It’s election season, and Eric B is still president.
As one-half of one of Hip Hop’s most trend-setting and skillful groups (with partner Rakim), Eric B gave this culture a style and an attitude that reverberates in today’s stars. But if you get to really speak with the New Yorker, Eric B gave the rappers after him a blueprint on how to make a living, and combined aspirations of wealth with a culture where skillful abilities have always been the currency.
On November 16, Eric B & Rakim will be inducted into the Long Island Hip Hop Hall of Fame at Oheka Castle in Huntington, New York. As a testament to the duo’s range and power, it should be noted that Eric B is actually a Queens native, and while Rakim hails from Wyandanch, the iconic emcee spent much of his youth in neighboring Brooklyn. Still, the team of deejay-and-emcee created a lane 24 years ago that forever changed the sound and motives of aspiring Rap artists.
Admittedly, Eric B rarely does interview. The man, who’s gone on to be behind-the-scenes in the music business says he was always about fortune, never about fame. However, with the Hall of Fame induction, Eric spoke with HipHopDX a week ago today to touch upon being an ambassador of the ghetto, his reasoning for never being in the way, and the man Hip Hop fans elected many years ago explains dispels any “beef” between him and his partner.
HipHopDX: It was recently announced that you and Rakim have been inducted to the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. Tell me about your reaction when you heard this news?
Eric B: It’s always a good thing when people say they respect what you’ve done, something helpful. Next year will be 25 years since [Rakim and I] started out. We stood the test of time. Rap changes rapidly. It used to be that Rap would change every six months, now Rap changes every month, in [terms of] style. So to still be recognized 25 years later, it’s always a plus and it’s a great thing.
DX: You’re attending the induction ceremony, correct?
Eric B: Yes. Sure.
DX: I’m curious to know how you look at your awards, both in terms of how you display them in your home, but also how you look at all these achievements over the last 25-plus?
Eric B: You know what? Honestly, it doesn’t resonate. It doesn’t sink in, ’cause I didn’t get in this business to be a star. I didn’t get into this money, I didn’t get in this business to get a bunch of accolades; I got into this business to make money and get out of the streets. It’s a road: either you go left and you hustle and do stick-ups, or you go right and you make music. For me, it was never was about somebody recognizing me and what I’ve done and what I’ve accomplished. It’s great. It’s a great thing, but for me, I can take it or leave it. If you remember, the [Vh1] Hip Hop Honors, I didn’t go, ’cause I could care less. I could care less. To me, I’ve been through these accolades a long time ago. [This is] because at the end of the day, people are not gonna give you your just due of what you really brought to the table or what I’ve really accomplished in this business. People just make up what they want to make up. I don’t fight them, I could care less. Just give me my money and I’m out the way. That’s what it’s about. Honestly, if I could have done it all over again, I would have been an executive and never made records. I would have been behind the scenes.
DX: A music executive?
Eric B: Yes.
DX: But you’ve done that.
Eric B: Yes. I still do consulting. Honestly, I did not get into this business to be a star. I recognize the [Long Island] Hall of Fame, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – we’ll be eligible to be on the ballot next year. Those are definitely great accomplishments. I definitely respect and appreciate when people think about us in that manner.
DX: I always credit you and Rakim, not just for the Paid In Full cover or album title, but you guys were some of the first guys to really display and talk about wealth to that extent – and in a DIY fashion. How do you feel about being a forefather in merging Hip Hop and capitalism – which you may or may not agree with…
Eric B: It’s funny that you see it like that; a lot of people don’t recognize what we’ve brought to the game. I told ’em in the beginning, when I came in, we were the first [Rap group] to get a million dollars an album, first ones to get one million or two million dollars for publishing, I mean, first rapper to have a Rolls Royce, first rappers to [be known for their jewelry]. I’ve made so many different accomplishments…I feel like Jay-Z [who] made so many people millionaires, and they still have negative things to say about me.
I just want to say this: I love the new Hip Hop, I love the new era, I love the new music. Change is always great, for anything. If you don’t change, you just stay the same – and Rap would have got old. I love Drake, I love [Lil] Wayne, and Jay – and not necessarily in that order. I love what those guys bring to the table. At the end of the day, I go back to my rule number one: I got in this business just to make money. But I appreciate and respect the accolades that they give me.
DX: Along those same lines, you’ve had a had in some amazing, skillful art, whether we’re talking about with Rakim, with Freddie Foxxx, with Large Professor, Kool G Rap, etc. Take away commerce for a second, how do you look at the art in relation to today?
Eric B: [MC] Hammer brought the [commercialization] into Rap. Everybody said, “Hammer’s dancin’ for chicken” [because he was KFC] commercials. I remember when he got four million dollars from KFC and everybody let him have it. “That’s not Rap!” Now, everybody’s got a commercial. Drake got a Sprite commercial; he got a million dollars for the Sprite commercial. It’s so funny, that then, when you’re trend-setters and you’re doing all of this stuff… now, it’s just the norm. It’s just funny to look back at the things we did. I wish I could sit on this phone and tell you I had [it all] calculated. But what it was, to be real with you, was trial-and-error. I remember sitting and doing our contracts. [Soon after], I turned around and looked at all the money that was coming in and I said, “Yo, we gotta get paid to do what we do.”
I remember, U2 was on our label [Island Records]. We were sellin’ more records than U2 at one time… and Island Records didn’t even want to buy us t-shirts. I think we were at two-and-a-half, three million records sold. We got a gold record. We were at 800,000 records [sold] – I’ll never forget this. The Promotions guy came in and said, “Y’all act like y’all got a gold record.” I said, “We do; 500,000 records is a gold record.” He said, “No. A million records is a gold record.”
Eric B: My brother won a bet, ’cause they were arguing. The executive didn’t even know the record went gold. Man, it’s so many different things we went through in this business. But yo, it was a learning experience. It was a good experience for all of us.
I just want to say, for the record, Eric B & Rakim started out as a mom-and-pop operation and turned into a corporation. And it was a great, great run. If I sat on this phone and lied to you and said, “I’m fully responsible for the run that we had,” I’d be lyin’. If Rakim said it, he’d be [lying]. There’s so many different people with different pieces to our puzzle to make this thing a corporation and to be just as strong 25 years later. I can just name endless names, goin’ on all day, and I’d be really hurt that I didn’t remember other names if I didn’t give them to you. I say this all the time: I’m grateful to the people who came around and graced us with their presence to grow into what we are today.
DX: You mentioned consulting. Tell me what you’re up to as far as right now?
Eric B: There’s a Hip Hop game-show for TV that we’re workin’ on, it’s like a Jeopardy, with a gentleman out of [New] Jersey who came with a great idea. I really want to break that TV ceiling. Tyler Perry’s done it, that’s a great run. Byron Allen’s been doing for [many] years. It’s time to make the transition. I tell many rappers, “Use Rap as a stepping-stone. Make the transition to bigger and better things.” That’s what I’ve done. I love my life. I laugh at my friends, and say, “I’m just a civilian.” I love bein’ out the way as a consultant.
DX: Do you think keeping a low-profile has contributed to your longevity?
Eric B: Nah, it just keeps my sanity. [Laughs] There’s so many young guys with talent. I did Freddie Foxxx‘s Krupt Mob Radio show. Foxxx says, “You know, Eric, what if you have an older rapper who wants to get back into the game?” I said, “Well, everybody has their niche.” I have this thing called the “Frankie Beverly Theory.” You can perform until you’re 102 [years old], and put out records. Honestly, the game has changed. I said [in the radio interview], “Let some of these young boys shine. Let them do what they do.” And I love it. I love the new energy. But, if you don’t know who came before you and know the history of Rap, people [will] see right through you. You look at LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, they understand the history of who came before them.
I was laughing at my daughter. I was sitting in my office; she comes in. I’m talkin’ to somebody and she says, “Come on, dad. When you were doing Rap that was so long ago.” I said, “Little girl, why are you in my office firstly?” She said she wanted to tell me something. [As this was happening], I was looking at this publishing agreement. Lil Wayne was doin’ this record [sampling or interpolating something from Eric B & Rakim]. So I said, “Little girl, let me say something to do. You like Lil Wayne, right? Well, guess what, Lil Wayne just did one of your father’s records over. So if you like Lil Wayne, and Lil Wayne respects your father, that means I’m still a man. Now get out my office.” [Laughs] You know what I’m sayin’? It’s just so funny. I’m happy, man. I love the new guys. Let them do them.
DX: I respect that optimistic wisdom – that’s what I’ll call it. It’s difficult for me to speak to artists who are pessimistic about the past and the present.
Eric B: I had a great, great, great run. How could I be bitter? You got a young black kid from New York City that played in Helsinki, Finland. I played in Japan and Korea – in 1985 and 1986. How can I sit here and be mad or upset? We’re in control of our own destiny. You’ve got to take it into your own hands. You can’t sit there with the bitter rapper face.
I’ll never forget: [Grandmaster] Melle Mel [of Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five] is one of my friends. And I let him have, to today. He denies this story all the way. It was Melle Mel, Grandmaster Caz, Afrika Islam, maybe even Ice-T was there. There were so many of them there. We were at McDonald’s on 125th Street [in Harlem]. I came in there. I had my first record “Eric B Is President,” and we [were] on fire in New York City. I’m happy. I see Melle Mel! “Hey Melle Mel, I’m Eric B. It’s good to meet you, man. If I can do a record with you or anything, I appreciate you [and so on].” I come outside. I was like, “Damn! I got to meet Melle Mel,” ’cause I was happy about meetin’ him. So a McDonald’s [employee] comes out, “Eric, you shouldn’t have said shit to him. He was in there talkin’ ’bout ‘Fuck Eric B & Rakim.'” I said, “Look, man, I don’t care what Melle Mel said, if it wasn’t for guys like Melle Mel, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doin’ now. If that’s how he wants to act and be mad, that’s fine. He showed me a way to feed my family. If that’s the way they feel, that’s fine.” Melle Mel denies that story right now. [Laughs] I always said to myself, when it was time for me to make that transition, to pass the torch over, that I would never, ever be angry or bitter.
It’s funny that you say that about “wisdom.” When I walked away from music 15 years ago, and decided to business, I left Eric B & Rakim and let Rakim do whatever he wanted to do. It was 15 years ago. A lot of people come up to me and say, “Eric, I hear you and Rakim got a beef?” “A beef?” I say, “First of all, let me explain something to you. From day one, we split every dime 50/50. I paid for all the studio time. Our first show we ever did, we got $1,500 to play in Long Island. Rakim said, ‘Yo Eric, you paid for all the studio, the cars, this and that. You gotta get your money back.’ I said, ‘If we gonna be partners, we gonna be partners.’ From 24 years ago to today, we split every dime 50/50. Number two, the name of the group, Eric B & Rakim, was made up by Rakim. Number three, we never slept with the same women. So what problems we got?” If you listen to all that other, back-and-forth, childish shit [you are] mistaken; we don’t have no problems.
I just laugh about all the rumors and all the childish conversation. That’s why I really stay out the way.
DX: It’s funny. I never believed what’s been read about the so-called “break-up,” which is why I didn’t ask you about it, and I’ve never asked Rakim about it. You said it. Everything you just said is how I’ve always understood it to be.
Eric B: It’s childish. It doesn’t even make any sense. Believe what you want to believe, I walked away from this thing 15 years ago ’cause I wanted to do business and other things in life, and I’m really happy about the other things that I do. I’m ecstatic and happy about life.
The [rumored dispute] with Nicki Minaj is another [example of childish conversations]. What am I doing arguing with Nicki Minaj? Nicki Minaj is so important to Rap music. What happened was, my daughter had told me about Nicki Minaj, before, when she was just on underground tapes. “Dad, she hot! Drake is hot!” and so on. She put onto Nicki Minaj years ago. I went to a show. My friend is Drake’s [road] manager, he invited me to the show. I see Cortez [Bryant], [Drake and Lil Wayne’s] manager, I see Drake, everybody speaks. Somebody says to Nicki, “This is Eric,” and she pulls her glasses down like, “Yeah, whatever.” So one of the reporters comes and says, “Yo Eric, did she just blow you off like you’re nobody?” I said, “Hey man, she got the right to do whatever she want to do, man. Maybe she’s goin’ through somethin’ or dealin’ with somethin’. That ain’t got nothin’ to do with me, man.” Then somebody on Twitter sent her a message like a year later, talkin’ ’bout “Go fuck yaself,” and [people think I] did it. Man, do I look like a Twitter gangsta or somethin’? [Laughs] Come on, man! I like Nicki Minaj! She gives a different look every record. I’m tired of seein’ men in Rap.
DX: And she’s from Queens.
Eric B: And she’s good for young women, to show that they can dominate and be in Rap in a big way. I hope Nicki Minaj has a great career and a long run.
DX: I’ve asked this to Bun B, I’ve asked this to Ice-T. You made Paid In Full and I’ve always heard you are a car guy, so I’m asking you: what’s your favorite car you’ve ever owned?
Eric B: My favorite car that I’ve owned in life…my first car I ever owned in life was a Rolls Royce. I never had a hooptie. First car, ever. I’m still partial to them. They’re fast. Everybody just thinks that they’re luxury vehicles, they’re fast. They’re quick. The people that make Rolls Royces make airplane engines. I remember when I first went to see the car at the dealership. The dealer and I were racing up and down Second Avenue [in New York]. I said, “Damn, this car’s quick!” and he told me [that]. Those cars are for long, family trips [and] touring the countryside. I think [my favorite car] has to be the Rolls Royce. Up into today, they continue excellence.
DX: Last question. You mentioned being a black kid from New York that went on to traveling the world. My favorite record you guys ever did was “In The Ghetto.” I was a white kid that grew up in Pittsburgh, and that record taught me about an environment that I did not yet know. You mentioned how Hip Hop gave you a passport, tell me that record, which allowed people to look in…
Eric B: If you remember the video, we thought about the video for “In The Ghetto,” and we said that the perfect person to be in our video was Rudy Ray Moore [a/k/a] Dolemite. Because being from New York, we loved all the Rudy Ray Moore films, Dolemite and The [Legend] of Dolemite, and so we had him in the video. The thing about it was… when we went to different countries, Africa and so on, like you said, with “The Ghetto,” we were ambassadors of New York City. Black kids in New York City constantly look back on it, we were ambassadors. That record was so important. A lot of people picked up and said that they could feel the growing pains of New York City and from young black Americans through that record – and Americans, period. When we traveled, a lot of people got into that record. Of all the records we did… “Eric B Is President,” “Paid In Full” and so on, that record set us aside and made us young ambassadors of the ghetto. We were treated [as such].