EPMD - Biography
By Paul Glanting
The origins of Hip Hop have roots in many genres. But, the genre's earliest years draw a direct relation to the world of disco. This relation can easily be seen in Hip Hop’s earliest days where old school Hip Hop greats like The Sugarhill Gang employed the use of Disco hits for their Hip Hop classics. The upbeat vibe of disco was certainly consistent with the positive zeitgeist which flowed through the music of Hip Hop’s pioneers. However, as the eighties began to end, Hip Hop would reflect the grittier and sometimes, darker side of urban life as can be heard with the tales of gang-life that ran rampant in West Coast rap and later, with the hardcore rap renaissance on the east coast. With this transition of Hip Hop’s tonality, came different techniques of sampling. As the disco-age was no longer consistent with Hip Hop’s content, east coast acts began to subvert new samples from dusty soul records as well as funk. One of the most influential groups to use funk was EPMD, consisting of Erick Sermon and Parrish Making Dollars.
Fledgling Long Island rappers, Parrish Smith and Erick Sermon linked up and called themselves EPMD (which stands for a combination of “Erick Sermon” and Parrish’s stage name “Parrish Making Dollars”). After their formation, the pair released Strictly Business (Priority-1988). Co-produced by both Sermon and Parrish, their debut album was noted for it’s innovative sampling of soul, funk and rock music. Strictly Business used samples from artists like ZZ Top and The Steve Miller Band but, Perhaps most notably, the title track hears the pair sampling Eric Clapton’s rendition of the Bob Marley song “I Shot The Sheriff.” Strictly Business is also the first time Erick Sermon would showcase what would become his trademark laid-back and lispy flow, which is especially present on songs like “I’m Housin” and “You’re A Customer.” EPMD’s debut was indeed pivotal for Hip Hop as it was indicative of a turning point in the genre’s progress where the celebratory chants of the old school began to transition towards a more stern tone. EPMD embodied a duality of both the party-centric lyrics of songs like “You Gots To Chill” as well as more serious tone on tracks like “Jane”, which would also be the first installment in the Jane saga, which would be continued to each subsequent EPMD album. Strictly Business was immensely successful, attaining Gold-status within months of its release. Critically it’s also considered the influential pair’s opus. Publications like Rolling Stone and Spin gave the album near perfect reviews, while The Source gave Strictly Business the rarely given Five-mic rating, putting EPMD’s first effort among other Hip Hop classics such as Nas’ Illmatic (Columbia-1994) and Dr. Dre’s The Chronic (Death Row-1992) and Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (Def Jam-1988).
EPMD’s second release, Unfinished Business (Priority-1989), reached an equal plateau of success, again going Gold and garnering praise from The Source and Rolling Stone. Musically, Unfinished Business wandered into more soulful territory, as can be heard on tracks like “The Big Payback” and the fruitful single “So What Cha Sayin’?”, which sampled James Brown and Parliament, respectively. Another testament to the duo perhaps slowly diverging from the party-friendly rhymes of their past was the song “Jane II”, the sequel to Strictly Business’ “Jane.” While the original “Jane” was an enthusiastic recounting of an encounter with a sexually adventurous female, “Jane II” heard the same female begin to drift into a streak of infidelity.
EPMD soon ended up on massively influential Hip Hop label Def Jam, with whom they released their third album Business as Usual (Def Jam-1990). While not held with as high regard as the pair’s previous two albums, Business as Usual did yield several significant aspects. While Strictly Business had no guest appearances and Unfinished Business contained minimal contributions from artists outside of the EPMD duo, Business As Usual featured a pair of noteworthy appearances; LL Cool J lends his legendary rhymes to the track “Rampage.” Business As Usual also hears the debut of New Jersey rapper, Redman on the songs “Brothers On My Jock” and “Hardcore”. With his frantic, yet skillful lyrical collages, Redman would become a prominent member of the EPMD camp, and he and Erick Sermon would become close collaborators for years to come, contributing to each-other’s albums like clockwork. While Business As Usual didn’t earn as much acclaim as its predecessors, it still yielded a hit with “Gold Digger” and the album would, eight years after its release, be included in The Source Magazine’s ranking of the one-hundred greatest Hip Hop albums of all time.
Erick Sermon then worked with Redman on his successful solo album, the funk-tinged Whut? Thee Album (Def Jam-1992). Redman’s first solo album would be Sermon’s first venture into what would eventually be a lengthy resume of Hip Hop productions on his own.
Ironically, the first two EPMD releases were remarkably frugal with guest appearances. However, by the release of their fourth album Business Never Personal (Def Jam-1992), Erick Sermon and PMD had assembled a sizable collective of Hip Hop artists, which included Redman, K-Solo, Hurricane G, Das EFX, DJ Scratch among others, whom were collectively called Hitsquad. Business Never Personal featured collaborations with several of Hitsquad’s members. The first single from Business Never Personal , “Headbanger”, featured both Redman and K-Solo. Considered a return to form for EPMD, Business Never Personal again met remarkably favorable reactions. However, despite the album’s acclaim, tension began to emerge between Sermon and Parrish, allegedly pertaining to financial difficulties. After several heated disputes, including a home invasion of Parrish’s house, which was blamed on Sermon, EPMD called it quits.
With the EPMD tandem now defunct, Hitsquad was also broken up. However, Redman and Hurricane G remained under Erick Sermon’s guidance, while Das EFX and DJ Scratch stayed by Parrish’s side.
Soon after the split, Sermon released his first solo album with the fairly well-received No Pressure (Def Jam-1993). A primarily autonomous production, a vast majority of No Pressure was produced by Sermon. And, along with his own slurred rhymes were those from Redman and his new protégé, the quick-witted rapper, Keith Murray, as well as iconic West Coast rapper Ice Cube. After No Pressure, Sermon produced Redman’s sophomore album Dare Iz A Darkside (Def Jam-1994). Meanwhile, PMD released a solo album of his own with Shade Business (RCA-1994). The cover of PMD’s album depicted the rapper sporting a beanie emblazoned with an EMPD logo that was visibly missing the “E”, perhaps a slight of his former partner.
Both former members of EPMD remained busy for the next couple of years, both releasing their sophomore albums, Sermon with Double Or Nothing (Def Jam-1995) and PMD with Business Is Business (Relativity-1996), respectively.
In 1997, putting their differences aside, Erick Sermon and PMD reunited and EPMD was once again functional. Like their previous four album’s, EPMD’s comeback album Back in Business (Def Jam-1997) was well-received and, featuring collaborations with both Das EFX and Redman, was also a reunion of sorts for Hitsquad.
Despite the reconciliation between the two members EPMD, they continued to work on non-EPMD projects as well. Sermon, Redman and Murray, collectively calling themselves Def Squad, soon released their group album El Nino (Def Jam-1998).
As the album title would suggest, EPMD’s sixth effort, Out Of Business (Def Jam-1999) was Initially intended to be the group’s final album, however, EPMD would again reunite nine years alter.
After producing for Redman’s Doc’s Da Name 2000 (Def Jam-1998) and Keith Murray’s It's a Beautiful Thing (Jive-1999), Sermon released his third album, Def Squad Presents Erick Onasis (Dreamworks-2000). Under the alias Erick Onasis, Sermon’s album featured collaborations with contemporary mainstays like DJ Quik, Xzibit, Ja Rule as well Redman. He followed this album with his fourth solo album Music (J Records-2001), which powered by the posthumous Marvin Gaye collaboration, found Sermon a good amount of commercial success. On the other end of the spectrum, PMD was dabbling in Hip Hop’s underground on a collaboration with Japanese-born turntablist DJ Honda, with who he made the album Underground Connections (3D Records-2002). Following his work with DJ Honda, PMD released The Awakening (Solid Records-2003), which was a first in that it while it was a solo album, it also also included production as well as rhymes from Erick Sermon on the song “Look At U Now.” The song would also foreshadow another reunion between Sermon and PMD, who again reformed EPMD and released We Mean Business (EP Records-2008). The album featured production from the EPMD, as well as from DJ Honda as well from young, yet prestigious producer, 9th Wonder.
Hip Hop is a fickle genre, with consistently fluctuating trends accounting for careers which, can ascend and descend with lightning-like speed. EPMD, while not immune to the bumps in the road, were influential in the reconstruction of East Coast Hip Hop but were never content to cling to their original sound, always progressing the dynamic that is Erick Sermon and Parrish Makin Dollars. And, perhaps miraculously, they’ve proven an equal bent at dropping individual projects that are arguably of an equal quality as their work as the legendary duo EPMD.