Follow the Leader is the second studio album by American hip hop duo Eric B. & Rakim. Following their debut album Paid in Full (1987), Eric B. & Rakim left 4th & B’way Records and signed with Uni Records, a subsidiary label of major label MCA Records. They recorded Follow the Leader at Power Play Studios in New York City The duo produced, composed, and arranged the album with additional contributions from Rakim’s brother Stevie Blass Griffin, who contributed with various instruments.Eric B. & Rakim worked with audio engineers Carlton Batts and Patrick Adams on the album. In a similar manner to their first album, a “ghost producer” was brought in for two songs. In a 2007 interview with Unkut.com, The 45 King said he produced both “Microphone Fiend” and “The R”. “Microphone Fiend” was originally made for Fab 5 Freddy, until 45 King gave it over to Eric B., the group’s “DJ”.
Follow the Leader peaked at number 22 on the U.S. Billboard Top Pop Albums and at number seven on Billboard‘s Top Black Albums chart. It achieved higher charting than Eric B. & Rakim’s debut album and serves as their best-charting album in the United States. The album produced four singles, “Follow the Leader“, “Microphone Fiend“, “The R”, and “Lyrics of Fury”. “Follow the Leader” peaked at number 16 on the Hot Black Singles, at number 11 on the Hot Dance/Disco, and at number five on the Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales chart. “The R” reached number 79 on the Hot Black Singles, number 28 on the Hot Dance/Disco, number 41 on the Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales, and number 14 on the Hot Rap Singles chart. On September 27, 1988, the album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for shipments in excess of 500,000 copies in the United States.
Follow the Leader was well received by contemporary critics. Los Angeles Times writer Jonathan Gold viewed it as “far more consistent” than the duo’s Paid in Full, calling Eric B. “a master of chill, understated beats” and complimenting Rakim for weaving “a laid-back web of words, his whiskey-smooth tenor less noisy but more intense than the machine-gun mutterings you hear booming from beat boxes, his keen rhymes all the more devastating for being near-whispered where lesser rappers would shout”. In his review for The Village Voice, Robert Christgau found the duo’s sampling as an improvement from their previous work’s “Brownian motion” and complimented Rakim’s “ever-increasing words-per-minute ratio—the man loves language like a young Bob D“. Peter Watrous of The New York Times commended Eric B.’s mixes and described him as “a minimalist virtuoso”.Watrous called Rakim “one of the most distinctive rappers in the business” and elaborated on his lyricism: “His voice soars as gracefully as a well-thrown football; it’ll change direction on the spot. He will vary rhythms, pushing and pulling against the beat to highlight his lyrics. Insistent, cool and dedicated, his rapping has an urgency that makes the music much more than pop; it sounds like a musical version of a political, social vision.
In the 2006 book To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic, author William Jelani Cobb later wrote of the album’s significance:
On the heels of Paid in Full, Eric B. & Rakim delivered a full clip of album titled Follow the Leader in 1988. Featuring a broader spectrum of sounds than the James Brown samples that had defined the initial release, Follow the Leader saw Rakim at his most lyrically fierce, issuing deft and def threats on such tracks as ‘Microphone Fiend,’ ‘Lyrics of Fury,’ and the nearly felonious ‘No Competition.’ The release marked the high point in the collaboration between the two and prefaced the long slide they faced in the 1990s.”
In a retrospective review, AllMusic editor Steve Huey gave the album five out of five stars and viewed it as an improvement over Paid in Full, commending Rakim’s “agile, up-tempo lyrical showcases”.In a dual review of both Paid in Full and Follow the Leader‘s reissues, Pitchfork Media‘s Jess Harvell expressed that the high points of the latter album “are as high as any rap group has gotten” and wrote that both albums’ music serve as “a reminder of a brief period where people thought they could become a millionaire on skills alone, where the reality of that was so far away that no one had to think about what being a millionaire would mean to the culture that nurtured those skills”.In 1998, Follow the Leader was selected as one of The Source‘s 100 Best Rap Albums, and in 2005, it was ranked number 12 on comedian Chris Rock‘s list of the “Top 25 Hip-Hop Albums”.The track “Lyrics of Fury” was ranked number five on About.com‘s list of “Top 100 Rap Songs”.
The album is ranked number 979 in All-Time Top 1000 Albums (3rd. edition, 2000).