ERIC B. & RAKIM Follow The Leader (Uni)
Despite its groundbreaking status, to a hip-hop outsider Eric B. & Rakims second album is as much of a rap relic as Ultramagnetic MCs Critical Beatdown. Theres 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 Rakims 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 theres Rakim: I can take a phrase thats rarely heard/Flip it, now its a daily word, he boasts on the title track, although theres 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 Kings reworking. Lyrics Of Fury with its obligatory Funky Drummer loop - is arguably the albums 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 doesnt 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.