Recently I ran into a bunch of white skater kids ripping it up around the way and noticed that one of them sported an EPMD logo on his board. The cartoon bubble around me head was thinking, “What choo know about EPMD?” as I pointed to the logo and asked the kid, “Yo, what’s your favorite album?” Without missing a beat, he replied, “Strictly Business,” to which I returned with a thumbs up, saying, “Good choice.” Meanwhile, I’m smiling inside thinking, “There’s hope for this younger generation, yet.”
EPMD, an acronym for Erick and Parrish Making Dollars, were golden era giants whose popularity and influence straddled the late eighties into the nineties. Hailing from the ‘burbs of Brentwood, Long Island, they were unlikely heroes of hardcore hip-hop, forging their own inimitable style over the course of four gold albums—including Strictly Business (1988), Unfinished Business (1989), Business As Usual (1990) and Business Never Personal (1992). (They released a few other albums in the nineties and early aughts but these weren’t as memorable.) Notice the word “business” pops up a lot on their album titles? Well, in addition to being ‘bout it, ‘bout it, they were also hella laid back, and besides Run-DMC, I can’t think of another rhyming duo I like better (Ok, maybe Mobb Deep).
Erick and Parrish met in junior high and both attended Brentwood High School, where E was into poppin’ and lockin’, early forms of breakdancing, while Parrish started off a deejay. In fact, Parrish came from a large family of seven, who were known for throwing raucous block parties, sometimes bringing in the likes of Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation to the neighborhood. Catching the hip-hop bug early, these guys were inspired to give it a go themselves and make a demo after hearing some whack raps on the radio. By this time, Erick was a senior and Parrish was attending college at Southern Connecticut State University, where he had been recruited to play wide receiver on the football team.
Their story almost reads like a rap fairy tale: After pooling their funds they made “It’s My Thing” and “You’re A Customer” at North Shore Studios in Long Island. Next, they hit the streets of Manhattan, walking their demo around to several labels including the independent dance imprint, Sleeping Bag Records, run by Will Socolov. There, A&R, Kurtis Mantronik, part of the legendary rap/dance outfit, Mantronix, signed them to the label’s Fresh Records subsidiary for a single deal. The popularity of “It’s My Thing,” powered by the popular old school breakbeat from “Seven Minutes of Funk” (Soul International, 1976) by The Whole Darn Family and “You’re A Customer,” with its Steve Miller “Fly Like An Eagle” sample, enabled them to do a whole album, Strictly Business, for which they received a whopping $15,000 advance. When that album went gold in just 30 days, it was on, needless to say, cutting short P’s gridiron aspirations.
Erick and Parrish were definitely innovators who macheted their own path through the wilds of rap. Instead of relying on strictly James Brown loops, the default sampling source at the time, they introduced a lot of rock influences into the mix, including Eric Clapton, Steve Miller, and ZZ Top. They merged these unlikely sounds with the funk basslines of Rick James, Kool & The Gang, and Zapp, making their stuff appealing to the west coast as well. Although using nicknames like E Double (for Easy Erick) and PMD (for Parrish Mic Doc), they were also probably the first rappers to drop their real names in their rhymes, and like Rakim, favored a slow flow that allowed you to catch all their lyrics. After Fresh Records went bust following the release of their incredible sophomore effort, 1989’s Unfinished Business, which spawned such classics as “So Watcha Sayin’” and “The Big Payback,” their contract was picked up by rap powerhouse Def Jam, where they went on to release more classics like Business as Usual (my personal fave) and Business Never Personal. They also became ringleaders of their own hand-picked crew known as The Hit Squad. Despite two break-ups, EPMD eventually got back together, and there is even talk about them reuniting for their eighth studio album, tentatively titled, Big Business. So, keep your fingers crossed, your hoodies up and your Tim’s laced.