One of the many side stories running concurrently on HHID is the saga of EPMD, the rap duo made up of rapper-slash-producers Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith. This Brentwood pairing is responsible for some of the catchiest, funkiest, and sample-heaviest early hits in hip hop history, and through them came the careers of K-Solo, Das EFX and the incomparable Redman, all of whom were members of Erick and Parrish's Hit Squad collective.
After four relatively successful albums, EPMD broke up in 1993 under suspicious circumstances. Parrish Smith's home was broken into, and when the cops questioned the suspects, one of them dropped Sermon's name as the man who hired him to perform the robbery. Combined with the fact that The Green-Eyed Bandit had publicly complained about PMD's mismanagement of the duo's royalties, and the groundwork was set for the duo to split the fuck up. Sermon quickly regrouped and unleashed his solo debut, No Pressure, later that same year, launching the solo careers of Keith Murray and the aforementioned Redman in the process (folding them into his newly-created Def Squad, who I'm sure you've all heard of), and his hastiness resulted in a second life that is still running strong (sort of).
On the other hand, PMD laid low for a couple of years, quietly releasing his own solo debut, Shadé Business, on PMD Records, a subsidiary of RCA. Regardless of the fact that the album title continues the "business" theme that all of EPMD's albums worked with, this project was Parrish's attempt to rewrite history, casting himself as the wronged man who sat idly by while his crooked partner (alleged, anyway) reaped the rewards of his work. This might be an almost literal translation: it's been said that, although the production on the four EPMD albums were credited to both men (and their deejay, DJ Scratch), Smith was the main contributor on the first three efforts, although everyone seems to give E-Double the props, mainly because he's the one who continued to produce after the fact. As such, PMD produced nearly all of his solo debut, and called in favors from Das EFX (the rippity-rappity duo who stood by Parrish's side throughout the turmoil) and some no-name weed carriers who he found living on his couch.
Shadé Business (yes, that is the actual title) is split into two halves: the "Darkside", which consists of the first seven tracks, and the "Zoneside", which supports the rest of the album even though zoneside isn't a real word. Although hip hop heads seem to be cognizant of its existence, nobody seems to admit that they actually like this album: in fact, a lot of folks either pretend PMD's solo career was a terrible, lucid dream, or they choose to look at his second album, Business Is Business, as an alternative debut. Either way, I haven't listened to this shit in at least fifteen years, so let's see how this goes.
1. SHADÉ BUSINESS
First song on the album, and Parrish Smith already sounds out of breath. His flow hardly resembles the hardcore edge he brought to EMPD's efforts: instead, he sounds like a grizzled veteran who can't be bothered to sync up to the beat. PMD's bars are easy to understand, mainly because his lines are so elementary that he probably had an assist from his nine-year-old nephew. Not a good way to kick things off. It probably didn't help that our host's instrumental is a meandering loop that never finds its destination. Anyone hoping to hear Parrish's thoughts on the breakup on this title track will be hard-pressed to find a direct answer on here. Also, why the fuck didn't he just call this song (and the album) “Shady Business”? Trying to be all fancy and shit.
2. IN THE ZONE
If the beat on “Shadé Business” was meandering, then PMD's work on “In The Zone” doesn't even bother to get out of bed in the morning, it's that fucking lazy. Parrish's flow sounds a bit better on this track, but his braggadocio sounds forced when he doesn't have somebody to bounce it off of. This is the second song in a row where our host mentions being an underground artist: dude, everyone knows that EPMD sold a shit-ton of records. Merely saying that you're “underground” doesn't make it so. I kind of enjoyed the few bars where he explains that his ailing mother inspired him to work hard at this rap shit, but that was about it. Also, the twelve-year-old boy in me first thought that the sample during the chorus was saying, “Back rub / Boy, go easy with the hand lotion”, which is much more interesting than what the song is actually saying.
3. STEPPIN' THRU HARDCORE
People who like to read too much into thinks (such as myself) may believe that the line that ipens this track, “Them n----z knew that shit before it happened!”, is PMD's way of telling the listener that he hasn't forgotten about the reason why EPMD broke up. Considering that the rest of “Steppin' Thru Hardcore” fails to follow up on this conspiracy theory, it's likely that the line was a bone tossed at longtime fans and nothing more. Sadly, there is nothing remotely hardcore about this track: the instrumental is all dull thumps while it walks in place, and Parrish continues his lyrical downward spiral. I never once thought that Erick Sermon was the better rapper of the duo, but right now I'm remembering why I didn't care much about PMD until the reunion album Back In Business.
4. RESPECT MINE
This was all sorts of pretty fucking terrible. PMD's verses disprove any theory that he was ever an actual good rapper at any point: he's undergone a de-evolution that is evident from his first two bars: “I hear my people calling me, 'Where is he?' / 'Where is he?', 'Where is he?', The PMD”. Yes, he just recited “Where is he?” three times in succession. The instrumental creeps along without ever committing, and the “chorus”, made up of two sound bites (including a distorted one from the Wu-Tang Clan's “C.R.E.A.M.”, which gives the song its title and is absolutely the worst use of a sample from that track that I have ever fucking heard) which are difficult to decipher. The extended intro was also useless, as it has fuck-all to do with this song. Groan.
5. HERE THEY CUM (FEAT. DAS EFX)
Skoob and Krazy Drayzy Of Das EFX provide the first sparks of life on Shadé Business with their hyperactive performances, which are easily the most interesting on the album thus far. Parrish Smith is outclassed by his invited guests with his embarrassingly amateur verses that betray the fact that he was once a part of one of the most popular duos in hip hop history, but at least Das EFX elevate the track to a listenable level. The line, “Oh my God, it's the [Hit] Squad / Or should I say, what's left / Just let me kick the shit and we will see who's really Def” (emphasis my own), is one of the only direct references to the split on this entire album, and even that is relatively chaste. Still raise your glasses for the first song (well, half of the song, anyway) that still holds up seven years later. “Here They Cum” (with a misspelled title that switches up the meaning from what PMD intended) also features one of the goofiest (and most memorable) examples of cutting together two separate sound bites and making a chorus out of them: Parrish uses a line from both Willie D.'s verse from the Geto Boys's “Mind Playing Tricks” and from Scarface's “Mr. Scarface” to create this fucking gem: “'Here they come, just like I figured' / '...and came back with a motherfucking hit squad!'” Catchy as all hell, too.
6. BACK TO THE RAP
The tame instrumental sounds exactly like what EPMD would have rhymed over back in 1994, so I should throw some points Parrish's way for consistency. Or not: it's not as though these mythical “points” are tangible items that can be projected in any direction, as that would just be silly. PMD loses his leverage in our chosen genre by pairing a great message (rappers should respect both the institution of hip hop and their fans) with a bland performance, one that name-drops just enough EMPD tracks to prove that our host really has a problem with letting things go. It doesn't help that “Back To The Rap” seems to consist of PMD's very first appearance behind the mic, too. Bleh.
7. I'LL WAIT (FEAT. ZONE 7)
It's been a long time since I listened to PMD's solo work, so I had completely forgotten about how fucking dope DJ Scratch's instrumental on here is. There is no way in hell that E-Double would ever feel comfortable over this bleak-as-shit beat: only Parrish Smith has the capability of not becoming lost in it. And in that respect, he does alright, even though he is cockblocked at every turn by Zone 7, a relative unknown (both back then and presently) that blows him out of the fucking frame with an energetic performance and a batshit-crazy rhyme delivery system. I was willing to overlook PMD's contribution merely because the beat overrides everything else on the final product, it's that good.
8. I SAW IT CUMMIN'
Again with the obsession of ejaculation? Anyway, before any residual goodwill can set in, PMD presents this horseshit, with its overused Ohio Players “Funky Worm” sample that he doesn't even sound comfortable rhyming over, which leads one to wonder why he would have ever agreed to this in the first place. Maybe this could be considered an attempt to get the West Coast audience on board: the vocal samples from Snoop (Doggy) Dogg's “Who Am I (What's My Name?”) and Ice Cube's “No Vaseline” certainly support this theory. The title makes you think that PMD will finally address the breakup of EPMD, but he takes the high road on here, which would be commendable had that been what anybody actually wanted to fucking hear. Just let it out, man; you know you want to.
9. SWING YOUR OWN THING
A thousand times meh.
10. FAKE HOMEYZ (FEAT. 3RD EYE & TOP QUALITY)
Our host's beat was pretty good, and the scratching was an excellent touch, but all of the rhymes on here fucking blew. Parrish Smith has had a serious problem trying to stay on beat throughout Shadé Business, but on “Fake Homeyz” (whose “chorus” seems to almost celebrate your phony-ass friends), he recruits Top Quality and 3rd Eye (better known as producer Jesse West), two weed carriers who also can't stay on beat, and the track is a failure as a result. At least Das EFX elevated the material they were forced to deal with: there's a reason why you don't remember anybody in the rap game named Top Quality or 3rd Eye.
11. PHUCK IT UP SCRATCH (INTERLUDE)
Apparently Parrish also retained custody of DJ Scratch, and as a reward for his loyalty, he is gifted with a track dedicated solely to his work behind the ones and twos. Not that any of you two should ever listen to this shit or anything. But I figured it would be nice to know that this interlude exists.
12. BACK UP OR GET SMACKED UP
Marks the second time PMD has mentioned the Go-Bots on Shadé Business. And that also serves as a metaphor for why Parrish Smith's solo career never really took off: he backed the wrong horse. (If you were given a choice between Reggie Noble and one of the members of Das EFX, who would you run with? That's right, it's Redman all day.) The beat sounds pretty intense, and a better rapper would murder the shit out of it, but in addition to refusing to stay on beat, PMD also attempts a double-time flow for part of this song, and I was left scratching my head. This was a joke, right? No, seriously, what was this?
13. THOUGHT I LOST MY SPOT
This Mark the 45 King-produced effort makes the convincing argument that, not only has Parrish Smith lost his spot, he makes it seem like he never deserved one to begin with. This is especially true during the end of the final verse, when our host starts using random words for no reason (such as “flipmode”, even though Busta Rhymes wouldn't be seen within five hundred feet of Shadé Business). Sigh.
14. NO SHORTS AND NO SLEEP (FEAT. 3RD EYE, TOP QUALITY, & ZONE 7)
Shadé Business ends with this posse cut ode to pantsless insomnia, proving why Erick Sermon's Def Squad demanded a crew album while Parrish Smith's Hit Squad is barely whispered about in hip hop circles today. All of PMD's weed carriers (same for Das EFX, who were smart enough to bounce before they were officially asked to contribute) sound fucking godawful over this throbbing instrumental, but their host, who is supposed to swoop in and outshine them all, fares no better. This was a lackluster ending to a lackluster ending, but fuck it, it's still an ending, so I'll take it.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Had PMD's only recorded work been his solo debut Shadé Business, then the man would have vanished from our chosen genre without a fucking trace. His misguided attempt to erase the memory of EPMD from the subconscious of his fans is plagued by (mostly) bland production and cameo appearances from guys who had no right to ever pick up a microphone, but the real problem lies in PMD's own performance, which is so disjointed that Erick Sermon won the battle without lifting a finger (or even really declaring a war, for that matter). It's disheartening to hear a guy who sounded so focused and forceful on four consecutive EPMD albums stumble over his own words on his solo debut: it's almost as though E Double's success with his own solo album No Pressure shook our host's confidence so badly that he actually forgot how to write a rhyme. Shadé Business is a terrible album that deserves to be forgotten. Yeah, I said it.
BUY OR BURN? Neither. You would be okay to ignore this album entirely, but if you absolutely must hear something from PMD today, go with the track listed below. The chorus will make you smile, at least.
BEST TRACKS: “Here They Cum”