On ‘Follow the Leader,’ Eric B. and Rakim’s second album, Rakim (a.k.a. William Griffin) spends too much time trashing other rappers and reasserting his supremacy in the genre. Still, he has a point. Set to a menacing bass throb, spooky special effects and Rakim’s rush of rhymes, the title track more than lives up to the high standard set by “Paid in Full,” the duo’s powerful ’87 single. Like “Paid in Full,” “Follow the Leader” doesn’t leap off the turntable; it builds like a slow burn, powered by Rakim’s simmering, lower-register vocals.
Although little else on Follow the Leader matches its hypnotic title track, the album supports Rakim’s high view of himself and DJ Eric B. (né Eric Barrier). Rakim, an uncommonly subtle rapper, is capable of a relentless barrage of caustic lines (“I sit back and observe the whole scene/Then nonchalantly tell you what it mean to me”) and chilling imagery (“The stage is a cage/The mike is a third rail”). With the help of backup musician Stevie Blass Griffin, Eric B. constructs inventive backing tracks that incorporate funk guitar (“Microphone Fiend”), walls of noise (“Lyrics of Fury”), exotic percussion tracks, synthesizers and saxes. And his switch-blade scratching (“Musical Massacre”) will make your head spin.
If Follow the Leader lacks anything, it’s lyrical content. With rappers becoming increasingly outspoken (Public Enemy), literate (Boogie Down Productions) and just plain funny (the charming, if lightweight, D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince), Rakim’s simple boasts — “No Competition,” “Put Your Hands Together,” “The R” — get a little wearying. But as he raps in “Follow the Leader,” “There’s one R in the alphabet/It’s a one-letter word and it’s about to get/More complicated from one rhyme to the next.” If indeed this album is only the beginning, a little excessive bragging might be forgiven.