Saturday, October 8, 2016

Revisiting EPMD's "Business As Usual" and "Business Never Personal"

A couple of things before I get into this revisit:

1) You can check out prior EPMD posts in the blog archives (Strictly Business, Unfinished Business and Back In Business).

2) Be sure to check out the Erick Sermon project, "A Green Eyed Experience," if you haven't done so already.

In this revisit, I'll be taking a look at the 3rd and 4th albums from EPMD, respectively, 1990's "Business As Usual," their first release under the Def Jam Records banner, and 1992's "Business Never Personal," the last album they would release prior to their somewhat well publicized breakup. So to begin things, we're going back to 1990!

Release date: December 15, 1990

All songs produced by EPMD, on both albums, except where noted

Oh, and one other fact before I begin. I remember my dad having this on cassette at the time, only had the chance to play it once when he had it in his Cadillac Seville he owned at the time. (And of course I own the original pressing of the CD.)

1. "I'm Mad"

Coming off of '89's "Unfinished Business," Erick and Parrish emerged in 1990 in an aggressive fashion on this sample laden opener. 
*5 out of 5*

2. "Hardcore"
Featuring Redman

This classic comes with samples thanks to Curtis Mayfield's "Don't Worry If There's a Hell Below (We're All Going To Go" and The Ohio Players' "Pride and Vanity" (and ones by EPMD themselves), good verses from Parrish ("And on my way out, I heard a sucka scream and shout/AHHH, NIGGAS, yeah cold turn the party out!") and Erick, but the star of this show in his official debut is Redman. The alliteration displayed by Red was SO ill and in his debut, he drops one of his best verses ever. DOPE stuff here.
*5 out of 5*

3. "Rampage"
Featuring LL Cool J

"You can't quote wit your weaker throat/Tryin' to sneak a peak at how I freak the notes" -LL

"Pure entertainment, tonight's your arraignment/You're guilty, face down on the pavement!/No holds barred, it's time to get scarred/You and your squad betta praise the real God/Me gettin' burnt or hurt won't be tolerated/I got rhymes up the, uh, forget it I'm constipated, L!" -LL

Here we have another sample driven classic, this time featuring fellow labelmate LL Cool J, who drops a TIGHT verse, stealing the show in the process. Parrish came through with a tight verse of his own, but man, I'm not sure what was going on with Erick here, as either he was tired (not likely) or wasn't feeling this for some reason, because his verse was lukewarm compared to Parrish and LL's. With that said, the aforementioned verses from Parrish and LL and the beat itself are still strong enough to warrant the "full monty."
*5 out of 5*

4. "Manslaughter"

Still "snappin necks and cashin' large checks," Erick and Parrish are all about lyrically causing damage to other fake/wack MCs, of course backed by another sample is Love Unlimited Orchestra's "Strange Games & Things."
*4 out of 5*

5. "Jane 3"

When we last left the "Jane" series on the "Unfinished Business" album, Parrish runs into a chick at a club during "Spanish Night." One thing led to another and before he knew it, it was ol Jane he had at the crib, with Al B. Sure's "Nite & Day" playing. In this third installment, they don't really pick up where the "Jane 2" left off, but the story takes an interesting (and hilarious) turn. On a "hot summer day back around the way," a new kid named Jay moved to the block, almost befriending Erick and Parrish immediately. In addition to Erick noticing that Jay's house "was dressed in hot pink" during a visit, Parrish takes a trip to the bathroom, only to discover a douche bag and maxi-pad tampons, as well as bras and leotards. A scuffle ensued, only for the apparent wig to come off and "titties poppin out," lol, and to Erick and Parrish's shock and surprise, it was not a transvestite, it was the J to the A to the N to the E! It won't spoil the ending, but let's just say it doesn't end the way you may think.
*4.5 out of 5*

6. "For My People"

Erick and Parrish bring a hardcore, aggressive sound to this one, especially on the lyrical end, backed by a dope sample courtesy of the late Lyn Collins' "You Can't Love Me If You Don't Respect Me." Listening to this, I wondered why Erick didn't bring this sense of aggression to "Rampage." Either way, dope song, which would later have some sampled elements on The Game's "No More Fun & Games."
*5 out of 5*

7. "Mr. Bozack"

Going back to the word "interesting," that certainly describes this song, which finds Parrish having apparent issues, both good and bad, with his, uh, penis (aka "Mr. Bozack"), while Erick plays a counseling role. I mean, that's what I gather from this.
*4 out of 5*

8. "Gold Digger"

About 15 years before Kanye West would lend his perspective to this same topic, Erick and Parrish came through with this one, the album's lead single. As accurately describes it, this is "a cautionary tale aimed at the men of the 90s about the female problems only money and success can buy." Across three verses, with the last being a "back & forth," they touch on the all too familiar "prenuptial agreement," women willing to get pregnant under false pretenses and what to expect if a divorce takes place. This classic is as relevant in 2016 as it was in 1990. GOOD stuff here and in a "nice" touch, a brief sample from Lyn Collins' "Think (About It)" carries on throughout the song --> "you bad sister." I'm sure you know why that particular part was chosen. (Check out the Soul Train throwback along with the official video.)
*5 out of 5*

9. "Give The People"

I REALLY like this one right here. In addition to the WELL timed/obvious sample from the O'Jays classic "Give The People What They Want," Erick and Parrish not only talk about the challenges of entering the game, but the media's portrayal of hip hop, which would became very notable for the right and wrong reasons as the 90s continued, and the dangers of "selling out." "Give The People" is such a fine title because it stresses the importance of giving your audience what they want to hear and not altering/changing your sound just for mainstream/commercial acceptance. This would not be the last time they would speak on these issues.
*5 out of 5*

"So (fight the power) and make them understand/But too much power and you might get banned/So if you want airplay, you can't be too Black and hey, watch what you say"

10. "Rap Is Outta Control"

It sounded like Erick and Parrish were having a bit of fun on this track, but considering the very name of the song, it misses the mark mainly because they do everything but talk about why "rap was outta control" at this point. Now, the media would have you believe this statement, but it seemed a bit counterproductive for this to come from hip hop artists, especially when you consider GREAT things were ahead as the 90s emerged. Definitely an unfortunate low point on this album.
*2.5 out of 5*

11. "Brothers On My Jock"
Featuring Redman

Bob James' classic (breakbeat) "Nautilus" rears its dope head again for this Redman assisted song. Granted, Red's verse here is not as dope as "Hardcore," but it does steal the show.
*4 out of 5*

12. "Underground"

Not only is this possibly the first time that the term "underground" was used as a song title, I also think this was the first time Grover Washington Jr.'s "Hydra" was sampled, coming almost 3 years before Black Moon would drop the classic "How Many MCs" using the same sample, as well as Trends of Culture's "Old Habits." And listen closely as Parrish goes in with his verse.
*4 out of 5*

13. "Hit Squad Heist"

Ok, the bright spot about this one is I get what Erick and Parrish were going for in terms of a "heist" and in a small form, it works; the not so bright spot is the tone, delivery and production works against what a "heist" song is supposed to be. An ok song, nothing more.
*3 out of 5*

14. "Funky Piano"

"Business As Usual" closes with Erick and Parrish's ode to their DJ, DJ Scratch, featuring multiple samples, with Public Enemy's "Timebomb" being the most present. The last minute of the song finds Scratch showcasing his skills on the wheels of steel.
*5 out of 5*

"Business As Usual" marked the third straight Certified Gold album for EPMD, achieving that certification on May 7, 1991. Three main singles, "Gold Digger," "Rampage" and "Give The People" found respectable success on the Billboard charts, namely the first two. Add in Redman's memorable debut on "Hardcore," LL's show stealing verse on "Rampage," the dope production and a new found, aggressive style from Erick and Parrish, which would continue on the next album (in this post), and we have ourselves a 4.5 star winner for 1990, still holding up some 26 years after its release.

After this album, Erick and Parrish took a hiatus for a bit, mostly to prepare new proteges Redman, Das EFX and K-Solo for their time in the spotlight with debut albums on deck.

Release date: July 28, 1992

(There's quite a bit of history surrounding this album, their 4th, which will be covered at the end. The title of this album would be fairly accurate in more ways than one.)

1. "Boon Dox"

"Comin' straight from the boon dox, when my tune stomps like Sasquatch/You betta slow down cause I'm top notch" -Parrish

I've always thought that the "boon dox" was Erick and Parrish's version of their underground. Good way to start the album, bringing the same aggressive tones that were found on the previous album, and trust me there's more where that came from.
*3.5 out of 5*

2. "Nobody's Safe Chump"

This is a 2:12 apply titled cut right here. Not only are the aforementioned aggressive tones present, but Erick and Parrish come with some serious gunplay talk, moreso than we were accustomed to from them. You sort of get the impression that they were mad at someone or something and at 2:12, they made their points and were outdi 5,000.
*3.5 out of 5*

3. "Can't Hear Nothing But The Music"
Co-Produced by Charlie Marotta

Erick and Parrish's lyrics were ok in this one, but the use of the samples is what stands out here. Backed by somewhat of a modified version of Das EFX's "Mic Checka," we get a fairly creative use of samples such as Kool & The Gang's "Jungle Boogie" and Average White Band's "Schoolboy Crush," just to name two. Good song.
*4 out of 5*

4. "Chill"

Aside from this being a quick, decent song, the main basis here is Parrish's sampled voice, courtesy of their own classic from '88, "You Gots To Chill," as well as additional samples from The D.O.C.'s "It's Funky Enough" and Eric B. & Rakim's "My Melody."
*3 out of 5*

5. "Head Banger"
Featuring Redman and K-Solo

Oh man, THIS classic right here. In their 100th issue, The Source magazine had this joint listed as one of the top 5 best posse cuts of all time and it still ranks that high today. Equipped with a sample from Parliament, "One Of Those Funky Thangs," this is a true definition of what a high powered, aggressive posse cut should sound like and of course all involved bring their A games over a tight production. Erick, Parrish and K-Solo (probably his best verse ever) come with dope verses, but once again, Redman, whose debut "Whut Thee Album" was a few months away from dropping, steals the show here with such an incredible verse. It was so dope and set such a precedent that it was later remade by the Ruff Ryders for "Ryde Or Die," which was also dope. Classic material here and arguably the best song on this album.
*5 out of 5*

"Because I can jam like Teddy if you let me/A goodfella but still rugged like Joe Pesci" -Redman

"Cause I get wreck wit the tec, wit the blunt or Moet/And what you see is what you get and what you gettin' is your ASS KICKED!" -Redman

6. "Scratch Bring It Back (Part 2 - Mic Doc)"
Produced by DJ Scratch

Scratch catches wreck on the wheels of steel and behind the boards while Erick and Parrish catch equal wreck on the mic, bigging up their DJ in the process. Speaking of Parrish, in a dope touch, when his verse starts, it seems like he's about to kick an impromptu freestyle, however, Erick steps in with a few words, then the beat switches as Parrish drops one of his usual verses. Very good stuff.
*5 out of 5*

7. "Crossover"

Remember when I said during the "Business As Usual" portion that after "Give The People" was finished it wouldn't be the last time Erick and Parrish touch on "selling out?" Well, here we are, ANOTHER classic. Roger Troutman's "You Should Be Mine" is brilliantly sampled for this one, as the men take other hip hop artists to task for becoming more R&B and Pop oriented in order to sell records. Even the aforementioned Troutman sampled HOOK is clever when you factor in what Erick and Parrish are talking about:

"Whatever you want
Whatever you need
I'll do it for you"

Not only was this song so relevant in 1992 considered where things were headed (not as quick though), but it's much more relevant today when you analyze hip hop's current scene. Nowadays, certain artists seem to bypass being more Pop and R&B altogether and just continue to hop on the latest trend which really shouldn't be a trend at all; then again, this is clearly another story for another day, so allow me to continue to focus on this classic. As it turned out, this was the first and only single from EPMD to become Certified Gold on November 16, 1992 and with good damn reason in my book.
*5 out of 5*

""I know your head is bobbin, cause the neck knows" -Parrish

8. "Cummin' At Cha"
Featuring Das EFX

Three months after the release of their debut "Dead Serious," Das EFX, who catches serious wreck on this one, joins Erick and Parrish for this highly dope song, featuring a well timed sample courtesy of Cypress Hill's already classic, "How I Could Just Kill A Man" and D-Nice's "25 Ta Life." And speaking of samples, listen closely at the beginning and end, you'll hear the start of N.W.A.'s "Straight Outta Compton" (another classic of course) utilized in such an effective form. I don't think that has ever been highlighted, but it's amazing that they could turn that part of "Straight Outta Compton" into a breakbeat of sorts. Tight as hell.
*5 out of 5*

9. "Play The Next Man"

"Don't play me, play the next man." As you can see ladies, Erick and Parrish have no time for the fun & games in this manner, especially when two of their objectives are still "snappin' necks and cashin' large checks." But don't worry ladies, they also say "if you're done with who you're with, cut him off." Another song from Parliament, "Sir Nose' D'Voidoffunk," was sampled so well here.
*4 out of 5"

10. "It's Going Down"

I've always liked this song, a lot, as it was originally featured on the "Juice" soundtrack. And of course when I bump it, that memorable movie immediately comes to mind. Nostagic wise, this is a "5 out of 5," as a song it's "4 out of 5," so I'll just split it evenly with a solid "4.5 out of 5."

11. "Who Killed Jane"

When we last left the "Jane" series, Parrish had quite the "gender bender," so let's see how the fifth installment closes the album.

So, apparently this time around, Jane has been killed, with Parrish being framed for murder. The police attempt to question him, only for chaos to erupt, leading to Parrish getting shot. All of this is a clear sign that the series must/will continue, but we wouldn't get the next installment until 5 years later. I liked this one, but I have two issues: 1) this would've been a little more effective had there been someone else portraying the police side of things instead of Erick, and 2) the ending to the song (and the album) was somewhat anti-climatic. If it left you wanting more, it did its job in that regard, but still.
*4 out of 5*

Before I get to what took place after this album's release, let's talk about the album itself first. It's pretty damn good and almost 25 years after its release, it still holds up well (4.5 stars). It's a bit more fast paced than "Business As Usual" and I like it better, albeit slightly. Even though it's surrounded by quality material, "Crossover" and "Head Banger" remain the most memorable songs and it was those two classics that propelled this album to Gold status on October 13, 1992, their 4th Gold album in a row, which is a highly respectable accomplishment, and if there was any tension during this album, I honestly couldn't tell. So, just when it seemed like things were continuing to roll along well for Erick and Parrish, unfortunately, that didn't happen.

(The following portion is taken directly from my memory of the second "Beef" DVD.)

So, on a particular evening in '93 (more than likely), Parrish had went to the store to grab a box of Phillies (blunts for those that don't know), however, while he was gone, his house was being burglarized. Parrish had said that had he not went to the store that night, "he would've walked right into the ambush." Continuing on, the perpetrator would later tell the police that Erick had paid them $5,000 to break into Parrish's home. First of all, this claim is ridiculous. WHAT motive would Erick suddenly have, out of the damn blue, to PAY someone to break into Parrish's home????? Considering their friendship was built on strong ties dating back to grade school, I'm sure whatever was going on behind the scenes could've been handled without leading to violence. In a moment, neither funny nor coincidental, Parrish would later say that "the same guy who broke into his home ended up being on the same tour bus with them," and how the hell that happened, I'll never know. Now, you would think that this situation would've been put to rest all things considered (the police literally had no case against Erick in my opinion), but it doesn't end there unfortunately. The business side did become complicated. Around this same time, Parrish was approached by someone from RCA Records (I wanna say the person's name was Sylvia, but don't quote me on that) with a lucrative 1.5 million deal (I believe that's the correct figure). In addition to the 50/50 split that was in place since '88, Erick felt like he and the rest of the crew were left out in the cold somewhat, because while Parrish was a bit more business savvy, he wasn't teaching the rest of the crew these things, according to Erick. And with all this being said, the break in of Parrish's home and the drama stemming from that, as well as money/business coming to the forefront, these happenings led to the unfortunate break up of EPMD, definitely a sad moment for hip hop in 1993. They would embark on solo careers; Erick would drop his solo debut in '93, "No Pressure," while Parrish would come the next year with "Shade Business" and with the latter being released in September of '94, a couple of weeks after The Notorious BIG's debut "Ready To Die," that was not the best timing. As noted on that "Beef 2" documentary, they didn't have the same success apart as they did together. You can say Erick had more success because of his growing track record as a producer. To this day, I still wonder if they had any contact with each other at any point during the break up. Speaking continuously of the break up, it didn't last long thankfully, because they would reunite in 1997 to drop their 5th (Gold) album, "Back In Business," and you can certainly check the blog archives for my revisit of that album.

Again, Erick, Parrish, Scratch and all involved, I wanna say thank you for everything, yes indeed!!

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