Strictly Business, EPMD

Strictly Business, EPMD

Fresh / Sleeping Bags, 1988

While the New School period with artists like Run DMC or LL Cool J was slowly coming to an end, Hip Hop was taking a new path, a new turn, a new period, a new era. We didn’t know it at the time, but the foundations of the Golden Age of Hip Hop were being laid, stone by stone, by groups like EPMD. Of course, they are not the only ones, and unfortunately not the most recognized ones either, Eric B. & Rakim, Boogie Down Productions, the Native Tongues or the Juice Crew generally receive more recognition today. I’m not saying that these groups don’t deserve it because their respective contributions are certain, and each one of them laid a foundation stone and participated in the establishment of the bases of Hip Hop for the following generations. But EPMD is not left out. We will see why.

EPMD stands for Erick Sermon “E” and Parrish Smith aka Parrish Mike Doctor “PMD” or Erick and Parrish Making Dollar. The duo from Brentwood, Long Island had this desire to move heads and get the crowd going. In this sense, they are still rather anchored in the festive rap rather typical of the New School period, as well as Eric B. & Rakim by the way. The lyrics are still slightly boastful unlike other groups like Boogie Down Productions, A Tribe Called Quest or Public Enemy who will have a more conscious or philosophical approach. Where Rakim revolutionized the way of rapping, EPMD will revolutionize the way of sampling. While Hip Hop was mostly sampling Disco/Electro like Mantronix or Whodini, EPMD will bring a Hip Hop more focused on Funk and to a lesser extent Rock. Eric B. had a similar approach but EPMD will push the art of sampling to another level. The merits in the field are theirs. 

EPMD, it’s a choice of the most obvious samples, taken as they are, from funk and rock for dancing beats and a killer groove, which makes the head nod from the first notes. Taken from the biggest hits, we recognize the samples at the first listen. The introduction Strictly Business starts with a sample of I Shot The Sheriff, Eric Clapton’s version from the group Cream, they couldn’t have done more effective and catchy. I’m Housin samples Rock Steady from Aretha Franklin for a groovy beat. He offers a flowing funk on Let The Funk Flow by covering It’s the J.B.’s Monaurail and Nobody Knows You by Otis Redding. 

You Got’s to Chill features two great samples of Zapp’s More Bounce to the Ounce and Kool & the Gang’s Jungle Boogie for a snappy Funk/Rock mix. We can’t forget the sample of Cheap Sunglasses of ZZ Top on You’re a Customer or the sample of Let Me Come on Home of Otis Redding on The Steve Martin which both became mythical songs of the duo.

We understood it, the art of sampling is their specialty. The samples are put on driving drum beats, deceptively simple and very effective. Each of the tracks is distinct with varied ambiences, sometimes slower, sometimes more catchy. The duo’s recipe is as danceable as it is groovy, perfect for any B-Boy who would like to venture into some tricks. DJ K La Boss does a prodigious work on the scratching which only reinforces the overall quality of the project.

Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith had everything to perform, hardcore enough without being too gangster, smart enough without getting lost in unnecessary complexity. Yet, the punchlines are always fresh and slide into our eardrums like a sweet melody while still hitting hard enough to get our attention.

Their flows could be described as monotonous, simplistic. They are in a way, but they deliver a fluid rap with perfect chemistry, linking rhymes to beats in a surprising way. They exchange rhymes by answering each other with an insolent ease, notably on Jane on a sample of Rick James. Erick Sermon sends memorable rhymes while Parrish smoothes the whole with a slow flow. They exude a remarkable freshness with a hidden toughness.

Erick Sermon and PMD

She came behind me and then she rubbed my back
She started moaning and said ‘Yo, let’s hit the sack’
Went to my room because she was kinda bossy
Girl broke buckwild

And started playing horsey
She showed pain but inside she felt joy
Ayo she broke wild and said “Ride em cowboy!”
Three o’clock on the dot
Tired of busting her
Woke up in the morning to my record ‘You’re a Customer’
She left me a note, she called me the medicine
Said next time you have to be better
Stronger and much faster

As this album hit the streets of New York in 1988, its impact was immediate. Their business was not finished, they continued the following year with Unfinished Business, and then Business As Usual to finish with Business Never Personal before separating in 1992. In the meantime, they had already founded their own collective, the Hit Squad, in which they integrated young talents like Redman, Das EFX, K-Solo or Knucklehedz. The separation of EPMD will tragically lead the collective to split up, Erick Sermon will create the Def Squad with Redman and Keith Murray while the others will stay with PMD in the Hit Squad. 

Even if EPMD is not the most quoted group in the legends of the 80s, Strictly Business remains one of the most influential albums of Hip Hop for one of the most influential groups. The art of sampling reaches its peak when the name EPMD is uttered, there is no doubt that this album set the foundation for the future generations. The duo had just laid their stone in the nascent Golden Age Hip Hop edifice with a major innovation, the foundations of a new era were being built.

By Grégoire Zasa

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s