Thursday, August 16, 2007

If You've Been With Us for a Long Time, You Might Remember This One

Ok, I'm going to defend another oft-maligned album that's not really all that great, but it's in no way the travesty it's made out to be, and it's certainly not the ridiculously misguided mess DJ Polo's solo venture was around the same time (although I might have something to say about that one in a future post, so stay tuned...). The production is pretty solid and consistent, and as an MC... well, that's the album's weak point, sure... but is he really any worse than "producers on the mic" like Diamond D, Pete Rock or Ant Banks? I don't really think so.
For those who can't see the big jpg at the top of this blog entry, I'm talking about Eric B's self-titled solo album on his own 95th Street Recordings. When news of Eric B & Rakim's split came out, it was all hip-hop fans could talk about for a while. And while we all anxiously awaited Rakim's long-delayed return, Eric actually beat him to the punch with this universally panned venture.

(the full-page ad he ran for his album... same as the album cover, but uncropped)

The reasons for the poor reception are pretty obvious: it's full of love songs, the stories of Eric B's shady behind-the-scenes tactics and tales of how almost all of his beats were actually produced by Marley Marl, Large Professor, etc were getting more and more press daily, and it could never stand up to fans' expectations after his records with Rakim. Even though he got Freddie Foxxx to co-write the album with him and help him with his flows, there was no way all of the fans who'd been lead on a strong by reports of both solo outings would be satisfied with Eric B's soft voice and cheesy lyrics on the mic. Honestly, I think if he'd just waited and let Rakim come out with HIS disappointing solo material first, fans would've been more understanding/ appreciative of this album... but I guess he wanted to be the first to capitalize on all the press and get what he could while he could (this attitude towards his career is also evidenced by the fact that Eric B dropped out of the music game right after this).

But, really, once you get past hating on him for all the... well, perfectly valid for hating on him, this album is actually a rewarding experience. He plays it conservative, only slightly modifying soul classic after soul classic into hip-hop beats that you really can't help but get into, from The Commodores' "You're My Painted Picture" to Cameo's "Candy," even if they've been used once or twenty times before.

The first song is the single (yes, there was a single), "I Can't Let You," the fifty-millionth song to use Maze and Frankie Beverly's great, "Before I Let Go." And unlike some examples (like K-Solo's "Ya Mom's In Our Business" or Keith Murray's "The Rhythm"), Eric B doesn't just take the infamous bassline, he uses the whole instrumental. But you can get into this groove and enjoy it just as much as The Funky Four Plus One, Lakim Shabazz, The Outlaw 4, Steady B, and everybody else's version of this song.*

The second track, "Love Trap," uses the same loop from Foster Sylvers' "Misdemeanor" that The D.O.C. used for "Funky Enough." If he wasn't already at enough of a massive disadvantage being compared to Rakim, setting himself up against The D.O.C. only makes him look even weaker. And on another song, he takes Run DMC's "Peter Piper" break, setting himself up for yet another unflattering juxaposition. Unfavorable comparisons did this man in, I tell you.

It's worth pointing out that not every song on here is a love song, by the way. On "Louis Burrell - Theme Song," over the same classic piano and drum loop (an all-time personal favorite of mine, by the way) used by Melle Mel on "Piano," Tragedy on the "Grand Groove" remix, etc., Eric B answers his critics and former associates,

"I wake up in the morning and the phone is ringing.
Yeah, Tony's on the phone and the song he's singing
Is the same old song about money:
'Gimme, gimme, gimme.' Man, it ain't funny.
I try to be a straight up man and do my business right,
But everybody's so game tight, it makes me wanna fight.
A black man with his own -
People lookin' at me like I'm doing something wrong.
Everybody's got their opinions. I ask, what is this?
Now everybody's a professional in the business.
Eric do this, Eric do that;
But only Eric B made the record sound phat.
I gave a lot of jobs to people I know;
Took 'em on tour, showed 'em what to do.
But all I ever got was a knife in the back.
Is that what I get for tryin' to stay black?"

The album ends with the only non-Eric B.-made track, "Why Oh Why," an R&B ballad written and produced by Prince Markie Dee & The Soul Convention (who were a really big thing for about five minutes back then), sung by...? I don't know. Could it possibly be Eric B himself? Anyway, it's awfully cheesy and a big mistake to close the album with. But even with this song and Eric's lyrical faults throughout the album ("You see, I think about high school, when I was just a young tyke... trying to chase the mic. But now there's more than a mic to chase; I gotta stand and be your man, and let no one else disgrace. This ain't your average Pebbles and Bam Bam jam; I'm really trying to tell you how I am"), there's enough can't-miss breaks to make this worth picking out of the dollar bin. Sure, it's no Follow the Leader; but it's no Shaq-Fu either.

Update 8/27/07: Today, Eric B is pretty much out of the music biz, I guess... But yes, he does have a myspace page. Interestingly, he doesn't mention this album in his bio, but he does have this to say about his former frontman, "Rakim, out of view for five years, re-surfaced in 1997 with The 18th Letter but, with Pete Rock and DJ Premier's productions lacking the symbiosis of the Eric B collaborations, it bore the unmistakable whiff of nostalgia a legend resting on his laurels, rather than a new rap blueprint."

*By the way, in the interests of protecting you guys from the mass amounts of misinformation littering the internet, I'll just point out briefly that this song does not feature Freddie Foxxx like it says on discogs. He cowrote all the songs (except "Why Oh Why") and raps on none of them.

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