THE GREATEST OF ALL TUNES (G.O.A.T.) is a salute to the greatest songs of all time, one song per artist. Want more? Go to the G.O.A.T. Page for all the GOATs so far!
Okay, I’ll confess. My favorite Eric B and Rakim song is “Juice (Know the Ledge),” but I knew if I used that one as their greatest hit, someone would give me shit. Or at least they would if anyone read this blog anymore. So I’m going with Let the Rhythm Hit Em, which seems like a less controversial pick than the lead song from the soundtrack to a Tupac movie. But I love Juice.
Anyway, DJ Eric Barrier and emcee William “Rakim” Griffin Jr. hailed from Queens and Long Island (aka Strong Island, best known as the birthplace of Wu Tang Clan) and broke on the scene in 1986 with their hit, “Eric B. Is President” and then quickly followed up with their first album, the classic Paid in Full. From there, they got a major label deal, a bigger production budget, and broke out with the album that best demonstrates their dense, furious sound: Follow the Leader. “Leader” is probably one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time, spawning hits like the title track and Microphone Fiend. But the title track from their 1990 album, Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em, is my pick for their G.O.A.T. entry because that album, while not as big a seller as “Leader,” is to me their best record.
Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em, both the album and the song, show the first time a big name emcee had to face a hip hop transition. In 1990, the rap world was moving away—pretty quickly—from the lyrically dense and tightly scripted styles of Slick Rick, BDP, and KRS-One, and was beginning to embrace a tougher, more “real” sound on the West Coast (like NWA) and, on the East Coast, a more casual hippie/jazz vibe was gathering steam behind bands like De La Soul and Tribe Called Quest. Rakim took to the mic to defend his reign as one of the best lyricists of the time, and bucked the trends that were moving rap in a different direction by dropping his most in-your-face single yet: Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em. Yeah, it was old school—but it blew away just about everything else in 1990.
Further listening: Juice (Know the Ledge), Follow the Leader, Microphone Fiend, Paid in Full, and I Know You Got Soul are all rap classics worthy of the titled, Greatest Of All Tunes.