Eric B. and Rakim to Enter Long Island Music Hall of Fame

Rakim at BB King's

"It ain't where you're from, it's where you're at." - Rakim at BB King's in 2006

Along with the Beatles, seminal hip hop duo Eric B. and Rakim are one of my favorite artists of all time.   On Tuesday, November 16, they will be inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame at the organization’s third annual induction ceremony.

Their advancement of hip hop in its nascent years, the mid-80s, has had a lasting impact on the genre, and on me.  The sound of Eric B. and Rakim’s records was distinctive from the beginning, with “I Know You Got Soul” drawing its sound from James Brown/Bobby Byrd on the samples and Rakim’s equally potent yet restrained delivery equally.

Besides the R’s quiet tone matching Eric B.’s beats with great subtlety, Rakim’s religious imagery combined to create music that was moving on several levels at once – in the rhythm of the lyrics, the literal and/or spiritual meaning of the words and through the backing tracks.

My favorite album?  All of them.  The best by far is their second, Follow the Leader, which led off with the aggressive title track (Rakim felt he had something to prove to the hip hop community about his ability to rap fast) and integrated more samples and keyboard playing by Rakim’s family member Stevie Blass Griffin, who was shot to death a year or so after the album came out.  Meanwhile, I listened to the trio’s work on this album entirety every day for at least a year, mostly on cassette, and my friends and I heard something new most every time through.  Robert Christgau documented one of these discoveries after I told him about it on the phone at MCA Records’ publicity department, an Eagles sample in “Eric B. Never Scared.” Here’s the ultra-intense title track:

Eric B. and Rakim – “Follow the Leader”

In fact, most of my best friends are equally big Eric B. and Rakim fans.  One of Mike Watt‘s favorite lines is from “Microphone Fiend”: “whoever acts up needs to be more than slapped up.”  El Diablo seems to focus on the later two albums and often quotes “In the Ghetto” (“nobody’s smiling”); Leigh Lust was part of my early appreciation society of the band; and Howie Miura cited “one thing I don’t like is the spotlight, cause I already got light” as a motto to live by.   Whenever I remember these, I think of the next few rhymes after automatically.

So Eric B. and Rakim are finally going into A hall of fame if not THE Hall of Fame, and it’s the Long Island Music Hall of Fame.  Along with Public Enemy, Run DMC, LL Cool J and EPMD, Long Island represents a sort of “Mississippi Delta” of hip hop, so this honor should not be taken lightly by anyone.  By inventing the term “Strong Island,” Rakim made showing pride in where you were from a hip hop pre-requisite, despite their ghetto origins. Rakim simply said, “It ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.”  And now he’s in the Hall of Fame. Congratulations to my heroes Eric B. and Rakim!

Tuesday’s Eric B. and Rakim reunion at the ceremony should be a great event. The Long Island Music Hall of Fame was founded by friends of Norm Prusslin, the builder of WUSB, Stony Brook, and is only three years old. The sooner the better, right?  To show how heavy this is, other year three inductees include Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground (Oceanside) – one of the most influential artists ever; WLIR/WDRE PD and “commercial alternative” godfather Denis McNamara – one of the biggest radio people in LI history and globally influential; rock photographer Bob Gruen (Great Neck) who documented the punk movement as well as John Lennon’s life in New York, and the defunct venue My Father’s Place in Roslyn.  A few others include Al Kooper, sideman with Dylan and everyone else as well as founder of Blood, Sweat and Tears; second-wave prog rockers Dream Theater; folk and public radio legend Oscar Brand (also from Great Neck) and the hosts of tv’s “The Magic Garden,” Carole and Paula.

The fact that publicist Steve Martin is going in gives me hope, but in my area of college radio/underground music, Bobby Haber from Albertson (the founder of Long Island-based CMJ) and many others in the business cast a long shadow on my candidacy!

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