Rakim is one of the most influential rappers in hip hop history. A prominent rapper in the culture, many legends, including Wu-Tang Clan and Eminem, cite Rakim as an inspiration. He is known for his work alongside Eric B., and together, they created some of the most influential hip hop hits. They were among the first to utilize some of the genre's most famous samples. Eric B. & Rakim's work consists of four studio albums throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, including their classic 1987 debut album, Paid In Full. Rakim also had a solo run of music, releasing three studio albums in the late 1990s and 2000s.
This is a list of Rakim's biggest hits, including his highest-charting songs and culturally impactful records. The songs, listed in chronological order, draw primarily from his work with Eric B., but also from his solo career. Take a look at the list below.
"I Ain't No Joke" (1987)
"I Ain't No Joke" is one of the earliest examples of Rakim's signature rhyme style that broke barriers early in hip hop history. The earliest rapping generally formed complete sentences every bar, and Rakim deviated from that, leading to seamless transitions between bars. He also had one of the best flows compared to his peers at the time, which can be exemplified in this song. The iconic horns on "I Ain't No Joke" come from "Pass the Peas" by the J.B.'s. The song peaked at No. 38 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs chart. It has also been sampled by Gang Starr, Nas, Big Pun, MF DOOM, and others.
"I Know You Got Soul" (1987)
"I Know You Got Soul" derives from Bobby Byrd's 1971 song of the same name. It also samples Funkadelic and Syl Johnson. It is one of Eric B. & Rakim's biggest hits, landing positions on multiple Billboard charts and the UK Singles Chart. "I Know You Got Soul" is also one of their most sampled songs from the likes of JAY-Z, Mos Def, D'Angelo, Busta Rhymes, and more.
"Paid In Full" (1987)
Rakim has always been able to capture listeners with a clever opening line, and the Paid In Full album is full of them. In addition to the previous two tracks, the album's title track has a slick opening line that has been referenced throughout hip hop history. Many rappers have referenced that "thinking of a master plan" lyric. The song's famous breakbeat samples a sped-up Dennis Edwards song and has been repurposed in many rap songs, emulating "Paid In Full."
Notably, Talib Kweli made his own version of the song called "Turnt Up" in 2013. Additionally, Mos Def, Wu-Tang Clan, Little Brother, Gang Starr, and others have referenced "Paid In Full" in their music. The breakbeat was even used in the 2008 BET Cypher, featuring the likes of Jadakiss, Fabolous, and Juelz Santana. "Paid In Full" performed well commercially, charting in the U.S. and multiple European countries.
"Follow The Leader" (1988)
The title track from 1988's Follow The Leader is one of Eric. B & Rakim's biggest hits and most influential songs. Much like many tracks on Paid In Full, "Follow The Leader" helped reinvent rapping. Rakim utilizes more complex rhyme schemes and flows than his contemporaries' simplistic rhyme style. "Follow The Leader" was also one of the first rap songs to sample Bob James's "Nautilus," which eventually became one of hip hop's most sampled songs. The song performed well on American charts and in the UK, peaking within the Top 20. The influence of "Follow The Leader" can be seen in the many songs sampled, including tracks from Mobb Deep, 2Pac, Atmsosphere, and more.
"Microphone Fiend" (1988)
"Microphone Fiend" from Follow The Leader may not have charted as high as the album's title track, but it belongs among Rakim's biggest hits. On the hit song, Rakim likens his passion for rapping to a fiend's drug craving. The song was a staple for '80s hip hop, and its influence reached beyond the genre. "Microphone Fiend" has been sampled, covered, and remixed by the likes of Rage Against The Machine, Muse, and Limp Bizkit. In addition, rappers like Iggy Azalea, PRhyme, and Snoop Dogg have also utilized the song in their music.
"Juice (Know The Ledge)" (1992)
Perhaps one of hip hop's most iconic movie soundtracks, "Know The Ledge" was made for the 1992 movie Juice. The song perfectly encapsulates the movie's plot as Rakim's rapping parallels the characters. Rakim raps from a first-person point of view as someone who has gotten way too deep into crime to the point where their greed and desire for power get the best of them. The track's menacing bassline, exciting scratches, and fast tempo make for the perfect backdrop for Rakim's greatest storytelling song. Like the movie, "Know The Ledge" is a legendary staple in hip hop culture. The song was also used for many movies, TV shows, and video games after the film.
"Guess Who's Back" (1997)
"Guess Who's Back" was the perfect reintroduction to Rakim. Five years removed from his final album with Eric B., Rakim's debut solo single was the right way for him to promote his first solo release. The 18th Letter in 1997 kept up with the traditional sound of the 1990s, as did "Guess Who's Back." The song features a clean loop of Bob James's "Shamboozie." On the track, Rakim leans into his deeper voice. Throughout the song, he references the early days of hip hop that he thrived in. He samples classic hip hop songs, including his own. It is a boastful reminder of Rakim's skill and arguably the best song in his solo catalog. The song is also one of Rakim's biggest solo hits.
Overall, Rakim's biggest hits have proven influential in almost every era of hip hop that followed his run. His work with Eric B. and as a solo artist has demonstrated longevity, inspiring generations of hip hop legends. Specifically, albums like Paid In Full and Follow The Leader defined an era in hip hop. In addition to Rakim's influence, the success of his hit songs also showed hip hop could grow even more significant than it already was. The songs were successful in international markets, leading to hip hop growing globally.