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EPMD’s ‘Strictly Business’ Celebrates 25-Year Anniversary

Strictly Business
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Has there ever been a rap album created that sounds of its time while remaining timeless 25 years later? There are very few and EPMD’s ‘Strictly Business,’ released on Aug. 30, 1988, is a prime example of one.

All the hallmarks of ’80s hip-hop production are present on the rap group’s debut LP: scratching, heavy and steady drum usage and those near impossible-to-clear samples like Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ and Michael Jackson‘s ‘Thriller.’ But what separates EPMD’s first effort from others in the era is just how in your face the duo — consisting of Brentwood, N.Y., natives Erick Sermon and Parrish J Smith a.k.a Parrish Mic Doc – is on the project. The beats have rarely been funkier and this much chemistry between a duo is still scarce 25 years later.

Check out the samples: Eric Clapton’s ‘I Shot The Sheriff,’ the Steve Miller Band’s ‘Fly Like an Eagle’ (a.k.a. that song Seal covered for the ‘Space Jam’ soundtrack), soul singer Otis Redding‘s ‘Let Me Come on Home.’ They’re each from different genres but what feels like just minor manipulation by the duo turns the samples — which are classics in their own right — into pieces in the duo’s arsenal. Who’d think such records could be so malleable?

So ‘I Shot The Sheriff”s vigilantism is turned toward the dance floor in the fast-moving album opener, ‘Strictly Business.’ You can kill the sheriff, but things will be all right if the DJ is OK. The Steve Miller Band’s “Time keeps on slipping” line isn’t a “live life to the fullest” mantra, but a final call to the dance floor. Preferably the one EPMD is controlling.

Is it the most inventive use of sampling of the ’80s? No, because the Beastie Boys‘ ‘Paul’s Boutique’ exists. But the beats are some of the decade’s best.

At the center of it all are these to MCs who just refuse to let their voice get lost in the collage of sounds. As the samples roll, there’s still the image of this duo standing tall as they’re rapping — Kangol hats, gold chains and all. Their flows never lose focus and their voices never strain as the instrumentals switch up. In other words, this is a solid example of an “MC” as a master of ceremonies.

Perhaps one of the best highlights on ‘Strictly Business’ comes at its end with the song ‘Jane,’ which is more storytelling than party rap. It’s witty, fun and filled with B-Boy attitude just like the rest of the album, but wobbly keys give the closer a sense of mischief as Sermon relates a story of a woman who played him. Chemistry is in full effect here.

“I would have have been, only thing she brung along a friend / So PMD (Yo?) Why don’t you do me a favor? / Chill with the bitch and I’ll hook you up later / She’s fly, haircut like Anita Baker,” Sermon raps mixing monotone with conversation.

Smith comes in and continues the rhyme while not missing a beat with the story line, displaying chemistry at its finest. The prior 40 minutes featured some of hip-hop’s finest as well.

EPMD’s consequent three albums are considered hip-hop greats, but none matched the funky explosiveness of their debut.

Watch EPMD’s ‘Strictly Business’ Video

Listen to EPMD’s ‘Jane’

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