so that the audience doesn't run out of breath trying to keep pace with Rakim's rhymes. The beat is underrated as hell: aside from the horns during the “hook”, which weren't the most necessary inclusion in the world, I would place this as the second best song on the project. Seriously. Rakim spits approximately forty-seven verses and never misses a step, rendering “Keep 'Em Eager To Listen” true to its rather modest title.

10. SET 'EM STRAIGHT
The regular program ends with “Set 'Em Straight”, a wholly unsatisfying venture built with a repetitive instrumental foundation and some lyrics that tread water. Rakim has apparently said all that he needed to say on the album, so this final song is a regurgitation of how great his rhymes are and how much of a better person than you he happens to be. Which would be perfectly acceptable had the music been more engaging. Meh.

The CD version of Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em concludes with the following bonus track.

11. LET THE RHYTHM HIT 'EM (12” VOCAL VERSION)
I'm not entirely sure why this remix even exists, as it is far inferior to the album take. The jazzy feel guest producer DJ Mark the 45 King aims for on here doesn't mesh well with Rakim's mission statement, making this song an overall goddamn waste of time... save for the uncensored “You couldn't fuck around with Ra with an army” line that, alas, is cleaned up on the original song. I suppose older hip hop heads may want to hear this at least the once: I will point out that one can very easily see how Rakim influenced the late Prodigy (of Mobb Deep)'s cold, calculated flow. Still, nobody really needs this.

FINAL THOUGHTS: So Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em doesn't hold up as much as some of you two would like. It's only ten tracks deep (or eleven, depending), but you will find yourself skipping over most of this shit in favor of the songs listed below. The production isn't consistently banging: at times, it's quite boring, which is surprising given the big names behind the boards. Rakim Allah fares better with his writing, although he can't help but sound uninspired at times. The thing is, hip hop heads demanded more from their favorite artists back in the 1990s, so I can completely understand how Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em scored five mics in The Source, but if they were to (a) still exist, and (b) write about it with fresh ears today, I have no doubt that it would not rank nearly as highly, because the genre itself has evolved so much that even the best efforts of Eric B., Rakim, and the gang can come across as rote and unappealing. Look, if you're still reading this paragraph, I know you're pissed about this turn, and I don't care: Paid In Full changed the game, but ever since then, our hosts grew fond of settling for the bare minimum, so while Rakim is still technically the finest rapper our chosen genre has ever spawned, that doesn't automatically make everything he touches an instant classic (his solo projects back up my argument), and you can't even really give Eric B. any proper credit for his work behind the boards, even on the great songs, because who knows what exactly he did on them? Besides Eric B., obviously. 

BUY OR BURN? This is a burn, obviously, but I would still recommend you purchase the songs listed below if possible, so as to at least throw some money their way.

BEST TRACKS: “Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em”; "Keep 'Em Eager To Listen"

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Catch up with the Eric. B & Rakim catalog, along with Rakim's solo stuff.

32 comments:

  1. When i first heard bought this album i was kind of disapointed because these guys are capable of putting out great material.But thats why burning music was invented.

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  2. Never listened to this before, but I'll check out the songs you recommended. I think Rakim is the best rapper of all time (certainly most influential), but he isn't the best rap artist, if that makes sense.

    Also, good review! I hope you keep this site going, since there are some new albums I'd love to hear your take on (DAMN., Blank Face, Danny Brown reviews are on top)

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  3. Keep em coming Max!

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  4. Great review Max. I like your insight, and there's a sore lack of people on the Internet able to provide well written and interesting album breakdowns the way you can. Keep 'em coming please!

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  5. Honestly, i don't give a fuck about other reviews of the albums i want to hear. Trough the time i found myself coming to this site when i wanna hear something, so keep em coming champ

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  6. "you can't even really give Eric B. any proper credit for his work behind the boards, even on the great songs, because who knows what exactly he did on them?"

    "Eric B. Made My Day" and "Mahogany." That's it; the rest is either handled by Rakim (No Omega), Large Pro ("Let the Rhythm Hit Em," "Step Back" & the drums for "No Omega") or Paul C (the rest, including a co-production for "Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em.")

    While we're at it, Eric B. had jack shit to do with the beats for Wanted: Dead or Alive: According to Kool G Rap "Talk Like Sex," and every song with an Eric B. production credit, was produced entirely by Large Professor (except for "Streets of New York," co-produced by Anton Pukshansky). In fact G actually sent out the production credits to read as such, but the beats are credited to Eric B. because Extra P was signed to his production company at the time…which probably explains the mostly subdued bass-driven beats behind both albums.*

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  7. I love you Max, keep it going

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  8. We need a review of the A Tribe Called Quest album and the new Wu album (compilation)!!

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  9. Really enjoyable review, and the tracks you listed definitely emphasise why Rakim is so respected. If you decide to keep the blog going, do you plan on reviewing Don't Sweat the Technique as well?

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  10. Great review, keep the site going please

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  11. Hey Max, I just wanted to say that one of my favourite things to do in my spare time is listen to albums alongside your reviews. Your reviews genuinely add to my hip hop listening pleasure and I've discovered so many great albums thanks to your hard work. I would also go as far as to say that your blog is almost entirely the reason why I love the Wu as much as I do. I totally understand if real-life shit is getting in the way of your ability to maintain this blog, but I just wanted you to know that your contributions to Hip Hop have been greatly appreciated up to this point and I certainly wouldn't be mad if you decided to keep the blog going!
    Cheers Max!

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  12. Holy shit, good to have you back (even if you're just cleaning house).

    I can't agree with you, though. I love this album, my favorite Rakim album by a mile. Unlike the first two albums, which have some weaker production, this whole thing hits for me. Plus Rakim is just as good, if not better, as he was on the first two records. This album slays me. PLUS there's only one Eric B solo track and it's not nearly as whack as the ones from the first two albums.

    I read an interview with Large Pro once where he broke down who produced what on the album. He's a really modest dude and credited most of it to Paul C, and I think only took full credit for In the Ghetto. I also remember him saying that Rakim produced some of it.

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    1. Yeah, there’s another one where he was more thorough with his breakdown.

      I’ll post it as soon as I find it.

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    2. ...I described the breakdown above, but here's a link to it (or at least one of them, anyway): https://prittkalsi.com/2013/10/20/memories-of-paul-c-mckasty-part-3/

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    3. Found it!

      https://hiphopdx.com/interviews/id.1914/title.large-professor-on-90s-babies-nas-rakims-relationship-and-lupe-fiascos-rights-to-t-r-o-y

      Quality interview. Look for the “one more 89” question. That’s where he starts his breakdown. I know he didn’t break down the FULL album, but he definitely said enough.

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  13. I can confidently say that I’m pretty happy my writing mentor is back to posting reviews, even if they are shit you primarily wrote a long time ago.

    However, one thing has not changed: You are flat out off for dismissing In The Ghetto, because that, my friend, is the finest Eric B. & Rakim song. Rakim brought his full lyrical arsenal to that song: social commentary, spirituality, rhyme schemes, metaphors, the whole gamut. That boring beat? The precursor to every somber, moody instrumental you liked from the East Coast Renaissance. Oh, and Large Professor did that entire beat.

    Overall, damn it’s good to have you back!

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  14. Awesome to have you back, dude - Jakxel here; used to post way back in thr day. Please do keep things up, if you manage to summon the requisite motivation. I totally get how hard it is to sustain these things (my blog has been a wasteland for some time), but do know that your reviews are very much enjoyed, even when they aren't fully agreed with. And on that note...

    EDIT: Dammit, phone ate 2/3s of my post somehow (wherein I called you a crazy person for disagreeing with my opinions on tracks, but also agreed with you on Mahogany) and am about to board a plane. Anyhow, awesome to have you back! You were missed.

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    1. Thank you! Motivation is definitely a problem right now. And I believe we should start a movement with the other "Mahogany" haters to help shift public opinion.

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  15. This is what I always appreciated about this blog, even though everyone knows the obvious work from known artists, I can honestly say I wasn't even aware of this album's existence. Been trying to track it down today with little success (thanks Amazon prime...) but will give it a look anyway - not always a fan of the early 90's production but it's not a deal breaker.

    Anyway, I thought Eric B jacked most of his beats from Marley Marl so I'm hardly surprised to see there still being dispute over who was responsible for tracks as late as 1990. Definitely keen to hear what sort of style Large Pro was working with back then though.

    Max, I have been reading this since almost day one and you put me on to a lot. It's refreshing to hear a POV from someone that doesn't gravitate to the songs everyone likes too. Plus let's face it, reading the comments from people offended by your views is always worth a laugh.

    Surely a 'drink coasters' post is also long overdue... you've got plenty to choose from these days. That said who even buys CD's now?

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    1. I kind of abandoned the 'drink coasters' because readers seemed to prefer the track-by-track analysis, but I'll take it under advisement. Also, I still buy CDs most of the time, but I admit that's because I'm old and I prefer to physically own something.

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    2. I always appreciate a decent review of something so bad a track-by-track run down isn't necessary - especially when it's something people are torn on ;)

      Surely a Tribe review is on its way... though hopefully not of the drink coaster variety!

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    3. Yes, that Tribe album is certainly something I could write about. Past history would make it seem like a 4:44 write-up should be forthcoming as well. Let alone all of the Wu stuff I missed out on.

      Official answer: we'll see how this goes.

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    4. Haven't even listened to 4:44... perhaps a review might force a change on that front, though I doubt it.

      To be honest I like your 'classic' album reviews anyway. Very little new hip-hop floats my boat.

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  16. Brilliant to have you back Max. Your reviews are so bloody entertaining and have been sorely missed. I genuinely don't think you realise how much you are appreciated.
    Also, I'm delighted to hear that somebody else hate Mahogany. It is such a dull and corny song.

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    1. Thank you! I knew I couldn't be the only one.

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  17. yeah this is great and your writing is great, please keep doing this if you want to. there are so few great writers working in this kind of space right now.

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  18. Please keep the blog going Max! I love your reviews, I've read almost all of them.

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  19. great review despite the fact that i completely disagree with you
    but while this is definitely their most consistent album i prefer don't sweat the technique because of just how higher quality the great songs are in comparison

    and yes you should keep the blog alive we need hydration after that unbelievably long drought

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  20. While it's understandable (to me, at least.. I'm not a fan either) you don't like "Mahogany", it's still very ironic to hear that from a Wu head as that particular tune really turned RZA's head around. I remember from an interview him sayin "when I heard "Mahogany", I couldn't understand why the rest of the album wasn't like that", or something along those lines.

    And that in itself I couldn't understand as the title song is a top 5 hip hop joint of all time for me.

    Good to have you back!

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    1. Eh, more power to RZA. I still don't care for it today. Glad to hear I'm not the only one.

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  21. I share your feelings about Mahogany. Ra can always fucking spit, but I prefer him on harder joints eg. the title track, whereas he sounds bored in comparison over this. the instrumental too just feels like a collection of random musical interludes thrown together, and grows repetitive and tiresome over the length of the track. I never fucked with it, but man that first joint is fire

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  22. @L-Grand @Max: I'm guessing RZA's love for the song is at least partially because it was one of the first Al Green samplings. (I'm not a fan either, as I think the instrumental drags a bit too long for a mediocre pay-off).

    Regarding the album itself: I mostly agree with you about the production, and I think the major issue is that the "slow" tracks aren't elementally that different from the other songs -- i.e., both the instruments and amount of instrumentation for both types of beat are mostly the same -- so they play less as chill setpieces than regular tracks sapped of energy. (This is why I feel that out of the slow-tempo beats on here only "In The Ghetto" still holds up, because you can tell the mood is intentional). My impression is that East Coast rap, at least, didn't really get a hold of chill music until after 1992, after the dissolution of the Juice Crew and resulting diminution of Marley Marl as NY's predominant producer.

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