The sophomore jinx is a popular phrase in the music business. Will the artist in question be able to live up to the greatness of their debut? Was the debut some cosmic fluke where the planets aligned just right for the artist, producer and engineer? No need to ponder such questions when discussing Follow The Leader, the incredible follow up to the genre changing debut Paid In Full by Eric B & Rakim. Everything was a step up on FTL.
For starters most of the songs were new to the ears of the public. One of the glaring weak points of Paid In Full was that Eric B Is President and Check Out My Melody had been released a year before. When you combine that with instrumental fillers like Extended Beat (essentially the instrumental to Move The Crowd), Chinese Arithmetic and Eric B Is On The Cut you really only had 5 new songs of Rakim's superior word play on that release. Dj cut up tracks on lps had been a staple in rap since Jay's Game on Run DMC's debut lp, but fans of Rakim's cadence, sentence structure and unique voice wanted more of the R at the time.
Follow The Leader gave the starving masses what they yearned for. Even though FTL contained filler
The production was also stepped up on FTL. Where Paid In Full was mostly looped samples,FTL was a combination of loops & live instrumentation courtesy of Rakim's brother Stevie Blass Griffin. Instead of sampling Rock Creek Park for The R, or looping the horns from Mandrill's Fat City Strut for To The Listeners, these pieces were replayed for a more live and musical effect.
If Rakim showed us hints of lyrical genius and superiority on PIF, then he solidified his greatness on FTL. On the lps title track he confidently spits "music mix mellow maintains to make melodies for emcees motivates the breaks - im everlastin' I can go on for days and days with rhyme displays that engrave deep as x rays". Or one of my favorite lines ever - "what can you say as the Earth gets further and further away - planets as small as balls of clay astray into the milky way ,worlds out of site as far as the eye can see not even a satellite". Chunks of Nautilus by Bob James are thrown into the mix to add to the celestial tone that Rakim sets with his wordplay.