August 27, 2010

EPMD - Business Never Personal (July 28, 1992)

Business Never Personal was the fourth full-length album from Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith, doing business as EPMD (along with their deejay, DJ Scratch).  It would ultimately be the duo's undoing, as EPMD disbanded shortly after the disc hit store shelves.  While they ultimately ended up back together (unlike many of their hip hop peers, such as Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Eric B. & Rakim, and Gang Starr (R.I.P. Guru)), back in 1992 fans accepted this news with a heavy heart.

My understanding of the situation is as follows: during the recording of Business Never Personal (which was intended as a response to the crappy reviews received by their previous effort, Business As Usual), PMD's house was broken in to, and through a series of unfortunate coincidences, he started to believe that Erick Sermon orchestrated the robbery (as one of the thieves dropped Sermon's name to police upon his arrest, which could just mean that he was cognizant of whose home he was invading).  E Double, for his part, denied it, but started complaining of EPMD's financial mismanagement anyway, which only made him look even more guilty.  Things even got heated on the set while they were shooting a video for their single "Head Banger".  As a result, Erick and Parrish ceased making dollars together, and they both went their solo and separate ways.

But before all of that could happen, Business Never Personal (a title that could be taken as a sly dig from one member to the other, and it works in either direction) had to be mastered and released.  Erick and Parrish used this project to get back to the basics, something that they had managed to avoid after dropping their debut, Strictly Business.  This time around, they elected to hone their combined musical talents, mixing samples together and creating never-before-heard sounds for their rhymes to make sweet buttery love to.  For his part, PMD built upon his past efforts and amped up his writing game, while Erick Sermon stuck to the status quo, which wasn't as big of a deal, since people actually liked the status quo.

Business Never Personal was also designed to boost the careers of the members of their Hit Squad, a loose collective of rappers who all fell under the general EPMD umbrella.  K-Solo, he who still doesn't know how to spell the word "bird", had actually dropped two solo albums (with production handled by both Sermon and PMD) before Business Never Personal hit the stores, and PMD's boys Das EFX saw their Dead Serious rise on the Billboard charts about three months prior to this release.  Future contender for one of the best who ever did it, Redman, turned in a classic performance that led directly into his Def Jam debut, Whut? Thee Album, which came out two months afterward.  (The Hit Squad also consisted of such names as Hurricane G (Sermon's baby's mother) and the Knucklehedz, an unfortunate casualty of the EPMD breakup who saw their debut album shelved indefinitely.  But neither of those names appear on Business Never Personal, so that's that.)

Business Never Personal earned Def Jam Records yet another golden plaque, but its success was overshadowed by the public breakup of its parents.  That's a story that I plan on getting into another time, though.  For today, it's time to focus on the business at hand.

Business Never Personal kicks off with an immediately engaging hardcore instrumental, and Parrish launches into an aggressive missive that forgets that the previous three EPMD albums ever fucking happened. E Double's verse is much more nostalgic, in that elements from a couple of their previous hits sneak their way into the beat for cameo appearances. Combined with the scratching from, um, DJ Scratch, “Boon Dox” makes for a pitch-perfect way to reintroduce EPMD back into the hip hop fold. It's almost good enough to make me forget about their excursions into shitty house music.

This track lasts just long enough for both Erick and Parrish to spit out one verse apiece. The instrumental wasn't bad at all, and this exercise in minimalism plays out much better than the bloated affairs that threaten to take over EPMD's back catalog. P's hardcore delivery combined with Erick Sermon's stoner attitude provide the perfect contract for one another.

During his first verse, Parrish Smith sounds like a fucking psychopath, but that isn't a compliment: his rhymes don't have much going for them, given that he seems to be reciting unrelated sentences in the style of an Ultramagnetic MC, which doesn't suit him. E Double also sounds bored as fuck over this weak, incomplete-sounding beat. Well, it didn't take long for Business Never Personal to take a nosedive.

Oh wait, I spoke too soon. The beat on “Chill” is fucking amazing: E and PMD manipulate the samples so that the end result sounds like the theme music for one of those science modules that you had to watch back in junior high. (Speaking of which, have the two of you in the States ever watched the British series Look Around You? It's fucking hilarious.) Thankfully, this is not a direct sequel to the EPMD standard “You Gots Too Chill”: this is its own man, and both Erick and Parrish sound like the veterans that they truly were at this point, delivering pointed rhymes and exerting dominance over a genre that was sorely lacking direction at this point. This was pretty amazing.

Quite possibly The best posse cut EPMD has ever been a part of, thanks to the brilliant guest appearance of a young Reggie Noble at the end. The instrumental is a masterpiece (even if its potency has been diluted by the Ruff Ryders and their obvious homage “Ryde Or Die”, which uses the same beat and a similar chorus), and both Erick and Parrish sound refreshed making their dollars alongside two of their weed carriers (which they technically were at the time). EPMD have been using Business Never Personal to forcefully snatch hip hop out of its nightmare, and this song is the chocolate icing on the yellow cake of awesomeness, even if Redman's verse is partially censored in a curious manner (the selective censorship issue is actually prevalent throughout the entire album). This shit is great.

Although the title would lead listeners to believe otherwise, this isn't a deejay cut: this proves to be more of a showcase for PMD, although the Green Eyed Bandit gets to spit the first verse. DJ Scratch, who produces, gets an opportunity to shine toward the end, but the fact that PMD pops up to spit some truly shitty lyrics (by design) before Erick convinces him to bring it over a much harder instrumental (the overused-but-still-hot Melvin Bliss (R.I.P.) track “Synthetic Substitution” comes into play) leaves no room for misunderstanding whose showcase this is. (For those of you who are wondering whatever happened to Part 1 of this apparent series, it appears as the B-side on the twelve-inch single for “Head Banger”.)

This song, which is an attack on rappers who deliberately sell out to gain a pop audience and sell more copies of their shitty albums, actually was a crossover hit in its own right. In fact, according to the Interweb, this song was the biggest of EPMD's career. Which would be ironic if this song were any good. It isn't bad by any means: the beat itself is pretty head nod-inducing, and neither E nor PMD compromise their integrity to do what the title suggests. No, for me it's the sampled hook, which, under normal non-reviewing circumstances, I can never sit through, as my immediate gut reaction is to hit the 'next' button, I hate it that fucking much. It is what it is.

Technically, this song isn't terrible either, but it still feels hollow. Building its chorus off of a Sen Dog sound bite (from Cypress Hill's "How I Could Just Kill A Man"), this track rides along a dull thump of an instrumental for E, PMD, and Hit Squad affiliates Das EFX to spit uninspired rhymes to, boring their audience into an early grave. That's all I got, folks. Moving on...

EPMD win back their audience with this sleeper agent of a banger, which is so good that I can actually look past Erick Sermon's New Kids On The Block reference during his first verse. The instrumental is engaging as fuck, and both E and PMD revive their playful-yet-menacing flows that made Strictly Business so goddamn entertaining. A nice surprise.


Business Never Personal ends with the inferior fourth installment in the "Jane" series of songs. The lyrics on here are almost laughably poor (PMD: “Slow down...something's missing, where's my lawyer? / Cop grilled me and said, 'There's your lawyer'”, with Erick playing the cop. Really, guys?), but kudos to these two for consistency and at least trying to take the story down the road less traveled, even though this particular chapter goes nowhere. You never get to find out who killed Jane anyway, so you don't ever need to actually listen to this track, even though Parrish Smith shoots the police officer that's been harassing him at the end. Given the fact that Erick Sermon plays the crooked cop and that EPMD broke up shortly after the release of this album, ego trip's Big Book of Rap Lists speculated that this song was foreshadowing for the duo's split. They probably weren't that far off the mark.

FINAL THOUGHTS: It's a shame that EMPD ended the recording sessions of Business Never Personal not trusting each other, because this is their best and most consistent effort since their debut. There are no excursions into hip-house or ridiculous public service announcements on here: instead, Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith focus on keeping their hardcore fans satiated while helping build the careers of a few of their close friends. The beats on Business Never Personal are almost unflinchingly engaging, encompassing the very idea of what EPMD stands for with each drum hit. The creative use of samples proves that E and PMD have only gotten better since their debut: I'm now convinced that the direction the previous two albums took was dictated by the label. Business Never Personal sees Erick and Parrish leaving on a high note, although there aren't any real hints on here of any pending separation (save for the final seconds of the last track, perhaps?), so their eventual reunion was actually highly anticipated, as opposed to existing just so Erick and Parrish could rewrite their own history. To put it succinctly: this shit was nice.

BUY OR BURN? While I think you should absolutely buy this shit, it can be hard to come across: it's currently out or print, and there are no plans for a re-release. However, EPMD was at the top of their game on here, a height that they have yet to achieve in the current phase of their career. So if you happen upon it, don't forget that it is your duty to buy this shit: you will enjoy it.

BEST TRACKS: “Head Banger”; “Chill”; “Boon Dox”; “Nobody's Safe Chump”; “Play The Next Man”


Catch up on EPMD's catalog by clicking here.


  1. Great album!
    Tnx for the review!

  2. yeah look around you was on adult swim. i dunno if it is anymore, i dont have cable now so i havent watched tv in weeks

  3. I remember my cousin and I picking up this cassette tape on 33rd Street in Northeast B-more in 1992. It would take me 15 years to find the CD version of this gem at a Record and Tape Traders for.....................brace yourself....................$7.99.

    B-Side to Track Down: The U.S. CD & 12" single of Crossover contains the non-album track "Brothers from Brentwood L.I. It sounds like a Unfinished Business track but it was better left off this album.

    Great album.

    Yo, Max. Make room for some more female MC's, kid.

  4. max, you british or some shit?

  5. No, I'm not British. I just like funny stuff.

    And yeah, Look Around You was also on Adult Swim at one point, but it was blink-and-you-miss-it.

  6. Nice! Another album I actually care for. Keep it going Max! And better yet you recommended a buy even though the album is weirdly out of print.

    It's a classic and probably my favorite EPMD release, nobody should pass on the chance of owning it.


    for the uninitiated.

    Also, haven't listened to any EPMD besides their debut so may have to check this out.

  8. shouldn't this be a gut reaction

  9. It's not a Gut Reaction when I have had the album and listened to it for several years. That classification is reserved for when it's my very first time listening.

    Thanks for reading!

  10. snapping necks and cashing cheques all day, there's only two weak (not wack) joints on this here,i'd say thee best and my favourite Eric+Parish album.

    yo max, you white or some shit?

  11. djbosscrewwreckaAugust 30, 2010

    Good review of a good album. Good.

  12. Wait, what? I'm beginning to think my taste in rap is entirely opposite of yours. To my ears, It's Going Down is one of the best songs on the album, while Chill is wack as shit.

  13. I was never big on EPMD, although they have my everlasting respect for putting on Redman. Plus Strictly Business is just perfect for old-school partying.
    I hadn't heard any other album by them though, so I purchased this based on your recommendation, and damn, it BANGS. Nice, indeed.

  14. "Nobody's Safe Chump" is one of my favorite songs period. It sounds like there's no way those guys could be staying on beat, their delivery is that conversational. And yet they do. Plus the first words are "Aw yeah, it's the...." Gets me every time. This might be my favorite EPMD album.

  15. (For those of you who are wondering whatever happened to Part 1 of this apparent series, it appears as the B-side on the twelve-inch single for “Head Banger”.)

    Are you sure? 12" has the same Part 2 as on the LP.

  16. AnonymousMay 29, 2014

    I will clarify that I 100% agree with your "buy or burn" statement, and thank you for it.


    You have got to be fucking KIDDING me with your opinions on some of the tracks here.

    First things first.

    Crossover's hook sample is put there by design, you fucking head case. And by the way, your use of the "it is what it is" logic is weak and confusing. It is what it is.

    Can't Hear Nothing But The Music has an instrumental that trumps anything that EPMD has produced on their previous albums, and I find PMD's contribution to be hilariously genius. Erick's verses are his usual standard at the time.

    Cummin' At Cha is an AWESOME song. Just because you don't like Das EFX's sewage style doesn't automatically make them trash. As a reviewer, you should be able to tell the difference between what you don't like and what's horseshit.

    If any song was definitely NOT meh, It's Going Down would be that song. The beat is fucking majestic, and the rhymes fit the song's stadium-like vibe. A damn fine improvement over the formula introduced in For My People.
    Also, I like their third verse's image.

    Finally, I am of the opinion that EPMD have been improving with each release pre-breakup. Which means that this is my favorite of the four. This duo's consistency is a masterclass in hip-hop longevity to any one rap act who isn't Gang Starr. Kids today need the exercise.

    Otherwise, I agree with your every word.