For Your GRAMMY® Consideration
Best Contemporary Instrumental Album

"Follow the Leader"

Jonathan Hay, Benny Reid & Mike Smith
featuring the music of Eric B. & Rakim

"When this band came together to use my voice and flow as inspiration and take it back to a jazz instrumentation? That's a full 360 along a cypher. It's almost too perfect."

-Rakim (as told to Billboard Magazine)

Listen Here

"Like all of our music, when Rakim and I first sat down to write and record Follow the Leader, we took inspiration from our jazz icons in creating its signature sound. Hearing the music faithfully arranged and re-recorded with the stellar group of musicians Mike Smith, Jonathan Hay, and Benny Reid brought together not only stays true to our original work but elevates and highlights the core concepts we drew from 30 years ago." 

-Eric B. (as told to Forbes Magazine)

#1 Billboard Contemporary Jazz & Jazz Album
Follow the Leader re-imagined as jazz, released on the 31st anniversary of the iconic LP's original drop date, has been soaring for weeks
The album quickly hit the Billboard Charts. Only a week after its debut, Follow the Leader managed to replace Michael Buble's Love at the #1 spot, ending his 38 week uninterrupted dominance

"Hearing the tracks in a Jazz arrangement brings me back to the essence of the original"


"It really completes a full circle...we imitated jazz, and now jazz is imitating us" 

-Eric B.

Liner Notes

Recording Dates: May-June 2019 

Release Date: July 26, 2019

Record Label: Smith & Hay / Fat Beats


Group Members:

Jonathan Hay

Benny Reid 

Mike Smith


Eric B. & Rakim

Executive Producers:

Matthew Kemp



Jonathan Hay 

Benny Reid

Mike Smith

Mani Ajami

Bram Bessoff


​Jonathan Hay

Benny Reid

Mike Smith

Mani Ajami 

Mike Baker


Jonathan Hay

Benny Reid

Mike Smith

Mike Baker


Mastering Engineers:

Jonathan Hay

Mike Baker


Pär Stavborg

Iliana Eve

Goldy Locks

Rod Saylor

Follow the Leader in the Press
Billboard 10-29-19.png
Program Notes:

Follow the Leader
This was the first song that kicked off the project. It was also the most difficult! A driving beat filled with swagger and gritty horn samples that mimic the classic Eric B. and Rakim title track. Reid replays Rakim’s classic rap verbatim, but via one of his instruments, alto saxophone.

Microphone Fiend
Opens with the catchy, repeating guitar/keyboard riff along with with Hay’s huge sounding drums and Atlas Jenkins’s (DJ) tasteful scratching. Reid again enters with the tenor sax by translating several of Rakim’s verses to musical notes. Later, Rakim told Billboard about listening to Reid’s tenor saxophone in place of his own voice "It was like hearing the humming tones in my head out loud and on wax for the first time.” Hay and DJ Whoo Kid produced an upcoming remix for "Microphone Fiend". 

Lyrics of Fury
Perhaps the most aggressive song on the album and one of the most popular, “Lyrics of Fury” has Reid unleash a fully improvised saxophone solo that twists and turns around Hay’s densely propelled beat. Mike Baker plays the accordion that sounds like it's coming from out of space and "astray into the Milky Way, worlds out of sight, far as the eye can see, not even a satellite." 


Eric B. Never Scared
Surprisingly, this song has become a strippers anthem in Times Square, NYC. The record is playing at Platinum Dolls and their sister club Satin Dolls which was where household name Cardi B (formerly from Love & Lust) worked at. 


Just a Beat
This song shows off Reid’s virtuosity more than any other. His lead improvised solo is played on his first instrument given to him at 8 years old - the alto saxophone. He also plays bari and tenor saxophone scoops and hits ala classic jazz and funk records. Mesmerizing strings and horn parts inspired by the original recording are added. Hay waited until almost the end of the song to bring in the Bell Biv Devoe inspired drums. 

Put Your Hands Together
The piano intro is faithfully recorded from the original album, quickly transitioning to a percussive, dancing beat. Reid authentically replays the saxophone parts from the original “Magic Disco Machine” samples.
To the Listeners
This track serves almost like a breather by developing in a pyramid form. A score-like piano opening by Iliana Eve and Mani Ajami flows into a uniquely designed Smith bass line, to a relaxed intricate Hay drum pattern, ultimately culminating in Reid’s performance of the notable original synth horn part, with slight intentional dissonance.

No Competition
This track pulls the listener from a relaxed, laid back mood into a dystopian frenzy. Horn parts scattered throughout, a driving modern beat, and ominous string line help create a fanfare of interesting emotions. On this one, Hay found inspiration in Herbie Hancock's "Rockit". 

The R
The opening features Reid on flute with a lush pad of strings before a grooving vintage Hay beat drops in supported by Ajami and Eve's acoustic piano workings. A killer sonic bass line was written by Eric B. & Rakim. 

Musical Massacre
Directly inspired from Eric B’s creative beat and sample designing, "Musical Massacre" partners with the listener’s senses by encountering strings, pianos, numerous horns, bass, and percussion layered throughout the 3-minute musical journey.
Beats for the Listeners
Acting as a fitting and beautiful closure to the Follow the Leader album, Reid traveled back to his roots with his alto saxophone and composition background. Re-harmonizing each note of the original horn riff with orchestral strings serving as the musical bed, Reid’s saxophone sings through the song in a classic jazz ballad form.

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About Jonathan Hay, Benny Reid & Mike Smith

Jonathan Hay, Benny Reid, and Mike Smith had numerous discussions on how to respectfully, faithfully, and creatively re-imagine Eric B. and Rakim’s classic 1988 album, Follow the Leader. The difficulty was twofold. One, Follow the Leader is a revered and iconic hip-hop album and had to reflect its adoration. Two, how can it be translated to a jazz style, especially omitting the centerpiece, Rakim’s voice? Reid (lead instrumentalist – tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, bari saxophone, flute) and Hay’s (programmer) initial strategy of replaying Rakim’s extended, rhythmically intricate rap verses organically morphed into a more improvised, classic jazz style. The emcee vocal style and flow along with Eric B.’s through-composed instrumentals, served as a model for Hay, Reid, and Smith to draw inspiration.

More About: Eric B. & Rakim | Jonathan Hay | Benny Reid | Mike Smith

"I couldn't have done a better job myself and I created the original album (laughs). It's a great body of work, and all the guys should be so proud of themselves. The simple way to put it is that life imitates art, and art imitates life, and it's all coming around full circle."

-Eric B.

Thank You For Your Consideration