Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be the 100 Most Dynamic Debut Albums Ever Made, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Click “Next Album” below to explore each album or view the full album index here.
Few albums change the course of hip-hop. Eric B. & Rakim’s debut album Paid In Full is in that rarified air. Eric “Eric B.” Barrier and William “Rakim” Griffin III may not have set out to change the game when they recorded this album, but after it was released in 1986, hip-hop was never the same.
Rakim Allah, known as and revered as the God of lyricism and considered by many to be the greatest emcee to ever touch the mic, changed the way emcees rapped with Paid In Full. It was trendsetting musically as well. The album featured the beginning of the “scientifical” rhyme style, and beats driven by James Brown samples that weren’t necessarily targeted towards getting people on the dance floor. Paid In Full was the first album to unofficially introduce the “head-nod” tracks: the type of song that someone would listen to intently while nodding their head to lyrics and beats.
Albums like Paid In Full helped give birth to modern hip-hop lyricism. Even with all the rhymes Rakim devoted to moving crowds and keeping the dancefloor packed, Paid In Full helped create the “beats and lyrics” approach to hip-hop music. Rakim was one of the first hip-hop artists whose songs did not need to be designed as singles or club hits. Instead, the songs showcased on the duo’s debut reinforced that lyricism could exist for its own sake. And hip-hop has been better for it ever since.