EPMD ~ Strictly Business (1988)

Posted on June 2, 2012

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This album marked the beginning of gangsta funk as we know it; brought to us by the brothers from Brentwood: EPMD. EPMD, short for Erick and Parrish Making Dollars, was comprised of two high school friends from Long Island, New York. There was E-Double (Erick Sermon), the kid with the hazel green eyes and a distinctive lisp; and Parrish the Microphone Doctor – PMD for short (Parrish Smith) – the dude with the ice-water rhyme flow, and a Rock of Gibraltar-sized chip on his shoulder. Together, they would form EPMD; one of the most respected and consistent groups in rap history.

Though they’re seldom credited for it, EPMD were the progenitors of the G-Funk sound. In 1987, five years before Death Row Records put the rap industry in a vise grip, Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith began to gangsta-walk up and down the Eastern seaboard. The two funk lords cultivated their style in the Long Island hamlet of Brentwood: Erick as a solo emcee from the Regis Park sector of Brentwood; and Parrish as DJ Eazzy P, a turntablist with The Rock Squad, a quartet fronted by his brother James “Smitty D” Smith. The future legends connected officially in 1985, when E moved into P’s neighborhood, and, discovering their mutual affinity for Hip Hop, they engaged in rhyme ciphers with one another, and found they were on the same wavelength musically. By early 1987, the duo was in full-on pursuit of careers in rap; jaunting through New York City from one label to the next, in hopes of landing a record deal. Sleeping Bag Records, the Manhattan street label Just-Ice, T-La Rock, and Mantronix called home, offered E-Double and PMD a single deal, which resulted in “It’s My Thing” b/w “You’re A Customer”, a briskly selling single that led to Sleeping Bag commissioning an album. In the fall of ’87, E and P hit Long Island’s North Shore Soundworks with a simple formula; merging thick basslines, dense funk beats, and cruise control flows. And, in the spring of 1988, EPMD emerged from the lab with a classic creation: their debut album Strictly Business.

Strictly Business is 10 tracks of G-Funk euphoria; with instrumentals that draw from the worlds of soul, funk and classic rock, and cocksure lyrics delivered with effortless cool. The album opens with “Strictly Business”, the desperado title cut where E and P roam the plains like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday; exhibiting emotionless bravado over a tumultuous sample of Eric Clapton’s “I Shot The Sheriff”. The poker-faced tough talk continues on the next cut “I’m Housin”. This cut finds E-Double and PMD, calm and steely, turning the party out, socking violators in the jaw, and dumping hollow point bullets to calm bum rushes, all over the dense thump of Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady”. Up next are a pair of G-Funk classics: “Let The Funk Flow”, a liquid number set to the mechanized creep of The JB’s “It’s Not The Express, It’s The JB’s Monaurail”; and “You Gots To Chill”, the timeless official first single off of Strictly Business, where Erick and Parrish take turns throwing stoic daggers, over a rippling funk track that blends a loop of Zapp’s “More Bounce To The Ounce” with snippets of Kool & The Gang’s “Jungle Boogie”. And “It’s My Thing”, the very first EPMD single from 1987, is a prime example of the duo’s innate feel for music making, and the sampling freedom Hip Hop enjoyed in the late 80’s. In the span of nearly six minutes, the Green Eyed Bandit and the Mic Doc toss lyrical gem stars back and forth; while a gurgling funk cauldron with samples from the Whole Darn Family (“Seven Minutes Of Funk”), Marva Whitney (“It’s My Thing”), Pink Floyd (“The Wall”) and other vintage sources thumps behind them.

As Strictly Business bangs on, the stunning consistency that would typify EPMD’s work continues to unfurl. “You’re A Customer”, the B-side to the “It’s My Thing” single from ’87, finds E and P doctoring the fadeout from ZZ Top’s “Cheap Sunglasses”, accenting it with breaks from Kool & The Gang and The Steve Miller Band, slipping a strutting drum line beneath it, and then taking to the mic to spray themselves with repellent, and shake sycophants off their jocks. “The Steve Martin” is the lightest moment on the album, where E and P use a Joeski Love vocal break, along with a jazzy swing interpreting of Otis Redding’s “Let Me Come On Home”, to invent a new dance, inspired by their former associate (and Sleeping Bag labelmate) Stezo, and named after legendary comedic actor Steve Martin. “Get Off The Bandwagon” is a morphine drip set to music, that finds E-Double and PMD hunting down style biters of all sorts, no matter where they lurk. Strictly Business ends with two more great experiments. On “D.J. K-La Boss”, E and P fall back for a minute; and DJ K La Boss – the 2nd of their 3 DJ’s – uses a dope new-wave melody to go berserk on the turntables. And the last cut, “Jane” utilizes the drums from Joe Tex’s “Papa Was Too” and snippets of Rick James’ “Mary Jane”, to support Erick’s recounting of a run-in with a lusty, insatiable female; the first of many encounters both he and Parrish would have with her on subsequent albums.

Though they arrived on the scene with little fanfare, Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith wouldn’t fly under the radar for long. In what seemed like mere nanoseconds, EPMD became street-level superstars in hoods across the United States, and Strictly Business regularly sold out in record stores catering to inner city clienteles. The album moved more than half a million units shortly after its release, and was the first in a string of EPMD releases to do so. Though their glory run ended with their 1993 disbandment, the years Erick and Parrish made dollars bore much fruit. Many great duos that followed them, including Ill Al Skratch, Outkast and Tha Dogg Pound, have cited EPMD as huge influences on their style and sound. Phife Dawg, of the iconic trio A Tribe Called Quest, went on record to claim them as his favorite group. And, to date, rap fans from the Pacific Ocean to the Pacific Rim have nodded out to EPMD’s records. Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith have left a legacy to be proud of, and Strictly Business is their crowning achievement. Well done, brothers.

To listen to mp3 songs from Strictly Business, click here.

Genius Rap , rap music , Hip Hop , rap

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