Riding high off the commercial and critical success of their debut Paid In Full, Eric and William returned in 1988 to release their follow-up effort Follow The Leader. The success of Paid In Full can largely be credited to Rakim, who redefined the art of emceeing with his strictly business demeanor, intricate rhyme patterns, and potent lyricism. Eric B’s funky samples and stripped down production worked well enough underneath Ra’s rhymes to cultivate a classic. While Follow The Leader would go on to reach gold status (which has nothing to do with quality) is it good enough to help the duo overcome the dreaded sophomore jinx?
Let’s find out.
Follow The Leader – Over an epic Eric B beat, Rakim schools all followers, literally. Ra goes from wrecking comp, to dropping science (he literally gives lessons on the stars and galaxies), to history lessons, back to finishing off competitors. Rumor has it Ra and Kane had beef at some point in the late eighties, and took shuttle shots at each other: I wonder if he’s referring to Kane in his last verse (“word to daddy indeed”…”couldn’t follow long enough so I drug em”). Now that’s a battle I’d cut off my right hand to see, if anybody has the inside scoop on that beef hit me up in the comments. This song might have to go in my top 25 of all time, Rakim’s flow is flawless over this killer Eric B joint. Nice start to the show.
Microphone Fiend – These are the type of songs that make me yearn for the golden era. Rakim kills it over this simple but very raw Eric B instrumental. You’ll recognize several hip-hop quotables on this. While most recognize Ra as the greatest emcee of all time (a title he’s more than deserving of) one attribute that confirms that for me is his ability to spit top-notch lyrics articulately, and still come across with a hardcore edge, all without using the crutch of curse words. This is a classic joint!
Lyrics Of Fury – A furtified freestyle. Rakim completely goes bananas over this raw rock tinged track, even adopting a raspy texture to his voice to match the track, which is a nice touch since the R normally comes off pretty composed. This song is sick through and through. If you call yourself a head, you must become familiar with Eric B & Rakim’s catalog.
Eric B Never Scared – Eric get his first solo joint, which turns out to be an average instrumental with a few scratches and cuts of Rakim and Bob Marley vocals thrown in for good measure. This was okay but nowhere near as strong as the first three songs.
Just A Beat – The distorted vocal that opens this song reminds me of Ghostface Killah’s reoccurring crackhead character Clyde Smith. This plays exactly as it reads: for the second song in a row, an Eric B instrumental. While it isn’t terrible it’s a step down from the previous instrumental, and continues the downward spiral Follow The Leader has suddenly taken.
Put Your Hands Together – The Casio keyboard intro sound like the kiddy song London Bridge, thank God it’s only the intro. Although the actual beat for the song is an improvement from the intro, it’s not great by any stretch of the imagination. Rakim sounds pretty good, but not as engaging as he does on the earlier portion of Follow The Leader. This turns out to be the first song on Follow The Leader that includes Rakim vocals, to qualify as only average.
To The Listeners – It’s amazing how Eric B’s beats went from great to barely bearable in the short period of 6 songs. This beat has a borderline cheesy Inspector Gadget feel that somehow manages to work when Ra’s slick rhymes lick the track. This was decent.
No Competition – Ra gets back to living up to the rep that the majority of the hip-hop world donned him with. The track though bare and stripped down, sets the perfect stage for Ra to spit over. This was nice.
The R – Many criticized Ra for hooking up with Dr. Dre a few years ago to work on the now probably forever locked in the vaults Oh My God! project (which I believe would have been much more entertaining than the very average The Seventh Seal project he would release instead). This proves that years before that venture Ra appreciated the west coast sound, as this definitely hints at the sonic west coast sound that Dre would perfect a few years later. Ra actually sounds pretty nice over this Eric B production, even though his lyrics aren’t as meaty as most of his other output.
Musical Massacre – Eric B’s track sound very similar to the beat used for EPMD’s “I’m Housin”. Ra sound great over this hot instrumental. This still sounds very nice.
Beats For The Listeners – This is an instrumental of version of “To The Listeners”…and with that we’re done.
Follow The Leader finds Rakim displaying the same lyrical wizardry he first demonstrated on Paid In Full over Eric B’s stripped down and mostly effective production. Follow The Leader starts off very strong, fizzles in the middle, and starts to build back up its momentum before the show comes to an end. Rakim’s lyrics are strong throughout the album (if you don’t have him in your top 10 you’re either A) 21 and under or B) Special Ed material), it’s Eric B’s production that contributes to Follow The Leader’s fizzle. Follow The Leader is definitely not the duo’s best effort but it still sounds better than most of the material from their contemporaries.