Don't Sweat The Technics
Eric B and Rakim "Eric B Is President"
My brother and fellow music nut Pat has always tried to get my goat by asking me what music of my generation will be on the radio still in thirty years. Granted, his comments were justly inspired by whatever band of the moment I had brought home and compared to Zeppelin. After listening to a track, Pat wold turn to me and say, "Yeah, but are they going to be listening to Alice In Chains in thirty years?"
My lifetime has not included a Summer of Love, or a '76 kind of year. My generation grew up in the MTV era of short attention spans. But our generation did see the rise of hip-hop, and as I've previously wrote, hip-hop radically changed the pop landscape. I loved hip-hop from an early age. I spent many evenings dialing into the radio station of the University of Chicago, several miles from my safe suburban home, thrilled by the rhymes of a Sugar Ray Dinki or the beats of a Fast Eddie. This music sounded like NOTHING I had ever heard before, and certainly spoke of an experience as alien as it was of-the-moment. Before they became a boring catalog of material possessions, rhymes dealt with life in the ghetto. And that life was not altogether hopeless. The other great theme of early hip-hop rhymes was partying- not partying with Cristal and a 300 pound security guard between you and your fans, but partying at a barbecue, a record shop, hell, anywhere where they had a turntable. Hip-hop was a community, a movement. I'm sure most people thought it would have its five minutes and short-lived MTV show and then disappear. They were pretty wrong. Hip-hop was an early harbinger of where pop music is today, where personalization and unique distribution have eroded the power of labels and even MTV.
Although alpha males MCs like Big Daddy Kane, LL Cool J, and Chuck D dominated the scene, I did not want to be a MC. I wanted to be a DJ. These guys had the power. They were a one-man band, and it was their beats that made hits. What romance was there in being at a studio, double-tracking your guitar solo? DJs did their magic right in the club, what you heard was the same as when the needle dropped. And by creating their sound, DJs destroyed it, literally. You know why you don't see many James Brown records at record shops? Because most were beat to shit and back by '80s DJs. To this day I would take two turntables and a mixer over a guitar (even a double-necked one) or saxophone.
Eric B. and Rakim hailed from New York City. "When Eric B. Is President", their debut single, dropped they instantly became the most forward-thinking group in hip-hop. Erik B. nods to black music's past all over this track. It manages to have a the slow burn of blues, the swing of jazz, and the propulsion of disco while also sounding so incredibly spare (especially when compared with the celebrated sound his contemporary, Terminator X, was spinning for Public Enemy). Rakim's rhymes cleverly break down the wall between listener and MC. You're listening to the track, and he's telling you what he's doing and what he's going to do right afterward. He's not telling a gritty tale. No, Rakim knows he's riding a hot beat, so he's going to let that do the boasting for him.
Download this, rip it to a CD, roll the windows down on your car, max the bass on your off-the-line sound system, and drive irritatingly slow in the right-hand lane in the happeningest street in your 'hood. Play it loud enough to drown out the car alarms you set off. Bring it in to whatever party you are heading towards. Get the DJ to play it. Watch that groove get bodies moving.
Pat, THIS will be played in thirty years.