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Class of ’88: Strictly Business

epmd3

 

In 1988 it seemed like Hip-Hop could do no wrong. Rap flourished tremendously with a steady stream of flawless material. Releases from Eric B. & Rakim, Public Enemy, and Big Daddy Kane just to name a few would forever shape how our culture talked, walked, sounded, and was accepted in the mainstream. It surely would be no different in the case of Parrish Smith and Erick Sermon. Hailing from a then little known town of Brentwood, Long Island, EPMD entered the game as one of the best duos in Rap history; and we all know how.

 

EPMD’s debut Strictly Business was just that; the business. The title track first single would be a huge underground success with its infamous Eric Clapton cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff.” Erick’s distinctive vocals and Parrish’s understated hardcore presence on “You Gots To Chill” took things to an insane level. They would secure their deal with Sleeping Bag records and drop this classic June 7th, 1988. Thirty days later the LP went gold.

 

Strictly Business would be massively influential in many aspects. Joints like “You’re A Customer,” “It’s My Thing,” and “Jane” kept the album thorough from start to finish. Production wise it would feature samples from artists relatively unknown to most producers at the time (ZZ Top, Pink Floyd); with more focus on the use of grooves, bass lines and echoes. Still to this day, EPMD remain one of the most sampled groups in Rap. Just ask Jay-Z, Nas, Diddy, and a gang of other MC’s.

 

With the twenty year anniversary upon us, we honor this indisputable classic. Erick and Parish making dollars file a report on each track; discuss the greatest twelve months in Rap, and the little known tension with Rakim. Hide your fisherman hats and take notes suckers.

 

 

“Strictly Business”

Produced By EPMD

 

Erick Sermon: Yeah, that came from a sample from Eric Clapton (“I Shot The Sheriff”) that he got from Bob Marley. I don’t know how we got it, I guess digging. We played the song and it came right on with the beat. The session for that song was quick, it took three hours. “Strictly Business” was the second before last song we did for the album. “Jane” was last.

 

Parrish Smith: Being from Long Island we felt like outsiders and that we had to go twice as hard as the guys from the boroughs. So when we got the opportunity and got our contracts with Sleeping Bag [Records] it was on. The first producers were supposed to be Biz Markie and KRS One on the Strictly Business album.

 

Biz Mark was signed to Cold Chillin’ Records and Cold Chillin’ was right up the stairs from Sleeping Bag. But me and Erick thought everyone produced their own beats. So that’s why we did our own tracks and wrote our own raps then we realized people used ghostwriters and different producers. We didn’t understand that and kind of still don’t so it was a blessing in disguise.

 

“I’m Housin’”

Produced By EPMD

 

Erick Sermon: Yeah “I’m Housin’” was an Aretha Franklin sample (“Rock Steady”). We went digging for that record too and we heard that. This kid named Bernard played drums behind it. That’s why when you hear the drum roll or high hats it’s not really on point as far as the tempo. You can hear it sliding on top of there. This album was done really quick. Me and Parrish didn’t really have no bread. We only had money to make records in between a three to four hour time period.

 

We had to use this thing called quarter inch tape; there was no sampling machines that we didn’t know about back then. We used to put it on tape, cut the tape and the tape would run around the room like around the chair and we would loop it like that. We would record it to another quarter inch tape to make the loop happen.

 

The whole process to see what we did, nobody would believe how that CD was made. It was sick. We only had eight tracks to begin with it. We had a Tascam board so there were no adlib tracks; that’s why we used the echo so heavy. We only had eight tracks to use on each record.

 

“Let The Funk Flow”

Produced By EPMD

 

Parrish Smith: Yeah that was a smooth laid back James Brown sample (“(It’s Not The Express) It’s The J.B.’s Monorail” – The JB’s), that’s just the type of vibe me and Erick was on when we first came in. We just wanted to make an impact you know? We started with our first two singles “It’s My Thing” and “You’re A Customer.”

 

Then from there Sleeping Bag offers us a deal to do a whole album. But at the time we were managed my RUSH management meaning we were under that Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen umbrella. So that thirst and competition and hunger was just there. Like RUN DMC, Will Smith, Beastie Boys? So we were just coming from that stand point trying to fit in.

 

“You Gots To Chill”

Produced By EPMD

 

Erick Sermon: I wanted to rhyme on what I thought was the best part. Parrish and my DJ K La Boss was like “That ain’t the one E.” There wasn’t a scratch to let me know when to come in, it still sounds off to me.

 

That’s a story that people will never know. I didn’t feel right rhyming there. We did that with one microphone. For the whole album we had one microphone. We would be in the booth the same time. I would lean over then Parrish would lean over. That’s how we made that whole album.

 

“It’s My Thing”

Produced By EPMD

 

Erick Sermon: This is an ill story too. We had the beat looped up from the break beat and we had the rhymes for the song written down. This is how we learned to make a chorus. Our label heard it and called in two guys called Special K and Teddy Ted. So K and Ted came to Long Island and listened to the record and took the break beat and added the drum roll.

 

Then they added the horns to end the chorus. When we had the beat we had the Lyla (“You Out There?”); but we didn’t have the ending of the chorus. That’s where I first learned to make a chorus by watching them put the chorus in that song.

 

Parish Smith: That was a normal Hip-Hop track from like the Bronx that they always played at the T Connection. That always got it when the MC’s got up; it was the “7 Minutes Of Funk.” That was always on all of the tapes so when it got time to record it was that.

 

“You’re A Customer”

Produced By EPMD

 

Erick Sermon: Crazy (laughs). I don’t know if I should give you this because they might come get us. Parrish had a different mind state because he went to college and he used to play bands like Genesis, ACDC, Led Zepplin, Van Halen. We had different type of ears for music. He used to have this cassette from ZZ Top. ZZ had this beat that had guitars in it.

 

If you ever listen to the end of “You’re A Customer,” a guitar comes up for a quick second and then we take it out. That’s the original loop we had. We played on top of the ZZ Top, then we took the song to the hood and ni***s said “Yo you should take the guitars out.” So when we went to the studio and took the guitars out that’s when you have everything by itself. But the idea came from a ZZ Top record. Out of all the groups in the world, what did ni***s know about a ZZ Top?

 

Parrish Smith: Now “You’re A Customer” that’s another thing that came about from playing around in the studio. Basically from the rock side they had ZZ Top that had that bass line and we were trying to make a track so hard that we at the end of the session we had so many elements in one song. Then we muted most of all the loops and what was left there was the high hat, the bass line and the “Time Keeps On Slipping” lyric.

 

[In regards to the beef between EPMD and Rakim mentioned by Nas on “U.B.R.”]

 

Erick Sermon: Funny thing is I was in the studio with Nas and told Nas the story and the next thing you know Nas got the whole story on that album; which is the truth. All that beef came from the hood but it’s true. We had squashed it at a club a long time ago. How I can I have beef with someone I looked up to. It wasn’t real no tension.

 

Parrish Smith: The hood hyped that one up. I said “Smack me and I’ll smack you back.” Then Rakim came back with “Follow The Leader” and flipped it “A brother said dig ‘em / I never dug ‘em / He couldn’t follow the leader long enough so I drug ‘em”. When I heard it I mixed emotions. First of all that’s the R; there’s only one Rakim. Once he dropped that I said it was serious business but the respect was always there and still there like a student. So I was like happy but at the same time I was like dam.

 

“The Steve Martin”

Produced By EPMD

 

Erick Sermon: “Steve Martin” was given to us by Steezo. That was his dance that he made popular.

 

Parrish Smith: Back there we were so in tune to Hip-Hop, that’s when it was love and respect for the landscape and all the pioneers before us. That’s when the Biz Mark [dance] was out, that’s when the Pee Wee Herman was out. We felt on top of doing a classic album, we came with our dance because we were rocking with a kid by the name of Steezo who lives in Connecticut had a very popular dance that people still know today. When “You Got’s To Chill” comes on people do the dance in front of us.

 

“Get Off The Bandwagon”

Produced By EPMD

 

Erick Sermon: Same thing, like our part two of “You’re A Customer,” that was for ni***s in the hood on you’re d*** hating. That was our hate record; that all that was.

 

“D.J. K La Boss”

Produced By EPMD

 

Erick Sermon: We had nothing to do with that, K La Boss brought that in. It was his record and we just put it on the album.

 

Parrish Smith: Once again me and Erick was from Long Island and we was following the culture heavy. So you had all the DJ’s getting busy. We were on the Run’s House Tour with Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince. Then Rakim when they had all the jewels on the front cover, Eric B. had a DJ song. So once we got on, we felt needed to follow the format. DJ K La Boss, we let him do his own song and that’s what he came up with.

 

“Jane”

Produced By EPMD

 

Erick Sermon: “Jane” is how I really met Parrish. When I moved to Parrish’s neighborhood our two high schools were next door to each other, that was my rhyme I used to rhyme for him.

 

Parrish Smith: I think that’s so big because you had the Rick James (“Mary Jane”). Two it was the last song and it summed up what we were trying to say on the whole album, like we just finished this album we about to bring it up to Lyor and Will to see what they say man. But it wasn’t like we planned on doing a whole album; we just started off doing a single and wanting to be down. Then they threw the album in. Jane was a song that Erick came up with and she was like just a jumpoff. She covers us and always gets us out of sh*t in the last second.

 

[In regards to knowing when Strictly Business was a classic]

 

Parrish Smith: Will Smith congratulated us on going number one on the Billboard chart on tour and the place exploded. We were still young, we were the youngest cats out there on the tour. We didn’t even have money to buy our tour bus, RUN DMC let us ride on their bus. A lot of nights RUN would speak to us, some nights DMC would speak to us and they would let us know like this is what’s going on and this is where you’re at. It was more than music, we were learning the business, the touring, the stage. 

 

Erick Sermon: When he said that we had no idea what he meant! We were like what the hell is a Billboard? That year 1988 was a serious year. But again we were so different. The records were different. There’s nothing that’s ever going to compare to that era. There was nobody sounding like nobody. Nobody doing what the other person did, it was incredible. That’s why every rapper now mentions this era; Jay, Nas, even The Game.

 

EPMD

“Strictly Business”

 

EPMD

“You Gots To Chill”

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