• 07May

    #BHF13 – LESSONS FOR HIP-HOP’S FUTURE STARS: On business, and the excellence of EPMD

    epmd

    Golden era rappers were in their get money prime, and amazingly – more than just about anyone else in the game – then newcomers EPMD were all about business. Brentwood, NY residents Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith proved that fundamentals are important, and in doing so ultimately created a twenty-five year legacy that allows them to be a stage-rocking headliner at Brooklyn Bodega’s ninth annual Brooklyn-Hip Hop Festival on July 13th. In 2013, what is it about rappers with a quarter-century of experience that can be applied to the careers of aspiring emcees in the modern era? As will be done with all #BHF13 headliners, here’s the lessons.

    1. Before anything else, it’s always business first - Aside from featuring mind-bending raps, EPMD’s seven album history shares one thing in common: business. From 1988′s Strictly Business to 2008′s We Mean Business, the direct, bottom-line approach to the industry is directly referred to by name in each album’s title. It can be argued that EPMD’s serious attitude was important in keeping NYC at the forefront of rap’s then rapid national and global expansion. In describing the approach of EPMD, (1988 national tour-mate and half of Run-DMC) DMC says ”Nobody worked harder than EPMD.  We went on tour with them and when we wanted to goof around, they were working on beats and rhymes. Those guys lived hip-hop.” Business also proved to be a double-edged sword for the group as it was business issues surrounding financial improprieties that caused the duo to split from 1993-1996. In the era of the group’s breakup, Sermon’s savvy decision to continue as a producer and as a solo artist led to immense acclaim and top tracks for Def Squad emcees Redman and Keith Murray. In maintaining a business-first attitude during the era where rap underwent a metamorphosis from being party music to being a corporate power source, they excelled.

    2. Funk and soul are powerful. - In an era where we have seen and done everything in rap music – thus arguably making it more boring than ever before in many ways –  imagine an era where nobody had yet to create an album almost entirely built from classic funk samples. As an example, title track “Strictly Business” features the triple-team wallop of Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie, Eric Clapton’s reggae-tinged “I Shot the Sheriff” and firebrand of an outlier “Long Red” by Mountain.  In ten incredibly funky and sample-driven tracks, Erick Sermon lays down the kind of rugged yet soulful track that gave the sense that EPMD were a powerful duo with wrecking crew tendencies towards wack rappers. Looking further into Sermon’s production credits and seeing the same ideas driving the careers of Redman, Keith Murray (Murray’s “The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World”‘s flip of the Isley Brothers’ “Between the Sheets” arguably gives Biggie’s “Big Poppa” a run for its money in greatness) and even himself with Marvin Gaye’s “After the Dance” sampling hit “Music” showcases the magnificence of funk driven soul in creating this easily repeatable standard.

    3. BARS, son. - In 1990, Def Jam – rap’s largest label-of-that-moment – assumed EPMD’s contract from Fresh Records. Now a part of rap’s biggest label, the duo brought Business as Usual - possibly their best album-to-date – to the table. Featuring the same take on funk sample-driven production, the lyrical aptitude of the duo reached another level. The best example of this is the performance of Parrish Smith on “Rampage.” The track takes a sample from fellow Def Jam artist LL Cool J’s club banger to end all club bangers “Jingling Baby,” and alongside the work of B.T. Express, Lowell Fusion, Mandrill and “The Symphony” by Marley Marl, Parrish catches wreck in an epic manner. In lieu of any sort of conclusion, I’ll just provide video evidence:

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