Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith nicked expensive names to big up their first effort as EPMD on debut Strictly Business. That was just how it was done back in 1988, a much-touted golden age; the scene resembled the wild West when it came to label-funded creative freedom. Still three years away from the game-changing court case that determined the legality of sample clearance, producers liberally used past recordings to build without much regard for the consequence. EPMD got mileage out of one or two big records, opting for more straightforward loops: bits from Bob Marley & the Wailers’ “I Shot the Sheriff” and Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle” are cut in directly without much alteration in “Strictly Business” and “You’re a Customer,” respectively. Meanwhile, in the same year, Public Enemy rebuilt hip-hop from scratch with It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back through a sonic collage of roots records deeply embedded in the culture’s history. While PE’s magnum opus towered over EPMD’s debut, rightfully, as the genre’s landmark, Strictly Business arguably resembles a more accurate monument to New York hip-hop of both the present and then future.
EPMD championed personality and charisma above all, professing their importance as currency in a great hip-hop talent as much as technical proficiency.
Though the rap styles of both emcees in EPMD were not heavily innovative, their approachable persona became a precursor to later East Coast hip-hop records. Like the greats before them, the duo were hard-scheming hustlers who centered themselves more with the gritty New York underground, the birthplace of even tougher newcomers like Biggie Smalls or the Diggin’ in the Crates Crew. Instead of the hardcore barking of Chuck D and Run-DMC, they looked up to Rakim and Big Daddy Kane’s simmering nonchalance; E and Parrish wrote their own version of street-cool inspired by these two. What set them apart was their rookie charm. Their lyric sheets read like amateur posturing, but on record, their on-the-fly thoughts became classics (“Relax your mind, let your conscience be free/And get down to the sound of EPMD”) and even the occasional stumble (“You should keep quiet when the emcee raps/But if you’re tired go and take a nap”) took on a kind of agreeable authority. As a unit, they complemented each other perfectly — Parrish the more traditional, with a Rakim-like flow, and Erick letting his words glaze the beat. The bounce of their production, propelled by well-known references, contributed to the vibe, too. Obvious lifts from Zapp & Roger (“You Got to Chill”) and the Whole Darn Family’s “Seven Minutes of Funk” (“It’s My Thang”) make Strictly Business feel like a proto-mixtape, with E and Parrish rapping over big hits and classic breaks to get their shine. Further into their careers, EPMD became legit icons, honing their rhymes and fine-tuning their sampled grooves into rich anthems. But no matter how famous they got, they kept to the street-man ethos of Strictly Business. EPMD championed personality and charisma above all, professing their importance as currency in a great hip-hop talent as much as technical proficiency.
Part of Kicking the Canon – The Album Canon.