Eric B. & Rakim’s Paid In Full vs. Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Which Is Better?

Last September, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: what is the greatest Rap Album Of All-Time? “Finding The GOAT Album” has considered more than 120 albums from the 80s, 90s and 2000s (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. Now that you have decided the Elite 8, things are critical—as is your vote.

In a six-year span, two New York City Hip-Hop groups snatched the creative baton from their peers and reached new terrain in lyrics and beats. Eric B. & Rakim’s Paid In Full debut combined groundbreaking MC styles with aspirational themes. Their sonic template changed Rap music on two levels. Rakim’s multi-syllabic rhyme pattern would become the blueprint for lyrical Hip-Hop thereafter, and their beat selection would usher in the James Brown era which dominated the genre for years. Wu-Tang Clan’s nine-member massive stung the forehead of Hip-Hop with Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). On RZA’s unconventional break-beat concoctions, the baseball lineup of MCs chipped away at Rap’s polish and basked in their Shaolin underbelly. The Witty Unpredictable gang applied the Rakim formula: style and substance interlocked. Both platinum albums, these are Rap library essentials. Can one of Hip-Hop’s MC kings successfully take on nine of his disciples? Will the developed narratives and palpable concepts of Wu take down the God MC? Known for loving the competition, both acts embark on a real showdown. Only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click (Click one then click “vote”).


Paid In Full by Eric B. & Rakim

In mid-1987, Eric B. & Rakim changed the Hip-Hop landscape seismically through their Paid In Full debut. In an era when single syllabic rhymes in 4-4 time were still commonplace, Rakim stepped forth with a complex, but seemingly effortless flow. The Long Island, New York MC took on topics from his DJ, to his financial status, to his skyrocketing career, and made instant-certified dope. Calm and seemingly unaffected, Rakim was an entirely different MC than Run-D.M.C, Boogie Down Productions, or LL Cool J. However, he packed the same A-level of confidence. Meanwhile, DJ Eric B. (with reported help from Ra’ and Marley Marl) laced an album that took ’60s and ’70s records and seamlessly wove them against Rakim’s rhymes. “I Know You Got You Soul” pipe-lined the excitement of James Brown into the late ’80s, with a raw freshness. “I Ain’t No Joke” combined hard, panned drums with horn riffs—bridged together with scratching. Although the duo was using emerging technology, their organic rawness made the universe their studio.

While Eric B. & Rakim knew how to travel backwards musically, they were also trailblazing. “Paid In Full” used drums as effectively as any song in its day, while Rakim took listeners on a journey, accented by effects under Eric. “My Melody” relied on synth-and-scratch in a way that bridged the gap between Hip-Hop, Pop, and New Wave. An eventual platinum album, this 10-track effort was a capsule of soulful Hip-Hop for 1987. Moreover, this LP all but closed the book on new MCs using simple rhymes and metronome flows. As LL Cool J, KRS-One, Kool Moe Dee, Run, DMC, and others wielded supreme status as MCs, Rakim instantly threw his hat in the ring. “Eric is president,” but Ra’ stood tall as crowd commander-in-chief.

Album Number: 1
Released: August 25, 1987
Label: 4th & B’way/Island Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #58 (certified gold, December 1987, certified platinum, July 1995)
Song Guests: N/A
Song Producers: (self), Marley Marl


Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) by Wu-Tang Clan

In late 1993, Wu-Tang Clan bum-rushed the show when they brought their own menacing cacophonous raucous. Enter The Wu-Tang is a tour de force of rugged raps, filthy beats, and a style that made Hip-Hop’s early ’90s elite get out of the way, handing over the mic. RZA, GZA, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, U-God, Masta Killa, Method Man, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard were against the odds when they brought nine bodies to a Loud/RCA Records-backed album, and made all seem as organized as a rank-and-file military branch. With every MC offering something different, each vocalist distinguished himself with skill, vocal tone, and flow. From acts like The Rebel I.N.S. taking on lion’s share roles to M.K.’s lone verse, the family did no favors to each other—and showed its own agitated quarrels in the interludes. Although they had their own internal dynamics, the Wu brought an unrivaled sense of family pride to outsiders. Songs like smash single “C.R.E.A.M.” and follow-up “Can It All Be Simple” proved that the common theme of hardships made this unit a pack of hungry wolves who resented aristocratic peers. Save for GZA and RZA, all the MCs were burgeoning to wax since 1992’s “Protect Ya Neck.” However, from O.D.B.’s “Shame On A Nigga” timing, to the “Method Man” routine all presented styles that felt like they were bottled in 1988, but fermenting, and getting all the more intoxicating while waiting for their chance. On one hand, Wu-Tang was futuristic in their dismissal of conventions. On the other, this was a head-trip back to the days of the late ’80s underground—battling in a smoke-filled train car.

36 Chambers, as the album is often affectionately called, is a beautiful testament to RZA’s visionary gift. In addition to delivering the most lucid, razor-sharp verses of his career, Robert Diggs made an album that sounded electric, alive, and dangerous. Break-beat arrangements on songs like “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit” and “Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber – Part II” were accentuated with organs, special effects, and muted horns. While Dr. Dre was out in Los Angeles, setting chronic highs to three-wheel motion, RZA laced his jagged basslines with audio angel dust. With its rough texture, the album is incredibly cohesive, making skipping implausible if not impossible. Enter The Wu-Tang captivated Hip-Hop. It restored the comparative nature of over-stuffed Rap crews. It made every minute of an album feel precious internally and externally. The LP also made the Hip-Hop act feel like a militia, an outlaw posse, or a flash mob of witty, unpredictable voices with natural game. This LP not only served its nine creators with plush careers that followed, it made the industry take closer notice of what was really going on in the streets. For 15 years, Staten Island was the ignored borough. Also with MCs from the Bronx and Brooklyn, the Clan made the short-sighted Manhattan labels not only scared, but surrounded.

Album Number: 1 (as a group)
Released: November 9, 1993
Label: Loud/RCA Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #41 (certified gold, March 1994; certified platinum, May 1995)
Song Guests: 4th Disciple
Song Producers: (self)

So which is the better album? Make sure you vote above.

Related: Other Finding The GOAT: Album Battles.