Monday, November 10, 2008

Rapper vs. Baller: Eric B. & Rakim and Allen Iverson

Even without any historical context, Eric B. and Rakim will blow you away. The hard flow of Rakim's rhymes weaving in and out of sample after sample interlaced together by Eric B. is sheer beauty. If "Paid in Full" or "Follow the Leader" were released in the last five years, they'd be among the top albums based solely on artistic brilliance. What makes the duo so much more impressive is how innovative they were. Eric B. and Rakim are so old that A Tribe Called Quest throws back to them ("My favourite jam back in the day was Eric B. for President", from "Steve Biko"). The two aforementioned albums, both considered to be among the most groundbreaking and influential of all-time, were released in 1987 and 1988 respectively, in other words, probably before most active rappers ever picked up a mic. Yes, Grandmaster Flash started producing mainstream rap music in the early 1980's, but suffice it to say that "Paid in Full", which Eric B. produced at the tender age of 18, was like nothing the world had ever seen.

Before AI, we had seen crossovers, and they were well and good, but they were not AI's crossover. We take such things for granted in today's age of AND1 mixtapes, but in the 1996-1997 season, the number of broken ankles in the NBA skyrocketed. The laundry list of top defensive players that got rocked back on their heels is endless. Even compared to today's highlight reels, those old rookie year videos still catch our eye, and as such, the crossover became the deadliest innovation since Kareem's skyhook. Again, we stress, before Kareem, there were hook shots, but none like the skyhook. Also, the fundamental difference is that while the skyhook is recognized as impossible to stop, AI's crossover is such that if you try to stop it, you look ridiculous, if you try to contain it, you look even more ridiculous. Once he brings the ball to his hip, AI becomes the puppet master, with one string attached to the ball, and two attached to your feet.