Eric B. is born on November 8 in the Elmhurst section of Queens, New York né Eric Barrier. He was musically inclined from the start, playing trumpet and drums throughout high school, and switching to turntablism prior to graduation.
Rakim, born William Michael Griffin, is born in Wyandanch in Long Island, New York, on January 28. He grew up in a musical family; his mother sang jazz and opera, his brothers played many instruments, and his aunt was the legendary R&B singer Ruth Brown. He demonstrated early prowess for music, playing baritone saxophone in the Wyandanch High School band, and cites jazz greats like John Coltrane as influences. Moreover, he started rapping at a very early age. In describing Rakim, DJ Belal of the rap group Groove B Chill said, “This dude sounded so good at 12 ... that most MCs could not even come close. So I stopped rhyming.”
Rakim converts to Islam at age 16. He would go one to be one of the stronger proponents of the Nation of Islam through his music.
Rakim performs as “Kid Wizard Rakim” alongside Biz Markie at an event called Wyandanch High School Jam. In high school, he would join several fledgling rap groups, including the Almighty 5 MCs and The Love Brothers.
Eric B. begins his search for a rapper to complement his turntable work at the New York radio station WBLS. He meets promoter Alvin Toney, who recommends Freddie Foxxx, but after Foxxx misses his meeting with Eric B., Toney recommends Rakim. Eric B. and Rakim begin recording together in the studio of Marley Marl, Eric B.’s friend and roommate.
Eric B. & Rakim release their debut single “Eric B. Is President” via the independent label Zakia Records. It’s released as two-sided single, with “My Melody” on the other side. “Eric B. Is President” becomes a summer street hit that year.
Russell Simmons signs Eric B. & Rakim to Island Records subsidiary 4th & B’way Records. In early 1987, they begin recording their debut album Paid in Full in Manhattan’s Power Play Studios. They complete the record in one week, and the album is released August 25. It peaks at number fifty-eight on the Billboard 200 chart and receives critical acclaim for Rakim’s revolutionary rhyme schemes and Eric B.’s inventive sampling. The album is certified gold for sales of 500,000 copies on December 4.
Following the success of Paid in Full, Eric B. & Rakim leave 4th & B’way and sign with Uni Records. They record their follow-up album Follow the Leader in Power Play Studios. The album is released on July 26. Follow the Leader receives a level of acclaim near that of Paid in Full and sells better, reaching number 22 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart.
Eric B. & Rakim feature on Jody Watley’s single “Friends,” which peaks at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. This is considered among the first notable rap/pop collaborations.
Eric B. & Rakim release their third album Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em on May 22. The album does not sell as much as their previous efforts but receives a rare 5-mic rating from Source.
Eric B. & Rakim release their final album Don’t Sweat the Technique on June 23. The album debuts at number 22 on the Billboard 200 and receives generally positive reviews.
Eric B. & Rakim split up over legal issues. Both expressed interest in pursuing solo careers during the Don’t Sweat the Technique sessions, but fearful that Rakim would abandon him entirely, Eric B. refused to sign their label MCA Records’ release contract. This led to legal battles in court and further investigation into uneven payouts to Eric B. and Rakim, ultimately leading to their dissolution as a group.
Rakim is dropped from MCA Records.
Eric B. releases his self-titled debut solo album on 95th Street Recordings.
Rakim signs with Universal Records and begins working on his debut solo album.
Rakim releases his debut solo album The 18th Letter on November 4. The album debuts at number 4 on the Billboard 200 chart and is certified gold for sales of 500,000 copies in the U.S. It features production from DJ Clark Kent, Pete Rock, Father Shaheed, Nick Wiz, and DJ Premier. The 18th Letter receives strong reviews positive reviews and is viewed by many as a comeback by Rakim.
Rakim releases his second solo album The Master on November 30. The album is not as popular as his previous album, debuting at number 72 on the Billboard 200.
Rakim signs to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment record label to work on an album tentatively titled Oh, My God. The album experiences multiple delays and is ultimately shelved.
Rakim releases his third and final solo studio album The Seventh Seal on his own Ra Records. The album consists of material Rakim recorded after being dropped from Aftermath. Rakim described the music he recorded with Dre as being “locked down in the lab for now.” The Seventh Seal receives mixed reviews.
Eric B. announces on October 20 via Twitter that he and Rakim have reunited after 23 years and are planning a reunion tour.
On July 7, Eric B. & Rakim perform together for the first time in over 20 years at Harlem’s Apollo Theater to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Paid in Full. They perform the album in its entirety and are joined on stage by guests like EPMD, Flavor Flav, Main Source, Ma$e, and Ice-T.
Eric B. & Rakim announce The Complete Collection 1987-1992, the vinyl re-issue of their albums from 1987 to 1992. The collection includes 2 discs of remixes that are not digitally available.