“Make ’em clap to this, make, make, make ’em clap to this.” Of course there have been some classic records named after DJs and producers—Run-DMC’s “Jam-Master Jay”; Guy’s “Teddy’s Jam”—but none more boldly titled than Eric B. & Rakim’s “Eric B. Is President.”
“Everybody messes up the [name of the] record,” the song’s namesake told REVOLT TV recently while in New York. “The name of the record is ‘Eric B. is President.’ And everybody’s like, ‘Eric B. for President.’”
“Oh, you still can’t understand a Black man being president, huh?” Eric B. asked, chuckling. “But that was the name of the record. Everybody’s like, ‘Oh, ‘Eric B. for President.” I used to tell people, ‘What record is that?’ I say, ‘I don’t know what record that is.’”
When the song dropped in 1986, it was the opening salvo from a duo that can boast the career highlight of literally changing rap. Rakim architected a new way for MCs to approach flows and lyricism while Eric B. provided soundscapes to match the new standard in wordplay. The two had the charts, the clubs and the streets. Their style and persona, as well as ties to New York’s legendary hood Godfathers like the original 50, AZ, Alpo and Rich Porter, cemented their credibility.
Although Rakim didn’t rap from the gangsta perspective, the music was so universal that drug dealers were some of the group’s biggest supporters. Just as there wasn’t a person who wouldn’t wop so hard their neck would pop off when “President” came on, there wasn’t a D-Boy alive who wasn’t driving in a luxury car pumping it at near-obnoxious levels, too. It was that anthem. A new sound of rap like a new hustle in the street.
“To ride through Harlem and hear it in the streets of Harlem [and] ride through Brooklyn, it’s playing in the streets of Brooklyn,” Eric said, gathering his thoughts. “It was just the backdrop of the late 80s into the early 90s. For us, we never took the time to sit back and watch our work. These people were just out friends, and enjoyed great music that we made. And we appreciated it.”
Despite “President” being named after him and becoming one of the group’s most signature songs, the timeless DJ says he’s partial to another of the duo’s classics: “My favorite record is ‘What’s On Your Mind.’”
Eric B. and Rakim are getting ready to parade their entire catalog across stages this Spring when the two embark on their first tour in two decades. It starts on April 8 in Boston and YoYo has been tapped to open on the dates.
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