Eric B. & Rakim
“Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em” (MCA Records)
Billboard chart positions: Hot Black Singles (#23), Hot Rap Singles (#2)
Such was the anticipation for Eric B. & Rakim’s third album that The Source awarded Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em with a perfect five-mic rating upon its release — a moment of overpraise for an effort that hasn’t had the lasting impact of their classic first two albums or even their jazz-rap-inflected final work, 1992’s Don’t Sweat the Technique. Controversy remains over the extent to which Eric B. relied on ghost producers; and Paul C allegedly worked on the title track and lead single before his sudden death in 1989. It’s funky hip-hop with shades of the house breakbeats that animated dance floors that year. It’s missing an obvious chorus, an effect that gives it an appealingly ghostly quality that Rakim accentuates with his trademark stentorian flow. Some fans prefer “In the Ghetto” as the go-to cut, but “Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em” swings with the verve of a master craftsman carefully stepping out of his comfort zone.
Read more: The 100 Best Rap Singles of 1990