30 Years Later, Long Island natives rock the mic with ease
1987 was a phenomenal year for hip-hop. While on the east coast Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions and Eric B. & Rakim were draining D batteries in boomboxes, N.W.A, Too Short and Ice-T were doing the same on the west coast. Although the genre was born more than 10 years earlier, 1987 further cemented hip-hop as a force to be reckoned with and gave birth to a string of classic albums, which make up a good chunk of the “golden age hip-hop” discography.
Looking to make their own mark on the scene, two Long Island emcees, then collectively known as EPEE MD released a debut single, “It’s My Thing”, in 1987. The sample-laden track featured flavours of everything from the rock of Pink Floyd and Mountain, to the funk of Marva Whitney, Syl Johnson and Tyrone Thomas and the Whole Darn Family. With “It’s My Thing” on the A-side and “You’re A Customer” on the B-side, the 12” record set the tone for EPMD’s sonically-rich, lyrically hard-hitting debut album released one year later — Strictly Business.
Still as powerful as it was the day it came out, Strictly Business, is cited today as an influential album by many rappers and frequently makes ‘best of’ lists. The record had one delicious cut after another, something that the group can claim stake to on every release following it — Unfinished Business, Business as Usual, Business Never Personal, Back in Business, Out of Business and so on.
Nearly 30 years later, EPMD’s Erick Sermon and Parrish “PMD” Smith are back together, still making music, and they still mean business, currently putting in work on the EPMD – Strictly Business 30th Anniversary Tour.
With dates scheduled throughout 2016-17, these living legends sit down in Vancouver, British Columbia during the North American leg of their tour to discuss the making of a classic hip-hop album, the secret to longevity, the state of the genre and plans for the future. Let’s get down to business.
EPMD is not just Strictly Business. We are the only rap group that had consecutive albums that stand the test of time. Every one of our albums had a hit record on it, and that’s rare.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE MOMENT FROM STRICTLY BUSINESS DAYS?
PMD: For me, the 12” with “It’s Your Thing” and “You’re A Customer” was very exciting. When the album came out, we got asked to go on the Run’s House tour with Run DMC, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince and Public Enemy. That was a highlight for me and things started to move quick.
Erick: Run DMC called us to come out on tour with them after the album came out. It was mad successful, but we didn’t get into all that. We just happened to be out touring, so there was no time to take it in.
WHY DOES THE RECORD STAND THE TEST OF TIME?
Erick: EPMD is not just Strictly Business. We are the only rap group that had consecutive albums that stand the test of time. Every one of our albums had a hit record on it, and that’s rare. Strictly Business just happened to be first.
PMD: We really loved hip-hop. And, as much as we were making great music, we were fans of the music. Run DMC, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane, Eric B. & Rakim were guys we saw on Yo! MTV Raps or heard on the radio, so once we made a record and they respected us — that was that. And, that was what hip-hop was all about.
WHY DOES THE WORD “BUSINESS” REEMERGE ON ALL YOUR ALBUM TITLES?
Erick: We found out early on that the game was a business. The first label that we were on was an independent label from London, which was called Fresh Records. After that we just ran with the business part. Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam Recordings and Rush Artist Management, told us, ‘this is a business,’ so we ran with it.
WHAT KEY ADVICE DID YOU RECEIVE FROM RUSSELL SIMMONS?
Erick: He told us in every interview to stay humble and that was the biggest advice that I could have gotten from anybody. Being humble helps you with a lot of things you go through in life.
WHAT IS THE SECRET TO YOUR LONGEVITY?
Erick: Music was actually music back then. No disrespect to what they are doing now . . . I think we come from an era where we made music, the songs were songs — they had something to say, the concepts were original, the artists were original, and songs had content. All the great rock ‘n’ roll and R&B groups that are still touring is because they made records.
PMD: Your fans are people that support and grow with you. So a lot of our fans are frustrated with what is going on right now with the music. They are happy to come out and have a good time with EPMD because it brings them back to their childhood when things were good, when they were graduating, got married and going through a hard time. It’s just good time music and we have a good time. That’s why we get the support.
Touring is not something that everyone can do and that’s the blessing of being in the position that we are in . . .
WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF EPMD?
Erick: The future is the brand. The brand that we worked so hard for and now we get to use it for touring, merchandise and stuff like that. Touring is not something that everyone can do and that’s the blessing of being in the position that we are in because that’s the future of any group to be able to come out here and still do this.
PMD: Just like the Rolling Stones, Metallica, Run DMC and Public Enemy — we’re still touring. Chuck D is still moving around like he is 25 years old, shadow boxing and jumping 20 feet in the air off of speakers and stuff like that.
ARE YOU WORKING ON A NEW ALBUM IN THE STUDIO?
Erick: We’re not really in the studio right now. We’re just touring, but we’re going to probably do stuff. People always ask that question.
PMD: Hype and asking for it is one thing, but the actual reality of what goes on behind it is another thing . . . but in the right circumstances, yeah.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPACTFUL THING A FAN HAS SAID TO YOU?
Erick: Ice Cube came and talked to us first before going to do a solo album. Eminem told us that he snuck into an elevator [with us] going to an EPMD concert and said I told him to keep rapping and I gave him encouragement. We encouraged a lot of people through our music.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE YOUR LEGACY 30 YEARS FROM NOW?
PMD: I think we already did it because we’re respected as two active living legends. We’re the most sampled hip-hop group in hip-hop history from the likes of Jay Z, DMX, Nas, Mary J. Blige, The Notorious B.I.G. We laid the foundation not only for ourselves, but for other artists. We stuck to what we said we were going to do.
Erick: We kept it real. We didn’t let anyone tell us to go in another direction or try another route to sell records. We kept it one way and one way only . . . And, that is what you strive for in hip-hop is to get that respect.
The music of Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole speaks a different language that [the industry] don’t want people to hear no more.
DO YOU THINK HIP-HOP WILL RETURN TO HAVING THAT “GOOD MUSIC”?
Erick: I think it’s coming back slowly. Vinyl is coming back and you have Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and Joey Bada$$. These are a few of the artists making good music. People are getting tired of what they’re hearing. They might not show you in the mainstream, but it is showing on record sales that no one is buying the shit they are dancing to in the club. No one is purchasing it and that’s a big sign that listeners really don’t care about it.
Hip-hop is still strong; it’s just not mainstream . . . The music of Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole speaks a different language that [the industry] don’t want people to hear no more. They want you to be ignorant and to hear the stuff that doesn’t make any sense and that doesn’t have any content. EMPD had content, so did KRS-One, Eric B. & Rakim, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. What happened?
DO YOU HAVE KIDS THAT CREATE MUSIC?
Erick: My son is a producer; he goes by the name of Countdown. He produces for Kid Ink and he does that music and I laugh at him and I told him that one day hopefully he does get into the culture.
PMD: I got a little son who loves the music. This kid can dance and he really gets into it. He is only 10 years old; he’s doing the dance and singing to it, not knowing that the lyrics have a drug analogy. He is just enjoying the music.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE THE NEW GENERATION OF RAPPERS?
PMD: Just pay attention and do what is in your heart and not what’s hot today because what’s hot today won’t be hot tomorrow.
Erick: There is nothing more exciting than hip-hop. We’re the most transcendent genre in history. We outsold and outlasted rock ‘n’ roll. We all did this. From fashion to the way people talk, the world would be dead without this culture. Everything is hip-hop.
PMD: Keep it real and support it.
Photos © Mark Blendheim & Urbanology Magazine