Follow the Leader at 30

Looking back at how Eric B. and Rakim changed the game in 1988 with their hottest LP

Original cassette copy of Follow The Leader

Eric B. and Rakim were just “thinking of a master plan” when they began recording their legendary debut, Paid in Full (1987).

Working under the tutelage of hip-hop producer Marley Marl, the Long Island rap duo created something of a benchmark, raising the bar for future generations of hip-hop lyricists and producers everywhere.

It also set the stage for one of their pinnacle achievements—Follow the Leader, which turns 30 today.

Thanks to the breakout success of their first album, Eric B. and Rakim were offered a deal with Uni Records, a now-defunct subsidiary of MCA Records, to release their follow-up.

Follow the Leader was recorded at Power Play Studios in Manhattan, and was entirely produced, composed and arranged by the duo with some additional instrumentation from Rakim’s brother, Stevie Blass Griffin.

Their sophomore album went on to outperform its predecessor, and despite producing one less single, was met with critical acclaim for the duo’s overall impact to the genre. Follow the Leader debuted at No. 22 on the Billboard 200 charts, making it the pair’s highest-charting album of all-time.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Eric B. and Rakim’s Follow the Leader, Rock and Roll Globe takes a deeper look at what made the album so memorable.

The album cuts right to the chase from the very beginning with the title track and lead single, “Follow the Leader.” Produced by Eric B., the track features some memorable samples of  “Nautilus” by Bob James, “I Wouldn’t Change a Thing” by Coke Escovedo, “Listen to Me” by Baby Huey, and “I Know You Got Soul” from Paid in Full.

The track is also a prime example of Rakim’s lyrical prowess. Credited with pioneering the use of internal rhymes in hip-hop, Rakim’s wordplay and use of alliteration is comparable to poetry.

“Music mix, mellow maintains to make. Melodies for emcees, motivates the breaks… I can get iller than ‘Nam, I kill and bomb. But no alarm – Rakim’ll remain calm.”

The second single, “Microphone Fiend,” was originally produced by The 45 King as a track for Fab Five Freddy. According to an interview with Unkut.com, he supplied the beat to the group’s DJ/producer Eric B. after giving it to Freddy for his international hit, “Change the Beat.” He also said to have supplied either the drum beats or the baseline for Eric B and Rakim’s track, “The R.”

Rakim breaks into his “fearified freestyle” on the appropriately titled, “Lyrics of Fury,” and continues to assert his rank as the pioneer of the free-rhythm rap sound on the track, “No Competition.”

Listeners can also spot different references and samples from  Paid in Full on tracks such as “Put Your Hands Together,” “To the Listeners” and “Musical Massacre,” and all throughout the album, with deep treasures abound from Manzel, The Blackbyrds, Mountain, Baby Huey, Bob James and more.

Considered a hip-hop staple, Follow the Leader, was generally well-received by critics and fans alike when it was released in 1988, and by September, became certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for selling more than 500,000 copies across the U.S.

Masterplan, achieved.

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