It’s long been established that the late ’80s marked the golden age of New York’s hip-hop scene. MCs such as Rakim, Gang Starr, Slick Rick, and LL Cool J were pioneering the genre’s initial meandering into the mainstream sound of music. However, you also had the funk-infused duo of EPMD behind Strictly Business. Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith, known as PMD, met in Long Island, New York, where they made an instant connection regarding their love for rapping. The duo’s first big break occurred in 1987 with “It’s My Thing.” The track expressed a refreshing blend of charisma and funky drum samples.
In many ways, EPMD was actually throwing it back to the early days of the genre. Since hip-hop’s inception in the 1970s, its prevailing sonic technique had gone from breakbeats to soul sampling. The two were mixing each of these techniques, paying homage to their block parties while pushing hip-hop’s sound forward. Their steadfast success caught the attention of Russell Simmons RUSH Management. A year after the hit success of the single “It’s My Thing,” EPMD released their debut studio album Strictly Business.
Strictly Business Delivered A New Sound To Hip-Hop
To put it simply, Strictly Business opened up doors surrounding hip-hop that had never been touched on before. The record contributed to the ushering in of the golden age of hip-hop, spearheaded by the intricate wordplay of Parrish Smith. However, their sound was very much distinctive from the increasingly popularized form of gangster rap that began proliferating across the West Coast. Instead, Strictly Business and its follow-up, Unfinished Business, injected the charts with a disco edge amidst poetic storytelling. The duo truly existed in their own world. They stressed the importance of independence in a time when record labels had as much creative control over their artists as ever.
The duo’s backs were against the wall, which is obvious in the hungry verses throughout Strictly Business. Parrish explained to Billboard, “On all our business titles, our first album was basically titled Strictly Business because we put everything on the line. We gave up a lot just to be a part of the hip-hop culture so [the name of the album] had to be Strictly Business. You couldn’t lose.” Hip-Hop certainly isn’t a world of second chances, especially during the earlier days of the genre. An utterly coherent affair, the ten-song project received applause across the board from hip-hop.
EPMD Had A Distinct Laid-Back Demeanor
Parrish and Erick’s deliveries are distinctly laid back from start to finish. While they were still defending themself against doubters and delivering violent lyricism, it was done in a manner so laid-back that it was downright intimidating to fellow MCs. Their nonchalant energy while curating certified Gold albums proved that yelling into the mic wasn’t a necessary precursor for a successful hip-hop album. Take “You Gots to Chill,” a funk anthem that would morph into one of their most recognizable tracks. Scratching the turntable amidst a laid-back melody, the duo sounds utterly languid. “You’re A Customer” samples Steve Miller Band and Kool & The Gang. Parrish hilariously compares the haters to something toilet paper might wipe off.
In essence, EPMD’s Strictly Business reinforced oddity into the hip-hop space. That left-field energy was always going to exist in the genre. Ever since its inception, hip-hop was rooted in fighting back against the prevailing corrupt establishment. Parrish and Erick weren’t screaming into the camera or puffing out their chest from track to track. Instead, the two were each repping a goofy ushanka while smoking weed, and they were certainly not remised to let you know about it. That distinct personality showed up in their sound, which sampled rock and funk rather than the prevailing sonic pallets of the late ’80s hip-hop scene. It’s certainly a sound that takes a few listens to become accustomed to. However, it’s one that influenced the landscape of hip-hop for good.
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