Tuesday, July 12, 2011

EPMD -- "Strictly Business" (1988)

So when I say jump, you reply, "How high?"
Because I'm takin' no prisoners, so don't play hero and die
'Cause you're a soldier -- and I'm a Green Beret
I do not think twice about the MCs I slay

MCs Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith -- who, like Eric B. and Rakim, were Long Island boys -- formed EPMD and released their first album (Strictly Business) in 1988, when Erick was barely 20 and Parrish was 19.  

EPMD was an acronym for "Erick and Parrish Making Dollars."  The duo released 7 albums together, each of which had the word "business" in the title.  Each of those albums also has a song with "Jane" in the title.

Erick and Parrish split up in 1993.  According to Smith, armed burglars invaded his house in late 1991.  When the culprits were apprehended, one of them allegedly implicated Sermon, who was brought in for questioning but never charged with a crime.  Sermon later accused Smith of financial shenanigans.  The two went their separate ways for several years, but they reunited in 1997 and are still performing and recording together.

"Strictly Business" -- the first track on their eponymous (haven't used that word in a long time!) debut album -- is built around a sample of Eric Clapton's "I Shot the Sheriff."  

The lyrics of this song and others on the album are quite innocent compared to the gangsta raps that came later -- when Parrish asks Erick if he sniffs blow, Erick's answer would warm the heart of any parent with a teenager:

Hell no!
I got my whole life ahead of me
No time to be sniffin'
And if my parents find out, 
Then they start riffin'

There's a lot of talk in this and other EPMD raps about guns and killing, but the only weapon EPMD uses is a microphone.  Their battles are strictly verbal, and the rival MCs they "slay" may be embarrassed when their inferior rhymes are exposed, but only their pride is hurt.

Erick B. and Rakim and EPMD represent something new but also are somewhat old-fashioned.  Their rhymes are innovative and subtle, but the subject matter goes back to the days of live, head-to-head rapping competitions, when cleverly dissing your opponent was essential to winning over the audience.

And the production style is refreshingly low-tech -- no Auto-Tune for EPMD.  (Erick mumbles his lines to the point where you wonder why his parents didn't send him to a speech therapist, but there's no attempt to electronically clean things up.) 

So if contemporary hip-hop's misogyny and all the talk about Benzes, bling, guns and drugs isn't your cup of tea, return now with 2 or 3 lines to the days of yesteryear and enjoy some "Golden Age" rap courtesy of the E and the PMD.  

If you're around my age (God help you if you are, you poor bastard), you'll especially enjoy the references to old TV shows like Star Trek and Twilight Zone, and to the obscure Hanna-Barbera cartoon character, Muttley (and his inimitable laugh).

Here's a charmingly primitive and dated music video for "Strictly Business":

And here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon:

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