1. Paid in Full (1987)
Release Date: July 7, 1987
Clocking in at just over 45 minutes, Paid In Full was an exercise in both brevity (take note, current MCs) and excellence. Arguably the magnum opus of hip-hop’s Golden Age, young William Griffin and Eric Barrier combined to deliver a project that was menacing (“I Ain’t No Joke”), thrilling (“Eric B. Is President”) and enlightening (“I Know You Got Soul”). Gone were the influences that dominated rap music at the time, including start-and-stop rhyme patterns, shouted deliveries and rock and electronic production. The pair eschewed the trappings of the day to instead introduce the streez of tomorrow.
2. Paid In Full (1988)
Release Date: July 25, 1988
Barely 12 months past before Rakim returned, re-charged with verbosity, as evident on the aptly titled “Microphone Fiend.” Paired with Eric B.’s maturing production, Rakim continued to display his flair for lyricism. But the Strong Island product stressed enunciation and emphasized phrases more throughout the pair’s sophomore effort, evincing an element that would influence a crop of MCs. Overall, this follow up was anything but second fiddle; in the years that passed since its release, critics have made claims that Leader is ahead of the pack.
3. Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em (1990)
Release Date: May 22, 1990
Eric B. and Rakim’s third effort features the pair effusing a darker sound and more mature subject matter. “Mahogany,” is a virtuoso story-telling track, meanwhile “In the Ghetto,” finds Rakim spitting concrete-hard rhymes about his New York background and the title-track is pulsating and paranoid in production, as Ra fires off his measured rhymes. Although this album didn’t produce noteworthy standouts in the same vein as its predecessors, the body of work was hailed as a classic and noted for its supreme cohesion.
4. Don't Sweat The Technique (1992)
Release Date: June 23, 1992
The fourth and final Eric B. & Rakim project continued to build upon their proven formula: Eric B.’s funky production and Rakim’s weighty lyricism. This set featured the jazzy title track and the thrilling Juice soundtrack selection, “Know the Ledge,” but “Casualties of War” was a standout, as Ra exercised a more political voice. Technique received positive reviews, but some grumbled that the dynamic duo were losing their touch, as they stayed a tad too close to their tried-and-true process. Still, the LP is a fitting cap to one of the most successful partnerships in hip-hop history.
5. The 18th Letter (1997)
Release Date: November 4, 1997
Five years after parting ways with his production partner, Eric B., Rakim returned surrounded by a who’s who of underground talent, including DJ Premier, DJ Clark Kent and Pete Rock. Over their soundscapes, Ra sounded rejuvenated and his beyond-his-years rhymes were as fruitful as ever. “Guess Who’s Back,” the title track and “It’s Been a Long Time” were imbued with the rapper’s Five Percent Nation (now, Nation of Gods and Earths) lingo and teachings. Wily, crafty and respected as an MC, this set was widely acknowledged as a success and further cemented the rapper's place in the great MC pantheon of hip-hop.