ERIC B. & RAKIM Follow The Leader (Uni)

Despite its groundbreaking status, to a hip-hop outsider Eric B. & Rakim’s second album is as much of a rap relic as Ultramagnetic MC’s’ “Critical Beatdown”. There’s the same blatant bling in the artists’ gold-tailored outfits, and the same empty braggadocio that sufficed for rap lyrics before Public Enemy demonstrated that the genre could discuss something other than itself. Arguably, Eric B.’s dextrous musical backdrops emerge with more credibility than Rakim’s MCing, spinning a giddy diversity of samples into his sparse, functional music. Yes, he employs the traditional James Brown and Funkadelic steals, but the use of Eagles, Bob Marley & The Wailers and Mountain samples suggests the work of someone with unusually thirsty ears.

But then there’s Rakim: “I can take a phrase that’s rarely heard/Flip it, now it’s a daily word”, he boasts on the title track, although there’s a dearth of supporting evidence to back up this assertion. Following “Microphone Fiend” with a remix of itself initially seems like a juvenile schoolboy sequencing error, fortunately alleviated by the dexterity of the 45 King’s reworking. “Lyrics Of Fury” – with its obligatory “Funky Drummer” loop - is arguably the album’s appropriately ferocious highlight for me, perhaps helped by being covered by Tricky on his unjustly neglected sophomore set “Pre-Millennium Tension”. “Musical Massacre” is probably the densest, most sophisticated Eric B. construction here, scratches and samples whirling against each other, but the skeletal likes of “Just A Beat” and “Beats For The Listeners” are as utilitarian as their titles suggest.

Legendary and seminal as it undoubtedly is, “Follow The Leader” doesn’t make for a particularly convincing listen nearly twenty years after the fact. Like most early hip-hop, its main failing is that it pales beside the contemporaneous work of Public Enemy, an outfit whose revolutionary tactic was simply having something worthwhile to say.