The Eric B and Rakim song that inspired Aaliyah
(Credit: Mika-photography)

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The Eric B and Rakim song that inspired Aaliyah

The late singer Aaliyah was a talent destined for greatness, and with mega-producer Timbaland behind her, in the short time that the two made music, they had a massive impact on the sound of R’n’B going into the turn of the millennium. 

Aaliyah was the predecessor to Beyoncé and was one of the most prominent solo R’n’B singers at the turn of the millennium, along with the likes of Mary J Blige and Mariah Carey. A true trendsetter, Aaliyah, with her emotional, heartfelt lyrics and angelic harmonies, set a precedent for upcoming singers.

That said, for one of her tracks, Aaliyah drew inspiration from the legendary New York duo Eric B & Rakim. The ‘Paid In Full’ duo changed the hip-hop scene with their 1987 album Paid In Full and set a precedent for both lyricism and production.

Their lead single of the same name, ‘Paid In Full,’ was a game-changing track with regard to its composition. Produced by Eric B, the track contained several obscure samples, and Rakim (real name William Giffin) lyrically attacked the beat with flawless flows and compelling rhyme schemes.

However, it was another track that Aaliyah drew inspiration from, and that was ‘I Know You Got Soul’. Released in 1987, the song’s beat samples a 1971 Bobby Byrd song of the same name, during which he sings, “I know you got soul – if you didn’t you wouldn’t be in here!”

However, the Eric B & Rakim hip-hop reimagination of the track hears Rakim effortlessly ride the beat and opens the song by rapping, “It’s been a long time I shouldn’t have left you without a strong rhyme to step to!”

An interpolation of this rhyme acts as the intro for Aaliyah’s 2001 track ‘Try Again’ on which Timbaland emcees, It’s been a long time we shouldn’t have left you without a dope beat to step to!”

‘Try Again’ was featured on Aaliyah’s third and final album, Aaliyah, which is often referred to as ‘The Red Album’. Recorded in  Sony Studios in New York, the track was first released on the soundtrack for the motion picture Romeo Must Die, a film in which Aaliyah starred. However, the song gained traction more from the 2001 album than it did from the soundtrack.

The futuristic track peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and was also nominated for a Grammy in the ‘Best Female R&B Vocal Performance’ category. You can listen to ‘I Know You Got Soul’ and ‘Try Again’ in the videos below.