After more than 20 years, EPMD still means 'Business'; duo appears in Atlantic City with Busta Rhymes, MC Lyte and more for the 'Legends of Hip-Hop III' show.
One of the greatest underground hip-hop acts of the late 1980s and ’90s, EPMD returns to “Business” (again) as part of the Legends of Hip-Hop III show at the House of Blues at Showboat in Atlantic City on Saturday, Jan. 15.
Joining the New York-based Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith (EPMD: Erick and Parrish making dollars) will be other “legends” of the hip-hop world — Busta Rhymes, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, MC Lyte and Kid Capri.
More than 20 years ago, the Brentwood, Long Island, team of Sermon and Parrish made huge waves with EPMD’s first album, entitled Strictly Business. The 1988 record went gold and was followed by several more classic rap records from the pair, including 1989’s Unfinished Business, 1992’s Business Never Personal, 1999’s Out of Business and 2008’s comeback We Mean Business.
But it was the fresh sound (in more ways than one) of EPMD’s debut album that made such an enormous impact on hip-hop music both at the time and for decades to come. The album, aside from including such classic cuts and driving anthems as “You Gots to Chill,” “It’s My Thang,” “I’m Housin’” and the raw, groove-heavy title track that sampled Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” to terrific effect, featured many firsts in hip-hop.
Watch the "Strictly Business" video:
As a recent article in the magazine WaxPoetics puts it, as evident on EPMD’s first album, Sermon and Smith “were perhaps the first rappers to bring a distinctly suburban mentality to hip-hop without sacrificing the music’s raw, hood appeal. And before the West Coast and the South could claim rider music as their own, the pair was one of the first rap acts to make music seemingly tailor-made for the car, sampling only the hardest funk and rock breaks on their landmark ’88 debut.”
Although EPMD had further success following Strictly Business, and were pretty pumped about their 2008 comeback album, which followed a few years of bad blood between the duo, 1988’s Strictly Business has become not only a classic in the hip-hop world, but for many who were teenagers or a tad older at the time it first hit the streets, just hearing the opening title track can bring back waves of good memories.
In an interview with WaxPoetics, Sermon says, “We just made feel-good music. While New York [City] was sampling James Brown, our stuff was laid back to bump in your cars. Barbecue stuff. We didn’t know what we was doing. But Long Island had that. When you hear [Eric B. & Rakim’s] ‘Check Out My Melody,’ you turn up the bass. And that’s where we came in. We were able to coincide with that, and De La [Soul] with ‘Potholes in My Lawn’ or LL Cool J’s ‘I Need a Beat.’”
The All-Music Guide describes Strictly Business as being “simply amazing, a killer blend of good groove and laid-back flow, plus a populist sense of sampling that had heads nodding from the first listen.”
EPMD sampled music that many of their contemporary rappers didn’t touch at the time, such as records by the Steve Miller Band, ZZ Top, Zapp, and other rock and classic rock songs. This gave EPMD’s music a truly unique sound and, blended with the pair’s no-bullshit monotone style of rapping, EPMD’s tunes popped right out of the box.
But EPMD, like fellow rappers in their sphere, Craig Mack, Biz Markie, Erik B. & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, and even Run D.M.C. (who EPMD toured with early in the duo’s career), didn’t come out of nowhere. They had to take in hip-hop shows to get their live set down. They got help from local DJs to learn how to “build” and record their songs. And it was hearing Public Enemy on the radio one day that had a huge impact, as Sermon tells WaxPoetics: “I was with Craig Mack at my grandma’s house when ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ came on the first time. We had no idea about making a record,; we was just listening to the radio. These records influenced us before we were even rapping, really. People think that we all came out at the same time — probably did the with the albums, but as far as singles, they was already popping off.”
Prior to EPMD’s proper debut album, the duo recorded the single “It’s My Thang” in 1987. Legend has it that the song was put down in just three hours by Sermon and Parrish, who had been working together musically on and off since 1985. The single was later licensed to the Chrysalis label, and then EPMD was signed to Sleeping Bag/Fresh Records. Then came Strictly Business and its plethora of strong singles, many of which could be heard blasting out of cars all over the East Coast and eventually beyond.
EPMD’s 1989 follow-up, Unfinished Business, also went gold and then EPMD signed to Def Jam, which released 1990’s Business as Usual and 1992’s Business Never Personal.
Although Sermon and Parrish came out of the suburbs of Long Island — a fact that would be shouted out during several of EPMD’s songs — their strictly-business attitude, monotone style of rapping, hard-core dissing of “sucker MCs” and extraordinary rhyming and rapping skills definitely had an influence on much of hip-hip that followed, including the West Coast’s gangsta style of rap, which would take off following the release of the southern California rap act NWA’s 1988 ground-breaking album Straight Outta Compton.
Two decades later, hip-hop has changed significantly in all aspects of the game.
Sermon, one of rap’s chief architects during its golden era (1980s to early 1990s), along with partner Parrish, remains humble about the impact EPMD has had on hip-hop (at least during interviews; in songs it’s a different story). As Sermon explains in the WaxPoetics interview (which was conducted by writer Jesse Serwer during 2008), “With EPMD ... nothing was planned. Everything just happened. ...Whatever happened was just like, God-blessed miracle stuff. No setup. We didn’t have no struggle, none of that. This was destined to be. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Hearing “Strictly Business” live — like on Saturday — or even listening to the song (especially on vinyl) is probably something everyone should do before they die.
And let’s not leave out that EPMD’s co-headliners Saturday night are not too shabby either. C’mon, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth? MC Lyte? Busta?
Just the names bring me back to my high school days.
Legends of Hip-Hop III
Where: House of Blues at Showboat, A.C.
When: Saturday, Jan. 15, 8:30pm
How Much: $39.50-$49.50
The Gang of Outlaws Tour, which also features Gretchen Wilson and 3 Doors Down, comes to the Taj May 26.
"It’s cool to get up with Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick, you know, Doug E. Fresh, who leads the pack with the most shows each year, and everybody’s catching up. So it’s more than just a show, it’s kind of like checking who weathered the storm, who has stood the test of time, and it’s about a second coming coming back around because [hip-hop] music of today is not what it was yesterday."
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MC Lyte’s career has been celebrated at VH1’s annual Hip Hop Honors, she’s had hits as a solo artist and also with remixes of Janet Jackson and Queen Latifah songs. She’ll be performing at the Legends of Hip-Hop II concert this Saturday, Jan. 16, at Showboat’s House of Blues along with Kid Capri. I had a chance to talk with both artists, who will be joined at the concert by Chubb Rock, Big Daddy Kane and Naughty By Nature.
“It’s going to be a great show. Atlantic City’s a great place because you can do so many different events, give sponsors so many different looks and feels and ways to interact with the audiences.”
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