Eric B. & Rakim

Gold

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Before Gold was released in 2005, only two Eric B. & Rakim compilations were readily available. 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection contained 11 tracks, shortchanging anyone who wanted more than the most-known classics. And then there was Classic, a European set so numbskulled that it depicted Eric B. and Chuck D on the back of its sleeve. (The bonus disc that came with early copies of Rakim's The 18th Letter, which did a better job than either release, doesn't really count, since it was rather limited and not a separate entity.) Gold, a double-disc package, bills itself as being definitive, but it's far from it. Alternate and extended mixes, along with a stray radio edit and a couple inexplicable clean versions, when added up, are more numerous than original mixes -- so that means hardcore fans will benefit most, right? Well, not if they gobbled up all of the alternates through the various editions of Paid in Full and Follow the Leader. The most regrettable track that suffers the ill fate (not ill meaning good but ill meaning bad) is "Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em": the "Clean UPSO Mix" is no match for the devastating original, an under-recognized touchstone for the RZA's early production work, with suffocating breakbeat pressure, funk guitar licks worthy of Public Enemy, and pulse-raising keyboard trills. While the definitive versions of "I Ain't No Joke," "Follow the Leader," "Microphone Fiend," "Lyrics of Fury," and "Don't Sweat the Technique" are provided, the truly definitive Eric B. & Rakim compilation has yet to be made.

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