By the time 1990 rolled around Eric B & Rakim had two quality albums under their belts and had established themselves as the creme de la creme amongst their hip-hop peers. The duo had a solid formula that worked well: razor-sharp rhymes from Rakim , and rugged and rough production from both Ra and Eric (well at least that is what the album’s liner notes would have you believe, more on that later). Following the old adage “if it aint broke don’t fix it”, the duo would stick to the script for the release of their third album Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em.
Now there has always been whispers that some of the production on the first two Eric B & Rakim albums were ghost produced (with Rakim claiming he singlehandedly did the bulk of the production on Paid in Full and Follow the Leader), but the whispers became Sam Kinison like shrieks in regards to the production credits on Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em. While the liner notes credit Rakim and Eric B for the production for the entire album many sources say the late great Paul C and Large Professor were responsible for the majority of the production on the duo’s third album (Paul C was killed during the recording of Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em and Extra P has been very vocal about his involvement in the production process).
Regardless of the controversy Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em was heralded as another classic from the duo and would receive the coveted 5 mic rating from The Source magazine, considered by many to be the hip-hop bible at the time.
Controversy or no controversy does the album still bang?
Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em – Props to E and Ra for getting the title track out of the way immediately. The sinister track serves as the perfect backdrop for Rakim’s razor-sharp lyrics. Wait…did Ra really just spit 5 verses? This song has some historical value as it’s one of only two songs during Ra’s legendary stent with Eric B that he would drop the F-bomb on wax (even though it might not count in your book since it is censored, but more on that later). I am fully aware he dropped it again on his collaboration with Canibus years later (“Buss ‘Em, Finish ‘Em”), that’s why I specified during his stent with Eric B. This still bangs 20 plus years later, and serves as the perfect way to start the album.
No Omega – Rakim goes, as the kids would say, HAM over this funky track, that has no need to use a hook as an excuse to break up the verses or allow Ra to catch his breath (and the songs nearly 5 minutes long!). Simply play this song, sit back and enjoy listening to a microphone master at work. Nice!
In The Ghetto – This is one of (if not the) my favorite Eric B & Rakim songs of all time. Ra proves he’s not limited to ripping the rugged beats but can also manuever well around the smooth ones as well. Ra punctuates each verse with arguably the most revered and recycled lines in all of hip-hop (“it ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at…). I still think Ra’s line “I got my back my gats on my side” is one of the cleverest ever used in hip-hop. Perfection.
Step Back – Well, they can’t all be great. The beat sounds like something Masta Ace would have spit to on his debut Take a Look Around, which is neither an insult or compliment.
Eric B Made My Day – The mandatory early era deejay joint. This goes on for way too long.
Run For Cover – Before the industry regulated 16 bar verse format existed (which was heavily influenced by radio:in order for hip-hop artist to get airtime the song’s length had to be short enough to get a slot on the air) emcees had the liberty to spit uninterrupted rhymes until they had nothing left to get off their chest or they simply collapsed. “Run For Cover” has Ra doing just that and he doesn’t disappoint. Over a stripped down instrumental The R goes bananas. By the way, I love Ra’s meaning of the acronym APB.
Untouchables – This song is best described by one of Ra’s lines from this song:”Everything flows from the intro”. The beat, rhymes, and vibe are all on one accord for this one. I’ve always loved the Donald Byrd sample from ” Here Am I” (which was also used by ATCQ and later Simple E). Ra rides this track like a brand new BMW 650i whipping around the autobahn.
Mahogany – Rakim is revered my most hip-hop fans as the GOAT (rightfully so). This title is often bestowed upon him because of his battle ready lyrics and interesting 5 percenter influenced philosophy. One quality that is often overlooked when discussing Ra’s emcee abilities are his storytelling skills, which “Mahogany” displays beautifully. Over a laid back instrumental that sprinkles in a beautifully violin sample at the right times, Ra gets his Slick Rick on, and does a flawless job, while simultaneously dropping his 2nd F-bomb of the evening. I wonder why he didn’t do more story driven songs like this during his career as “Know The Ledge” and “What’s On Your Mind” (from the duos 4th and final album together, Don’t Sweat the Technique were also pretty well executed.
Keep ‘Em Eager To Listen – Let’s get back into that battle shit. I love this ruggedly smoothed out instrumental (it’ll makes sense once you listen to it). Needless to say, Ra tears this beat to pieces effortlessly.
Set ‘Em Straight – There are many classic songs in the storied Eric B & Rakim catalog and unfortunately for some reason this song is not considered one of them. That said, in my opinion this song can hold its weight with any of those classics songs in the duo’s catalog. This magna opus contains some of Ra’s best lyrical work of his entire catalog. I’m serious, it’s that good. The funky instrumental serves as the perfect backdrop for Ra’s “slow flow” only . Kids, you’re listening to perfection. Go ahead listen to it and we’ll debate in the comment section.
Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em (12″ Vocal Version Remix) – This mix doesn’t hold a candle to the original mix. Luckily this was only included on the cd version of Let Rhythm Hit Em, so back in 1990 most fans purchased the cassette or LP and remember “Set ‘Em Straight” as the final song, which works as a must better way to end this classic album. Back to a point I made at the beginning of this review: this mix of “Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em” does not omit Rakim’s f-bomb for some reason. And that concludes are regularly scheduled program.
Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em finds Rakim spittin’ his gospel over the best batch of instrumentals he would ever get his hands on during the Eric B collaboration years (and arguably his solo career as well). When you combine Ra’s lyrical mastery, solid production to back him with the ideal album length (the album only has 11 songs if you discount the alternate mix to “Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em”) you’re bordering on perfection.
Did The Source Get It Right? Even though Eric B’s solo effort (“Eric B Made My Day”) was a complete waste of wax (or reel to reel), and “Step Back” is only average, I’ll give The Source my stamp of approval.