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MC Rakim has special place in his heart for Chicago

Rakim | SUPPLIED PHOTO

The mic-wielding half of Golden Era hip-hop duo Eric B. & Rakim will perform the pair’s revered 1987 debut album, “Paid in Full,” in its entirety May 26 at Park West. And MC Rakim wants Chicago heads to know he particularly relishes performing here.

RAKIM
When: 8 p.m. May 26
Where: 322 W. Armitage Ave.
Tickets: $25 (18+ over)
Info: www.jamusa.com/park-west

“You want to do good everywhere,” Rakim said, “but this is one of the places where you want to be at your best – and it brings the best out of you. So I’m looking forward to rappin’ in Chicago.”

Rakim’s Park West date is one of a multitude of stops on the New York-raised rapper’s “Paid in Full Tour,” which will run well into 2017, according to manager Matthew Kemp.

This particular road jaunt marks the 30th anniversary of “Eric B. Is President,” the single that led to “Paid in Full” – which in turn cemented EB&R’s illustrious place in hip-hop history.

Billboard hailed the album as “a quantum leap in terms of mic techniques, from its complex internal rhyme schemes to [Rakim’s] soft-spoken delivery. The street-conscious tightrope he walked in his lyrics – criminal, intellectual, everyman, god … set a blueprint that rappers from Nas to Kendrick Lamar still follow today.”

Rakim reminisced about his duo’s formative years and early milestones last week in a conference call (along with management) from his Stamford, Connecticut, home – excusing himself at one point to calm the frenzied canine trying to drown him out. “That killer dog in the background,” an amused Kemp remarked, “weighs about three pounds.”

“Nico’s a Yorkie mixed with a poodle,” said Rakim. “He act like he a pit bull, though.”

As a precocious high-schooler whose artful rhymes had gotten him noticed around the ill-famed Queensbridge housing projects of Long Island City, Rakim had first met Eric B. when the latter, a skilled DJ/producer at New York’s WBLS-FM, needed a pinch-rapper to rhyme over his beats during his regular radio show. The scheduled MC, Freddie Foxxx, hadn’t shown up, explained Kemp, “so this 16-year old phenom from the neighborhood took Foxxx’s place.”

Rapper and DJ made their first recording together, the aforementioned “Eric B. Is President,” in the home studio of future hip-hop legend Marley Marl, another Queensbridge native. The equipment was in Marl’s living room, recalled Rakim, who began his vocals while comfortably settled on the couch.

“Marley Marl and MC Shan [Marl’s cousin and fellow legend-in-progress] kept trying to get me to stand up and put more energy into it,” said Rakim, noting that he resisted their entreaties: “ʻIf I stand it’s gonna sound the same way, ’cause that’s what I’m trying to do.’”

“It took a little tug o’war for them to just leave me alone and finish the song,” Rakim continued, “but after it came out they was like, ʻYo Rakim, man, we see what you was doing; it’s dope.ʼ”

Indeed, hip-hop hadn’t yet proffered anything quite like Rakim’s “methodical approach” to rapping, as expressed in the duo’s Wikipedia entry on “Paid in Full”: “He had a slow flow, and every line was blunt, mesmeric.” As for his beat-crafting partner, Eric B. evinced “an ear for picking out loops and samples drenched with soul and turned out to be a trailblazer for producers in the coming years.” MTV in 2005 simply pronounced “Paid in Full” the No. 1 hip-hop album of all time.

Rakim has warm memories of first hearing his duo’s music out in the world. Still a senior at New York’s Wyandanch Memorial High, he was “a little late one night, trying to get home and get ready for school the next day. Walking down the sidewalk, I see a car with somebody in the passenger seat, window down, and I hear ʻEric B. Is President.ʼ

“I walk up to the car and I’m like, ‘Yo, is that a tape?’ – around my neighborhood, a lotta my friends used to steal my demo tapes. He’s like, ‘Nah, that’s the radio.’ And from that second on, I don’t think I touched the ground. I think I floated all the way home.

“To know that I was being heard on the radio, it made me feel as if I was, I guess, spread across New York,” Rakim reflected, quietly ecstatic. “It was incredible.”

Moira McCormick is a local freelance writer.