After inking a deal with rap powerhouse Def Jam for their third album, Business as Usual (1990), EPMD started building their extended crew, the Hit Squad, comprised of K-Solo, Das EFX, Redman, and Knuckleheadz. (Though rappers Keith Murray and Gloria Rodriguez a.k.a. Hurricane G. are sometimes erroneously lumped into this posse, Murray became a member of Erick Sermon’s subsequent Def Squad following the break-up of EPMD and Hurricane G., the collective’s sole female member, only contributed a cameo to Redman’s debut).
Crews originated during the waning days of New York’s gang era in 70s, which coincided with the birth of hip-hop. They provided moral support for each other as well as strength in numbers in a dog-eat-dog world. As de rigueur as doo rags in the golden era, artist collectives like the legendary Juice Crew, comprised of producer Marley Marl’s stable of artists--including Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Roxanne Shante, Kool G. Rap, Masta Ace and Craig G—provided a blueprint for what was to follow. By the beginning of the 90s, such memorable outfits as The Flavor Unit, Native Tongues, Diggin’ in The Crates, Gangstarr Foundation, and, of course, The Hit Squad, were poised to dominate the music industry. Through a relationship comparable to Major League Baseball’s farm system, newer artists were mentored and developed by established names, a form of vetting before their initiation into the cutthroat industry.
As far as the Hit Squad was concerned, Kevin “K-Solo” Madison, from neighboring Central Islip, Long Island became its first addition. A former contender for the Empire State Boxing Championship, Solo spent 16 months in jail for aggravated assault and battery after cracking a white biker’s head open with a brick following a racist attack. But he used that time behind bars to hone his rhyme skills, impressing Parrish with his wordplay upon his release. Solo’s first appearance on wax occurred on EPMD’s “Knick Knack Patty Wack,” from Unfinished Business, which helped him secure his own deal with Atlantic Records. They subsequently released two albums, Tell the World My Name (1990) and Times Up (1992).
Reggie Noble, aka Redman, came into EPMD’s orbit after a show at the Newark, New Jersey nightclub Sensations. Originally a deejay, Redman impressed Erick with the only rhyme he had written while hanging out backstage. After his mom kicked him out for dealing drugs, Red eventually relocated to Brentwood, L.I. where Erick took him in. He made memorable appearances on the tracks “Hardcore” and “Brothers on My Jock” on Business as Usual (1990), securing a place on the team and scoring his own deal for Whut? Thee Album (Def Jam, 1992). Since then, Redman has become a star in his own right, releasing a total of nine solo albums in addition to three albums in collaboration with Method Man and one in collaboration with the Def Squad.
The cherry on top of the Hit Squad was the duo of DAS EFX, an acronym for Dray and Scoob Effects. Andre “Krazy Drayz” Weston and Will “Skoob” Hines were roommates in their junior year at Virginia State University when they entered a local rap contest that EPMD was judging. Though they didn’t win the $100 cash prize, Parrish gave them his number and ended up taking them under his wing and getting a deal for them at East West/Atlantic. Their debut Dead Serious (1992) soared to platinum status on the strength of such hits as “They Want EFX” and “Microphone Checka,” making them the most successful Hit Squad act out of the gate. Though their follow-up, Straight Up Sewacide (1993) sold gold, DAS’s subsequent four studio albums barely registered a blip.
A white duo known as Knucklehedz, comprised of Erick’s high school buddy Tom Jimenez and his partner Steve Leonard aka Steve Austin, rounded out the Hit Squad. “Tom J.” who received a shout out on EPMD’s “Rap is Outta Control,” made his microphone debut on “All She Wanted,” the group’s first Erick Sermon-produced single, which was actually kinda dope. Unfortunately, their full-length Stricktly Savage (East West/Atlantic 1993) got lost in the shuffle after EPMD broke up at the end of ’92.
Of course, no discussion of the Hit Squad would be complete without mentioning EPMD’s untouchable turntablist, DJ Scratch, aka George Spivey, hailing from Brooklyn’s Albany projects. Scratch was actually EPMD’s third deejay (after K La Boss left and Diamond J was scooped up by Prince), but he secured his place after their second album. Later on, Scratch became a dope producer in his own right, crafting hits for Busta Rhymes, Q-Tip and Onyx to name a few.
Since the entire Hit Squad was managed by Parrish’s Shuma Management, the inherent conflicts of interest probably contributed to the eventual break-up of the crew, but not before they completed one of rap’s most-anticipated tours in 1992. Shout out to Erick and Parrish for allowing me to come along on that tour and document it in my first book, The New Beats. So, for more about this colossal crew, check it out.