It’s both fitting and hauntingly ironic how I get to talk about this Eric B. & Rakim album from 1992 when the legendary rapper Prodigy from the duo Mobb Deep recently died a few days ago. Both of these rap duos helped bridge the way for the New York East Coast sound, which Biggie eventually adopted, and both created this idea of reporting what was happening from the streets, much like N.W.A. On Don’t Sweat the Technique, Eric B. and Rakim broadcasted their tough realism in an unconventional musical style.
Rakim’s clever lyrics about the streets over Eric B.’s flawless funky production was musical irony at its best. Take away Rakim’s flow and you may just find yourself bobbing your head to the gorgeous instrumentals. However, adding Rakim’s lyrics creates another layer that is both educating and truthful. That’s why Don’t Sweat the Technique was so impactful; it was a socially conscious mash-up of tremendous wordplay and wonderful production.
Rakim was also very charming on many of the tracks on this project. I think that a song like “What’s On Your Mind” is quite tough to resent. The tone was set from the start and both artists never looked back. The duo switched up it’s sound to a more darker resonance on “Teach the Children.” Rakim calls out the government for their inactive stand on the impoverished side of America and expresses the idea of listening to the kids because they are our future (something a young Kanye used for his own inspiration maybe?).
Biggie was definitely the other artist who was heavily influenced by much of the musical style of telling the harsh truth to the country. It’s not a surprise that Biggie was also from New York much like Rakim and Eric B. The duo continues on this 1992 installment with a couple tracks that touch on the subject of inner-conflicts that occur on the streets. On “Pass the Hand Grenade” and “Casualties of War,” Rakim compared being petrified living on the streets as being petrified during an actual war overseas. He had an especially emotional lyric on “Casualties of War,” where he reveals the fact that he’s blessed that he’s still walking while many of his friends have ended up in a coffin.
Meanwhile, “Rest Assured” was a perfect example of what the production style was like in the late 80s early 90s (a la Public Enemy). “The Punisher” sounded like something off of Biggie’s Life After Death double album. I’m not going to lie, I’m a little worried though. Rakim talks about cutting off eyelids on this dingy track. It’s one thing to “punish” other artists with your bars, it’s another to find pleasure in actually violently murdering and torturing people. Hopefully the duo was just describing some people in the hometown they grew up in rather than describing themselves.
Anyway, the rest of the album was definitely tame compared to that. Although some of the lyrics on “Relax With Pep” may seem corny now, at the time it was fresh for hardcore hip hop fans who were just coming off of witnessing the most ferocious rap group of all-time in N.W.A. The single was more of a celebratory victory lap for Rakim who brags that there is no more crime, and that he has “rhymes for days and it gets paid.” I love it though because again he reminds me a lot of artists today who want to share their underdog story.
It’s really hard for me to disregard what Eric B. does on this album as well, especially in the latter half. It makes up for some of the repetitiveness of Rakim’s lyrics at certain points. The piano and jazzy trumpet on “Keep the Beat” and “What’s Going On” really produces a tone that is not normally expressed throughout the genre. “Know the Ledge” was by far the most Public Enemy-esque track, and the song sounds like something you would play during a montage of some of the best moments in hip hop history.
“Don’t Sweat the Technique” and “Kick Along” forced everyone to give the duo a shot and hear their message. Rakim’s flow seemed to be at its finest when he’s just spitting and not worrying about a god damn thing.
Twenty-five years later, and after the death of a legend from another artist who bridged the 90s sound of hip hop, we should be celebrating guys like Rakim and Eric B. who weren’t afraid to test the barriers of music and bring out the horrors of people’s reality. Don’t Sweat the Technique was a manifestation of that idea.