November 7, 2009

EPMD - Business As Usual (1990)


In 1989, Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith, performing under the group name EPMD, released their sophomore effort, Unfinished Business. While it moved a good number of units, the majority of the album was described as not living up to the gold standard set by the duo's debut album, Strictly Business. So with Business As Usual, their third album, Erick and Parrish aimed to start things over fresh.

They were aided in their quest by the unlikeliest of frenemies: their record label, Fresh/Sleeping Bag Records, allowed Def Jam Records to buy out the duo's contract, so Business As Usual ended up being their second debut album. They reintroduced their formula, which hadn't been tinkered with since 1988: funky samples all mashed together to create a coherent musical environment for Erick and Parrish to destroy with their aggressive braggadocio. Which probably would have worked, had it not been for those meddling kids.

I'm speaking specifically of one Reggie Noble, better known as Redman. Before becoming one of the best and most consistently entertaining emcees in the game, he had to start off somewhere, and he made his debut alongside his mentors Erick and Parrish on "Hardcore". Because of this bit of trivia, Business As Usual is typically referred to as the album that featured the birth of Reggie, and with his one verse, the man manages to overshadow all of the lyrical contributions of his hosts. I'm also speaking specifically of one James Todd Smith, better known as LL Cool J: after drinking the Def Jam Kool-Aid, EPMD found themselves sharing a label with Ladies Love and invited the man to spit a verse on "Rampage", an offer I'm sure they wish he had refused, since nobody gave a damn about Parrish's comically anti-aggressive verse.

Business As Usual was seen (at the time) as a return to form for Erick and Parrish, abandoning the bullshit posturing of Unfinished Business and getting back on the horse. The Source even named it one of the top one hundred rap albums ever released. Time is the ultimate judge, however (with me as a close second), so let's see how well Business As Usual (a) stacks up to its obvious competition, Strictly Business, and (b) held up over the past twenty years.

1. I'M MAD
With that particular title, I can only assume that, like myself, Erick and Parrish were also mad at how Unfinished Business turned out, and deliberately attempted to make actual good music their third time around the track. The high-energy instrumental simulates EPMD being chased down (by cops, bill collectors, religious zealots, Jane, aggressive Girl Scouts, whatever fits), and it works like a motherfucker. This was a nice way to kick things off, and as an added bonus, E and PMD, never the greatest rappers behind the mic, sound rejuvenated. Too bad that effect wears off relatively soon.

2. HARDCORE (FEAT REDMAN)
This song is considered to be a huge fucking deal because it features the very first official recorded appearance from Reggie Noble. And he sounds pretty impressive, especially if you love his debut, Whut?! Thee Album, more than the rest of the man's catalog. But truth be told, other than "Hardcore"'s historical significance, this track sucks balls. Both Erick and Parrish sould as if they don't know what to do with themselves (PMD even resorts to using a familiar gay slur for no real reason). Oh well, at least the beat was kind of cool.

3. RAMPAGE (FEAT LL COOL J)
No surprise here: EPMD opens their door to a collaboration with an artist outside of their camp, and they both get fucking trounced. Ladies Love wipes the floor with E and PMD without even really trying, although Parrish tries to get noticed by submitting a homophobic and violent opening verse. (As these attacks seem to come out of nowhere, I have to believe that Parrish Smith may have had a problem with the gay community back in 1990. Yep, I'm starting that rumor, too.) Still, I like this track, because the beat is awesome in the way that it still informs hip hop music to this very day.

4. MANSLAUGHTER
This sounded alright while it was playing, especially since portions of the beat were reused on the breakthrough Destiny's Child hit "No No No Part 2" (featuring Wyclef Jean), back when Beyonce wasn't a media juggernaut, just a cute girl with a big ass and aspirations of kicking everyone else out of the group. Then I re-read the title and found that it isn't called "Man's Laughter", and instantly forgot how this shit sounded. Yep, it's that memorable.

5. JANE 3
This is the worst chapter in the "Jane" series thus far. What does it say about Parrish that, as soon as he realizes that his new friend Jay was really Jane, he fucks the shit out of her (after brutally attacking him/her, mind you)? Seriously, what the hell were you two going for on here?

6. FOR MY PEOPLE
Meh.

7. MR. BOZACK
Am I supposed to really believe that Erick and Parrish would discuss their bathing habits with one another? Nobody needs to know that you need to hit the shower so that you can "wash your butt". However, this song (whose namesake also, apparently, warrants a co-production credit on Business As Usual, although I'm fairly certain he's just a figment of my imagination) features the most cursing from Erick Sermon that I can recall on any previous EPMD effort, so although I don't require explicit lyrics in my rap songs, kids do need a way to piss their parents off somehow. This track was kind of a mess. I'm sure Mr. Bozack won't be sending HHID a Christmas card anytime soon, either. Because he's Jewish, you see.

8. GOLD DIGGER
It's songs such as this one that make me feel that Business As Usual is more Unfinished Business and less Strictly Business. It sounds technically proficient, but you can be the best fry cook at McDonald's: you're still the fucking fry cook.

9. GIVE THE PEOPLE
I would expect that what EMPD should be giving the people is entertaining music. But with shit like this, I'd rather go hand out with that giant douche Jon Gosselin and listen to his eight kids cry while they're being neglected by two of the most selfish parents in the entire fucking universe. Sorry, bit of a tangent, I know. But you all know I'm right.

10. RAP IS OUTTA CONTROL
I don't love this song, but it's still enjoyable enough. Sadly, the sentiment expressed in the title still holds true today (and not just because EPMD would later release a sequel, creatively titled "Rap Is Still Outta Control", on their 1999 album Out Of Business). Both E and PMD seem to step their respective lyrical games up, possibly in an attempt to be a part of the solution and not the problem. The song fades out at the end in the middle of a verse, though: you don't have to be Max to be annoyed by that kind of shit.

11. BROTHERS ON MY JOCK (FEAT REDMAN)
"Nautilus" is truly a part of every hip hop song ever made. Not that I'm complaining: Bob James did create a very compelling composition. And considering that EPMD traffic heavily in samples to make up their beats, it would have been a travesty if they fucked this track up. Thankfully, the music sounds good, even if I couldn't remember any of the verses if you laid out the lyrics in front of me while handing over a daily recommended dosage of gingko biloba. (Yes, sadly, this includes Reggie's contribution.)

12. UNDERGROUND
The problem I have with "Underground" isn't the mildly funky beat or the lyrics from Erick and Parrish that instantly turn into vapor. No, my beef is with the hook: EPMD are successful recording artists, and Business As Usual is their third album, so who in their fucking right mind will truly believe that either man is "coming straight from the underground"?

13. HIT SQUAD HEIST
This song illustrates one of the most poorly planned heists in rap music history. The execution would have been more believable if it were concerning snatching a lollipop (one of those oversized novelty joints) out of a little boy's hands. The music, which reminds me of a loose reenactment of the Average White Band's "Picking Up The Pieces" (minus the bullshit sample from The Steve Miller Band's "Fly Like An Eagle", of course), also doesn't come across as the score to any sort of criminal activity. Some critics would label this as a study in contrasts: I call it irreparable.

14. FUNKY PIANO
While I appreciate the fact that the middle portion of this song is transformed into a showcase for the third component of EPMD, DJ Scratch (and both E and P pay homage to him within their verses), this track is dull as extremely boring dishwater. And on top of all that, the "piano" (sample) that is prevalent on this track isn't even funky! How the fuck can you possibly end an album like this? EPMD surely found a way.

FINAL THOUGHTS: After a promising start with "I'm Mad", Business As Usual fucking tanks. If Strictly Business was The Matrix (a revolutionary piece of work) and Unfinished Business was The Matrix Reloaded (a horrible sequel that even featured an anti-drinking public service announcement, which to me is just as corny as the cave dance sequence that reminded everybody of Ewoks), EPMD's third effort is, predictably, The Matrix Revolutions, the film that tries its best to bring the funk back to the franchise (see: The Architect), but ultimately fails. (I'm not sure where that places the other albums in EPMD's catalog: this isn't a perfect metaphor.) Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith (along with DJ Scratch) attempt to replicate what made Strictly Business strictly bananas, but this time around, the chosen samples sound forced together unnaturally, like peanut butter and Jell-O, or Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson. There are a couple of good songs on here, and the debut performance from future star Reggie Noble has to count for something, but Business As Usual is just, as its title suggests, more of the fucking same, and that formula hasn't worked for a couple of albums now.

BUY OR BURN? Burn this one. Erick and Parrish have done better work, so the lack of effort shown on here is thisclose to appalling. And I'm sure the "purists" will challenge this review, but so be it: it is what it is, and this album doesn't hold up.

BEST TRACKS: "Rampage"; "I'm Mad"

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Read up on the other EPMD albums by clicking here.

27 comments:

  1. your reviews are pish , keep to your zone because you probably were not even born when this came out.

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  2. max's reviewing process - burn (steal) listen a couple of time , act like he bought it when it came out and act like he forgot about it , lost in his crates? (cd's and crates don't go) or had not listened to it for i while. then do a bullshit reviews of classic albums that where before his time.

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  3. epmd so bad they can suck their own dicks

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  4. you forgot to note that redman uses alitariton in his verse.. thats something i've alaws admired. peace.. love the blog

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  5. Good album but weak review. You are trying to be somehow funny on your review (as usual) Max, but you hate on this one particular album. Because:

    1. "Give the poeple" isn't meh... It's good and entertaining.

    2. This album is the one with explicit lyrics, because, back in 1990, fans wanted to hear some hard and rough stuff. EPMD added the cursewords on the album. I remember watching them on Yo! MTV Raps talking about it and they were not happy by doing this...

    Anyway, this one album is also the album with an elevated sound. It had nothing to do with EPMD's past productions, it sounded better, louder, more professional than their last 2 albums.

    3. Redman's appearences are great, he did shine from day one and sealed his successful future. LL Cool J was great in 1990 too, but here he sounds like shit.

    4. The weak tracks on the album are in my opinion "Rap is outta control" and "Underground", because they are boring and lyrically less interessting.

    "Business as usual" is a buy by far.

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  6. So, if Max disagrees with you, that means his "reviewing process" is bullshit?

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  7. @ anonymous
    do you mean alliteration?
    and are you really impressed by that?
    are you aware that most rappers use alliterations?

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  8. Old School ReligionNovember 08, 2009

    Yeah, this album was trite even back in the day. EPMD were never really that great outside of giving redman a career. Good show maximillion.

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  9. EMPD sucks now and sucked back day. Neither of them control the mic well and the beats were always lifeless.

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  10. FUCK. Max, you got kicked in the ding-ding for this review. Just dust yourself off and try again... try again.

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  11. yo max, can u review aceyalone‘s first album (all balls dont bounce)i swear to god it‘s one of the underappreciated album in the 90‘s (hiphopjunkie)

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  12. I really like Business as Usual, and I listened to it almost back-to-back with their debut and it still holds up.

    And how are you gonna dismiss EPMD's lyrical ability - especially Parrish.
    He was so ahead of his time that Canibus could interpolate one of his verses off of Strictly Business over a decade later and it impressed then even.

    And heck yes that Piano's Funky.

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  13. i second all balls dont bounce
    one of the best albums ever no doubt

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  14. this has nothing to do with this album but you should review murphy lees album "murphys law" just because it is LITERALLY thee worst hip hop album in exsistence.

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  15. MAX

    you need to get back on your shit, i have a feeling that your losing alot of your readers...

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  16. No kidding. If this were my full time job, that would be one thing, but...

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    1. Max...

      You sure like to throw around the boring rating...

      This album is a fucking CLASSIC, by the way.

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  17. This review made me realize there is a lot of filler on this album, a lot more than I remember anyway. HOWEVER, when this album came out in '90, it was revelatory. It was much harder than any other EPMD album, and the lyrics were not just more aggressive, but they were outside EPMD's heretofore "AABB" rhyme scheme. It was a perfect marriage of their funk sound with the new burgeoning "underground hip hop" movement what would reach its zenith in '92. I can see how maybe the album doesn't hold up to new ears, but in context, this was one that I played over and over till the end of the Bush (41) administration.

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    1. AnonymousJuly 07, 2012

      I agree with this - context is everything. The rhyming hasn't aged as well as the beats, but when it bumps, it bumps.

      @Max - I don't disagree with your review enough to argue with it, except on one point. You slipped in not giving 'Funky Piano' a proper listen.

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  18. I really don't agree much with this - but I realize we all appreciate different things in rap.

    To me rappers are a lot about their voices. Rakim can say crazy shit and I still dig it. Same goes for Guru (who often played the wise and eloquent type but still said shit that isn't all too clever).
    And I must add both E and P to that list.
    Ever since Strictly Business they've been saying so much crap that I find it hard to believe their succes has anything to do with their 'message'.
    No, no! Flow! And signature sound! They made a sound that no one else had. And besides Rakim not many rappers has the vocal authority that PMD displayed on the first 3 EPMD albums. Regardless of his (stupid) gay-prejudice.

    Also I think DJ Scratch set standards evertime a EMPD-album dropped back in the day. And he's all over this album making crazy cuts that many DJs don't (can't) master today.

    And all in all I agree with Kay on the technological step-up on this album. Much more complex sampling and arrangements - even if it kills off a few tracks.

    Then again - I totally dig Unfinished Business too (spare 2 bizarre tracks) - and consider the 3 first albums together as major contributions to the golden age of Hip Hop.

    I see your points on each track (thorough work) and respect your opinion - but I disagree.

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  19. Fun fact: I remember when this dropped, either E or P stated in a hip hop magazine I was reading that they bumped into Cool J during a plane ride. LL mentioned how big of a fan he was of their work and suggested they record something together. Now remember, up until this point, LL never did before. So EPMD said hell yes to his offer and created one of the best cuts on this album. Funny how one if able to recall such small trivial things so many years later, isn't it?

    Just-Ice

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    1. L was their man. He was in the video for You Had Too Much to Drink.

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  20. Alright, Max. I've had enough of your pedantic outlook on the classics.

    Heh. You're gonna love this.

    I can't blame EPMD for Gold Digger. Product of their environment.

    I'm Mad IS awesome.

    Hardcore sucks balls? You, sir, are a fucking nut. By the way, EVERYONE was homophobic in the 90's.

    Rampage was good. Not as good as Hardcore, though. Ladies Love most surely did NOT trounce his hosts.

    Manslaughter is my favorite track on the album, after the Reggie joints.

    Jane 3. meh.

    For my people was a classic. A certified stadium banger.

    Mr. Bozack was extremely hilarious & equally disturbing. I like it.

    Give the People is shit? So is your judgment of it. By this point, narrating personal life is an EPMD speciality.

    Rap surely IS outta control. Awesome song! Furthering my claim that you're a lunatic.

    Oops! I already told you how I feel about Brothers on My Jock. I'm also telling you that you're crazy again. Just in case I didn't say it enough.

    I'm actually surprised that you didn't get this song. Rapper meets rapper. Both were underground. Both entered the business. From the underground, you see.

    Hit Squad Heist DOES suck. See? I DO agree with you. From time to time. When I'm drunk off my ass. Except I don't drink, though.

    Funky Piano is an excellent DJ shoutout. For the final time this post, you're out of your fucking mind.

    Overall, Your opinion of the album was shit. But your review is your usual hilarious standard. Go forth into this new year.

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    1. I'm glad you (partly) approve.

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  21. I don't know if this blog is even still active but I was digging it at first but ur reviews have become terrible. U always show ur preconceived notion in the intro and it's obvious ur not open minded while listening to the album. U just say what u already thought before you even listened. Also it's obvious ur not black or from any type of hood because u never seem to get the songs that are the most personal and touching to the black community and ur overly concerned with beats as if they're more important than the rhymes. Finally hip-hop is not for faggots so I think u should stop listening since ur obviously gay. And ur all misusing the word homophobic. I don't see anyone running in fear of gays. Also faggot is not a slur because gay is already a negative description, so really whether you say gay or fag ur saying the exact same thing. That's like saying don't call her a ho, the correct term is whore... they both mean the same fucking thing. Stop trying to promote the gay agenda on a hip-hop site... and Kingdom Come and Blueprint 3 are the 2 worst albums of all time

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    1. I like this comment because it's by far the dumbest and most ignorant I've come across in a while. None of your points have any validity because (a) your assumptions and "preconceived notion" (I think you meant "notions", plural, since you're referring to something I "always" do) come through in your paragraph (you've already decided you don't like me or my opinions even though you don't actually know a fucking thing about me, and you attack terrible Jay-Z albums as though that's supposed to hurt me somehow): (b) the very fact that you spent the time to type out the sentence "hip-hop is not for faggots" dates your opinions back to the Stone Age and, as such, show you aren't relevant enough to participate in today's climate, and, most obviously, (c) you couldn't be bothered to click on the header to the blog just to see if the blog was actually active, which it obviously is.

      In short, thanks for reading!

      Delete
  22. I'm itching with curiosity as how EPMD's 97-99 albums got the "buy" while this got the "burn". Are you on quaaludes, sir? Note that I fully support your "buy" recommendations for Back In Business & Out Of Business. Just thought Business As Usual deserves one MUCH more than the other two.

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