And now, a few random thoughts regarding “Eric B. Is President”.
“President” heralded the next major advance in hip-hop upon its release in late 1986. Production-wise, Eric B & Rakim’s debut marked one of the first instances of layered samples (rudimentary as the layering was). Rakim also signaled a seismic shift in the art of emceeing. I certainly follow the party line and consider Ra the best pure rapper in hip-hop history. His verses here were a bridge from Run-DMC’s simple tough talk to a more conversational, relaxed flow. “President” was as amped as he got, and even here, his voice is more of a snarl than a roar.
“President” also had a foot in hip-hop’s past, as it was an “answer” record. The first decade or so of rap music was big on records written in response to a previously existing hit record. In “President”’s case, the song that posed the “question”, per se, was Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” Rakim addresses this directly in the song’s last verse. Thankfully, the rest of the lyrics have no relationship to Janet’s hit, which is probably why “Eric B. Is President” holds up after thirty years and doesn’t sound much like a novelty record.
There has been some dispute about the production of “President”, with Eric B saying he handled the majority of the work behind the boards, and other sources crediting Marley Marl. Considering that Eric has no outside production credits, and Marley not only has a long list of production credits but a lot of songs in his catalog that sound similar to “Eric B Is President” (Big Daddy Kane’s “Raw” and Biz Markie’s “Pickin’ Boogers” both have a similar distorted, charmingly low-budget production style), I’m gonna go with popular opinion on this one.
Which then begs the question, what exactly did Eric B do? Especially considering the original Zakia label for “Eric B. Is President” has the label credit “Eric B Featuring Rakim”. Hip-hop lore paints Mr. B as kind of a general bad-ass, so it’s safe to say that as the guy that “made things happen”, as they say, he deserved the leading credit. I think we all know who the star really was, though.
Also, best/most memorable opening line in history? “I came in the door…” You know the rest…