In 1988, hip-hop began to blossom into what is now dubbed as the “Golden Age of Hip-Hop.” Artists such as Eric B & Rakim (Paid in Full), Biz Markie (Goin’ Off), DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper), Public Enemy (It Takes a Nation of Millions...) and many others set the blueprint on how classic albums should sound.
The artists mentioned above inspired two childhood friends from Long Island, NY, Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith, to form EPMD (initially named “EPEE MD”) a name that derives from their acronym "Erick and Parrish Making Dollars.” Together, they produced Strictly Business, arguably one of the funkiest albums during the infancy of the so-called “Golden Age of Hip-Hop.”
But the rap duo’s story started a year prior in 1987. EPMD was signed to Sleeping Bag Records, a boutique dance label owned by Will Socolov, which just garnered their first rap hit with Mantronix’s “Fresh Is the Word.” They also had Nice & Smooth as well as young rap newbies Craig Mack and KRS-One on their label. EPMD’s first offering was the 12-inch “It’s My Thing” with the B-side being “You Are a Customer.”
Along with those two successful singles, they were also signed under Rush Management, which provided them the opportunity to tour with some of the biggest names in rap -- Run-DMC (they shared a tour bus with them), Big Daddy Kane, and DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. By the time the tour was over, they had gained enough experience on and off the road to help formulate the concept of their debut album.
On June 7, 1988, EPMD released their debut album Strictly Business on Sleeping Bag / Fresh Records. The 10-song collection is undoubtedly a classic album and set the sonic template for New York rap with their sample-based productions.
Many of the ideas on the album paid homage to previously-released albums by their rap idols like Run-DMC and Biz Markie. EPMD wanted to make an impact like their rap idols, so they hunkered down in their Long Island studio and figuratively made wine out of water. According to Sermon, they recorded the whole album with one microphone and had to do each song in one take. There was no such thing as a redo.
Many of the songs stuck to a straightforward template: sample-heavy, funky and braggadocios hip-hop. Tracks like "I'm Housin,'" "Let the Funk Flow" and "It's My Thing" are prime examples of this. But the true highlights on the album are "You're a Customer," "Strictly Business" and "You Gots to Chill." The latter track broadened EPMD's reach and connected with both East and West Coast rap fans thanks to their sampling of Zapp's "More Bounce to the Ounce."
For the 30th anniversary of Strictly Business, The Boombox took a look back at EPMD's timeless album and ranked the LP's ten songs from top to bottom.
Capitalizing off Joeski Love’s “Pee Wee Dance,” which sparked a nationwide dance craze, EPMD introduced the Steve Martin, a dance step their backup dancer (and rapper) Steezo popularized in their “You Gots to Chill” video. Neither the song nor dance step caught on.
"Get Off the Bandwagon" is another throwaway track that takes its cues mostly from “You’re Customer”: which appears later on the list. On the song, EPMD takes lyrical aim at wack rappers who bite their style. "No time for playin' / Sucker MCs I be slayin' / Get off the bandwagon, you know what I'm sayin'," raps PMD.
DJ K La Boss was EPMD’s first DJ before they tapped DJ Scratch, an award-winning turntablist, as a permanent member of the group. As a homage to Run-DMC who let their DJ, Jam Master Jay, have a track to himself on the King of Rock album ("Jam-Master Jammin'"), EPMD let DJ K La Boss do his thing on the turntables. On the song, he cuts up classic songs like Kashif’s “The Mood,” Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and L.T.D.’s “Cuttin' It Up” among many others.
Strictly Business is arguably one of the funkiest rap albums of 1988. “Let the Funk Flow” is a perfect example of how EPMD was able to flip a soul sample into a groovy party track. It wasn’t hard; the rap tandem sampled the JB’s "(It's Not The Express) It's The J.B.'s Monorail" song and cuts of the Beasties Boys’ “Slow and Low.” On the track, E-Double and the Mic Doc aim at wack rappers who don't have original rhyming skills.
An unlikely hit from the album, “Jane” is about an overzealous groupie who is too much to handle for E-Double and PMD. The rap duo continued the “Jane” series — for better or worst- through six more albums, ending it on their 2008 effort, We Mean Business.
Another funky track on the album, “I’m Housin’” features a sample of Aretha Franklin’s 1971 song “Rock Steady.” On the track, E-Double and PMD brag about being the ultimate players and rhyme spitters on the microphone. "Take off your coat, won't you stay a while / Check out the voice that is smooth and mild," raps PMD, while Sermon adds, "Gimme the cue, check one two / Don't try to come off on me, because you doo-doo."
"It's My Thing" is the song that officially launched EPMD’s rap career. Released in 1987 on Sleeping Bag Records, the track has been sampled a dozen times by other artists in rap music. According to Sermon, they looped “Seven Minutes of Funk” by the World Darn Family while legendary radio DJs/producers Special K and Teddy Ted came through and added a drum roll along with the vocal sample of “It's My Thing” by Marva Whitney in the chorus. The song features several memorable quotes from the rap duo including PMD’s “EPMD is a world premiere” and E-Double rapping, "The more you bite, your body gets hot / Don't get too close, because you might get shot."
Another classic song from EPMD, this funky banger boasts vocal samples from Steve Miller's "Fly Like an Eagle" and Kool & the Gang's "Jungle Boogie." The track also features PMD rapping, "I have the capability to rap and chill / Cold wax and tax MC's who tend to act ill / It's like a dig 'em smack, / Smack me and I'll smack you back," which many took as a direct lyrical shot to Rakim for his song "I Ain't No Joke." It ignited a rap feud between the two parties, but cooler heads prevailed. EPMD managed to talk to Rakim while on tour and squashed it before it got out of hand (the rap feud inspired their 1989 song "So Whatcha Sayin'").
"You're a Customer" also hold the distinction of being one of the most sampled songs in rap (over 100 songs!). Diddy has used the beat several times during his A&R stint at Uptown Records (Jodeci’s "Come and Talk To Me") and at Bad Boy Records (Faith Evans’s "I Remember" remix). But a slew of other artists have sampled the song including Drake. A true gem from the album Strictly Business.
EPMD gets down to business on the title track, which is arguably one of the greatest songs in hip-hop history. Eric Clapton's "I Shot The Sheriff" is sampled, as EPMD introduce themselves as the Long Island rap duo who can rock the crowd and scoop your girl up with ease. On the track E-Dub spits, "When I roll I stroll / Cool always pack a tool / Just in case, a brother acts a fool, while PMD raps, "Well I'm the mellow, the fellow, the one who likes to say hello / To a fly girl that is good to go / With the slow tempo, and the off-beat rhyme flow."
EPMD hit the jackpot when they made "You Gots to Chill," a song that would be embraced by both East and West Coast rap fans thanks to their looping of Zapp’s often sampled 1980 funk jam “More Bounce to the Ounce.” It's the epitome of a braggadocios track as E-Double and PMD slowly and methodically rap how they'll dispatch any wack MCs who tries to grab the mic. The song is full of rap quotables.
Among the most quotable bars is PMD's line: "To the average MC I'm known as The Terminator / Funky beat maker, new jack exterminator / Destroying a ploy, when your rhymes are not void / Never sweatin' your girl (Why P?) 'Cause she's a skeezoid."
But E-Dub sets it off nicely with his verse, "Relax your mind, let your conscience be free / And get down to the sounds of EPMD / Well you should keep quiet while the MC rap / But if you tired, then go take a nap," a classic line that has seen sampling from everyone from Diddy to Jay-Z.