The music Eric B. and Rakim make kicks because it sneaks into the ear like careless whispers before exploding on the brain like dynamite. Eric B.’s tracks are mellow and mean, while Rakim’s lyrics are at once eloquent and threatening. Describing his inimitable style in the classic track “I Got Soul,” from Paid in Full (1987), Rakim roared, “I can take a phrase that’s rarely heard/Flip it-now it’s a daily word.” With that he defined the essence of great hip-hop — before taking it to the next phase with Follow the Leader (1988) and Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em (1990).
On Don’t Sweat the Technique, their majestic fourth album, Eric and Rakim expound further on the funky-fresh aesthetic. The title comes off like a warning to crews looking for mass-ass appeal. But they should also heed the words of “The Punisher,” a track that sends out a brutal manifesto to every rapper coming on. Rakim sounds scarier than a terrorist, and one just knows he’s talking reality when he promises that “you’ll never hold a mike again.” This former stickup kid may have traded in his life of crime for rhymes, but the brutality of his past life informs his loopy poetics and icy voice.
In “Relax With Pep,” Rakim declares, “I’m prepared to take mine to get mine/And I can protect mine, either with a rhyme or a nine,” and his new enterprise is sustained with thick, kill-crazy beats that display a moody, cinematic quality. When he weaves a verse of seduction (“Keep the Beat”), slinky minor-key piano chords get rubbed in. When he stalks the perimeter like a mad ghetto boy on “Know the Ledge,” the theme from the movie Juice, buzzing, wailing snippets speed by to heighten the tension. Don’t Sweat the Technique activates the mind — it’s erotic, playful, violent, dramatic, funky, jazzy and definitely dope.