[11 December 2013]
1988 was a very good year for the then-still blossoming music form of hip-hop. Many critics and historians have even gone as far as to refer to this time period as the Golden Age of Hip-Hop. The dubious title doesn’t go unwarranted by any means — 1988 saw the release of plenty of hip-hop albums that over the course of the next 25 years would hold up as venerable hip-hop classics. For starters, take Biz Markie’s Goin Off, Sir Mix-A-Lot’s SWASS and Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock’s It Takes Two. Need more proof? Okay. There’s also 2 Live Crew’s Move Somethin’, Jungle Brothers’ Straight Out of the Jungle, Ice-T’s Power and Run-DMC’s Tougher Than Leather. Still unimpressed? Cool. Add Eric B. & Rakim’s Follow The Leader, Too Short’s Life Is…Too Short, Slick Rick’s The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane’s Long Live The Kane, MC Lyte’s Lyte As a Rock and Boogie Down Production’s By All Means Necessary to that list and your opinion should shift drastically. Even without the behemoths that were NWA’s Straight Outta Compton and Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, the rundown of classic albums from that year is astounding. 1988 also marked the debut of EPMD, a duo out of Brentwood, New York. Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith stepped into an arena already filled with other would-be greats and staked their own claim with Strictly Business.
In its original release, Strictly Business hit shelves on Sleeping Bag/Fresh Records with a tracklisting that was ten tracks deep. On this 25th Anniversary Edition, there are five additional tracks added that are remixes of a few of the album’s singles.
Business gets underway with the album’s title track. A rumble is heard and then a sample of Eric Clapton’s rendition of “I Shot The Sheriff” comes in as EPMD introduce themselves as a no-nonsense duo with the talent to control the crowd, keep the suckers at bay and scoop up all the girlies in one fell swoop. The following “I’m Housin’” also sticks to the same formula of sample-heavy, uptempto and braggadocios hip-hop that could rock a party as well as in a 1988 Jeep Grand Cherokee in the gritty streets of New York. To a younger generation, the slow-rolling banger that is “Let The Funk Flow” will remind them of Nas’ 1999 single, “Nastradamus”, but it was EPMD that sampled the JB’s “(It’s Not The Express) It’s The J.B.‘s Monaurail” first and better. Add in some cuts from Beastie Boys’ “Slow & Low” for flavor and the outcome is one delicious cut with high replay value.
Hip-hop heads of a certain age will undoubtedly remember the video for the album’s biggest hit, “You Gots To Chill”, as the duo literally took turns rapping in a deep freezer with clouds of breath rolling out as the emcees rapped every syllable of their rhymes and the Zapp sample dominated the soundscape. Jay-Z fans who for some reason haven’t been introduced to EPMD will immediately recognize the “Seven Minutes of Funk” sample that Erick Sermon uses for “It’s My Thing”, over five minutes of back and forth rhyming that only further establishes the crew’s dominance over any would-be sucker emcees. “You’re a Customer” and “Get Off the Bandwagon” fall right in line with the battle rap type of flow that suits Erick and Parrish to a T. The latter of the two tracks is more direct and aggressive, with EPMD taking direct aim at style-biters and copycats.
In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, there was a bit of a hip-hop dance craze — see the Humpty Dance, the Biz Markie and of course, the Pee Wee Herman. Never one to miss an opportunity, EPMD tosses their name into the hat with the Steve Martin. Based on the aforementioned actor’s character in the film, The Jerk. It’s fun and lighthearted, something a bit different that still manages to fit into the overall scheme of the album. After DJ K La Boss gets four and a half minutes to flex on the wheels of steel, the original album comes to a close with “Jane”. The Jane theme would be revisited in some form on every subsequent EPMD album. The five additional bonus tracks included on the 25th Anniversary Edition are dub versions of “You Gots To Chill”, “It’s My Thing” and “You’re a Customer” along with a UK mix of “I’m Housin’” and a percapella of “You Gots To Chill”.
The additional tracks are a nice novelty touch, but don’t add much to the overall presentation of the album. In its original form, Strictly Business is a cohesive album that accurately represents the sound of hip-hop in 1988. The beats are thumping, the rhymes are braggadocios and it all melds together so agreeably. EPMD’s place as one of the most important duos in hip-hop history is cemented, but big names like Redman, Keith Murray and Das EFX all have roots that can be traced back to Erick and Parrish. The group’s two breakups and reunions have been well publicized but at the end of the day, the music reigns supreme and nothing can take that away. A word that has adorned the cover of every EPMD album to date is “business” — from Strictly Business to We Mean Business, the duo has handled theirs and hip-hop thanks them for that.