Raekwon is a respected New York City rapper and, as part of the Wu-Tang Clan, earned respect as a lyricist. His debut album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx was a platinum-selling record and is still considered an East Coast classic. Pusha-T has even named it as one of the albums that influenced him. With that being said, in an interview with music magazine Rollingstone, the rapper highlighted one album, “a blueprint for [his] life”, and it wasn’t Jay-Z’s The Blueprint.
For Raekwon (real name Corey Woods), the blueprint is from a respected duo. A duo many consider the kingpins of hip hop culture and founders of rap. That duo is none other than Eric B. and Rakim. With their song ‘Paid In Full’ an essential East Coast rap track, Eric B. and Rakim are considered the first rappers to break the “schoolyard flow” style of rapping that was popular in New York and came with a more elaborate, inventive flow.
Eric B. and Rakim were essential to the development of New York rap and set a new precedent for lyricists. Of course, this was then built upon by artists such as KRS-One, Big L, Nas and others in the early 1990s. However, people never forget the source and where that shift came from.
Talking about the Paid In Full album and how much it meant to him when he first heard it in 1987, Woods divulged, “This is a special, special album to me. When Rakim first came out, I was about 15 years old. I saw him on the cover. He had outfits on there; they had money in their hand, jewellery. At that time, that was the way. Big gold chains and rings. Rakim was the trailblazer of that, besides guys like Just-Ice, Slick Rick, Run-DMC, Big Daddy Kane, LL. It was almost like a uniform for your favourite rappers.”
Continuing to explain passionately why the album holds a special place in his heart, the Wu-tang rapper, referencing Rakim, detailed, “The shit he was saying was just amazing. ‘Thinking of a master plan, ‘cause ain’t nothing but sweat inside my hand.’ Everything he was saying, I felt like I was living it. I was going through it. Records like ‘Eric B. for President,’ oh my god. When I first heard that fucking track — ‘I came through the door…’ This is when Red Alert, Mr Magic, and Marley Marl started to play hip-hop. You had to have the tape deck. It was clubs that was jumping. New York City was a different time, where emcees were really showing off, and Rakim came through the door killing it. He had knowledge of self, he was intelligent, and his wordplay was like, “God damn.”
It was at this moment that he revealed that the album was (from that moment) like a blueprint for his life as he declared, “Looking at the video for ‘I Ain’t No Joke’ — the sweatsuits, the sneakers, the haircut with the part — it was almost like he was giving me a blueprint of my life and how it needed to go.”
Eric B. and Rakim were undeniably influential in New York, raising the levels of lyricism. Without the duo, there may have never been a Raekwon or a Nas. That’s the impact they had. You can listen to their 1987 album Paid In Full below.