July 23, 2013

EPMD - Back In Business (September 23, 1997)

When EPMD broke up in 1992, it was a shock, mainly because back then there was no such thing as a Twitter feed where one could air all of their dirty laundry to a fanbase that doesn't necessarily give a shit.  The Interweb also wasn't quite so prevalent, so even though Erick and Parrish lived through their nightmare in real time, the rest of us had no idea what had happened until after it had already transpired.  Parrish Smith robbed, allegedly with Erick Sermon's involvement?  Sermon's eventual defection, taking with him an untested Reggie "Redman" Noble, while PMD retained the already quite popular Das EFX?  All of this came out of nowhere, as did their eventual reunion only five years later.

Hip hop heads don't really remember this now, but the time period between 1992 and 1997 felt like a fucking eternity.  Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith went their separate ways, releasing solo albums with varying degrees of success (Sermon more so than his former partner) while helping build the careers of the young bucks who followed them every step of the way (again, Sermon more so than his former partner; aligning with both Redman and Keith Murray, it could be said that the Green Eyed Bandit hit the fucking lotto).  There are hip hop fans who grew up during this time that did not know that Sermon and Smith were once a duo, let alone one of the most highly-revered of all time within our chosen genre.  EPMD's funk-laden, sample-heavy beats paired nicely with their shit-talking, and for a short time, it seemed that they were never destined to work together again.

Until they did.

EPMD's comeback began with a single song, "Never Seen Before", a track that would have been considered a minor accomplishment if handled by another team but one that hit the ceiling upon release merely because it was released by EPMD.  Erick and Parrish, continuing to make dollars?  During a time when rap acts who broke up hardly seemed to acknowledge each other, having these two iron out their differences and decide to get the band back together (although Erick and PMD gain all the notoriety, there is actually a third member of the crew, DJ Scratch) was as refreshing as the other side of the pillow, so their big reunion album, the aptly-named Back In Business, became a highly-anticipated affair.

However, hip hop had shifted significantly during the duo's time away from one another.  Their funky sounds had been replaced gradually with New York street talk, the audio equivalent of a screwface staring back at you through the speakers.  In order to survive, EPMD would have to adapt to its new environment, one which took its rap music seriously and did not always feel it appropriate to fuck around.  Sermon and Smith had both dabbled in this side of our chosen genre, with Double Or Nothing and Bu$ine$$ I$ Bu$ine$$, respectively, but Back In Business marked the first time these two (well, three, since I, like everyone else, keeps forgetting about DJ Scratch, who, side note, did well for himself producing for other acts during the hiatus) would have to tackle the world together.

Did they succeed?  Given the fact that people still talk about EPMD today, I would say so.

PMD says, “EPMD's back together”, and then this rap album intro seems to shatter in the booth. At least he gets straight to the point.

In a calculated attempt to appeal to as many hip hop heads as possible, EPMD kick off Back In Business with “Richter Scale”, a track custom-built for their older fans who remember their sample-heavy exploits. E-Double and PMD are in full-on funk more on here, delivering their threats and boast sin a calm and concise manner, all while quietly stealing the spotlight from the rest of their Def Jam labelmates who were much more popular at the time. With this track, EMPD attempted to update their sound for 1997 while helping people understand their roots, and to that end, they succeeded. Besides, the way Erick Sermon says “I ain't scared of you motherfuckers” puts a smile on my face.

The other half of their two-pronged approach finds EPMD aiming directly for the younger heads with a darker, moodier beat (I remember The Source favorably comparing the beat on here with the work of Mobb Deep back in 1997) that was closer to what people expected to hear at the time. Erick and Parrish (and co-producer Rockwilder) succeed here, too: “Da Joint”, the second single from Back In Business, is actually one of my favorite songs from their entire body of work, and even though the beat is much more claustrophobic, the duo still manage to throw in some samples to help you get acclimated, including a quick grab from the Beastie Boys track "The New Style". DJ Scratch's, um, scratching at the end was also a nice touch. “Da Joint” proved that EPMD could hang with the kinds when they wanted to. Well, back in 1997 they could, anyway.

Having shown the listener that they can alternate between nostalgic and current at the drop of a hat, EPMD is now free to follow whatever whims come their way, which they do on Back In Business's first single “Never Seen Before” (which also appeared on the soundtrack to the awkwardly-titled Def Jam's How To Be A Player). Over a sampled guitar loop that gets stuck in your head, Erick and Parrish bob and weave, passing the mic back and forth while proclaiming their dominance in a rap genre that was just starting to fly off the rails back in 1997. The fact that the duo keep repeating their respective names during the hook is no accident: “Never Seen Before” acted as EPMD's true reintroduction to our chosen genre, and thanks to how catchy this shit is, it definitely earned them some new fans.


In an odd concession to PMD, Erick Sermon allows the first guests on Back In Business to be Das EFX (who famously sided with Parrish in the divorce) instead of the infinitely more marketable Redman and Keith Murray (Sermon's partners in the Def Squad). The result is an old-school-tinged tongue-twister of a track that doesn't sound quite as fun as all of the microphone-passing would lead you to believe. After three songs, E-Double and PMD sound relieved to have other people to share screen time with, and Skoob and Krazy Drayz of Das EFX relish the opportunity to appear on such a high-profile project, but the song itself, unorthodox beat and all, just doesn't add up to much. The first misfire of the evening.

After a surprisingly experimental opening, the instrumental holds its tongue and reverts back to bland, forcing Erick and Parrish to rhyme over a generic late-1990s beat that literally anyone could have received back then. That's not to say that our hosts sound bad on “Last Man Standing”: far from it, in fact. The whole point of this exercise was to update their brand for the new millennium, which they do manage to accomplish. It's just too bad that they apparently felt the way to achieve this was to make their music sound like everyone else's, because that is an issue they did not have during the first four albums of their career. Sigh. (Side note: okay, maybe they did have that issue when they included the hip-house nightmare “You Had Too Much To Drink” on Unfinished Business, but I still stand by my story.)

The beat sounds like one of the flavorless creations PMD would have either commissioned or created himself for one of his solo projects, so it's strange for me to report that Erick Sermon is the producer on here.  He's also the only guy that sounds even remotely awake, lending “Get Wit This” an energy that it in no way deserves, or can even handle, really. It is kind of early for EMPD to already start coasting, isn't it? Moving on...

This is a step in the right direction. “Do It Again” isn't a great song, or even a very good one, frankly, but its piled-on funk samples coupled with the performances from E-Double and a freshly caffeinated Parrish Smith help the track sound like a lost track from the early 1990s: only Sermon's quick reference to Rampage's “Wild For The Night” clues you in that this was freshly recorded. I imagine this probably did more to keep old-school heads happy than it did to earn the duo some new fans, though.


11. YOU GOTS 2 CHILL '97
The most bizarre attempt of the evening to gain back the support of the older crowd occurs during “You Gots 2 Chill '97”, a modern-day update to one of EPMD's earliest hits. The lyrics are mostly updated (with a few allusions made to the original track), but the beat, with its Kool & The Gang's “Jungle Boogie” and Zapp's "More Bounce To The Ounce" samples, remains pretty much the same, and even so, it's still the best beat on Back In Business up to this point. If only musicians felt the need to aim for timelessness as opposed to instant gratification. Anyway, I ate this shit with a side of fries and a large Coke. I'm a fan. 

12. PUT ON
Is that a bland When Disaster Strikes-era Busta Rhymes-rejected beat I hear? It must have been crafted by DJ Scratch's hands, since it absolutely doesn't fit the mold E and PMD have been working with for years. Parrish Smith sounds unconvincing on this attempt to court...well, I'm not sure, exactly. Who was fiending for this shit? But E-Double, perhaps emboldened by the success he found as a solo artist, tackles the instrumental with panache, managing to not make an ass out of himself. I'm pretty sure even Erick and Parrish have long since forgotten that they even recorded this shit.

After “Head Banger”, this is the best posse cut EPMD have ever been a part of. Over a regal-sounding loop, Reggie Noble steps into the booth and steals the entire album from underneath his hosts (his line, “While you push an S-Class I'm riding on a giraffe” still has me rolling even today), and his Def Squad bandmate Keith “Keith Murray” Murray closes things out in a fashion typical to when people still gave a fuck about his microphone skills (read: dude sounds excellent). E-Double and PMD don't exactly keep up with their younger charges, but neither man is an embarrassment, either: Sermon and Smith keep things simple during their contributions, and their backing music makes everything sound more majestic regardless. This shit bangs.

Ultimately, “Dungeon Master”, which leaves you yearning for a Busta Rhymes cameo that never happens, is a muddled mess, but its individual parts are interesting. The beat, handled by PMD and 8-Off (who contributed heavily to PMD's second album, the dollar sign-addled Bu$ine$$ I$ Bu$ine$$), is the stiff bad soap opera temp scores are made of: it doesn't necessarily evoke thoughts of being locked in a dungeon or anything, but it's not bad. Erick and Parrish deliver their bars fairly quickly and then skedaddle, as this was actually a stealthy way to introduce rapper Nocturnal to the masses, and he quickly takes over the proceedings with his gruff demeanor. His career didn't venture out much further than this song, which isn't surprising, but I kind of dig the fact that EPMD snuck this onto what was supposed to be their comeback album.

15. JANE 5
Another EPMD album, another chapter in the “Jane” saga. Although the events during “Who Killed Jane?” (from Business Never Personal) inadvertently foreshadowed EPMD's breakup, PMD quickly retcons that track's narrative, conveniently releasing himself from jail on a technicality. (Weirdly, though, Sermon fails to show up to the party, so maybe Parrish recorded this installment himself, before they officially reunited?) PMD later finds himself in the middle of a bus heist-turned-shootout, which ends with him becoming the getaway driver for the real Jane, who is, obviously, still alive. Has this serial run out of gas? Absolutely. And some of the details don't make any sense (such as the reason why Parrish was released from prison in the first place). But for old-school nostalgia, this rivals only “Richter Scale”.

Completely robs the original take of all of its energy: this shit may as well have been produced by the Trackmasters. I don't remember if this Sermon-handled remix ever clicked with anyone, but there is no reason for it to even exist, especially since the original knocks. Groan.

FINAL THOUGHTS:  Although it didn't work as a cohesive whole back in the day and gels even less so today, Back In Business still works as an enjoyable EPMD flashback.  Erick and Parrish's attempts to court the youthful crowd only work about a third of the time: our hosts fare much better when they try to revisit what made them so goddamn popular in the first place.  The best tracks on here rate among the best the group has ever produced, whereas the worst songs on here are merely skippable and not entirely offensive.  In short, Back In Business is far from EPMD's best work, but at least it proved that Erick and Parrish still had some tricks under their fishermen hats.

BUY OR BURN?  Even with that last paragraph, I would still recommend a purchase.  The great songs on here are more than worth the money, and you'll get some shitty songs for free, which is quite a bargain.  Besides, you'll probably find it for much cheaper than what the Amazon link below reads, if you know where to look.

BEST TRACKS:  "K.I.M."; "Da Joint"; "Richter Scale"; "Never Seen Before"; "You Gots 2 Chill '97"


Catch up with Erick and Parrish by clicking here.


  1. i remember not being in love with EPMD's second and third album like i was their first, but this one got em back in the right direction, although EPMD in my opinion still only have 1 complete album. But the great songs sprinkled around all their projects is enough for me.

    1. Their fourth album's awesome! Headbanger!

  2. AnonymousJuly 23, 2013

    Parish sounds really weird on here. When did he decide he was going to try to be Raekwon? It's not a good thing when you're getting outshined by E double. Anyways, this is the kind of album where I enjoy it well enough while it's playing but totally forget about it afterwards.

    Also, did anyone else find the Prodigy sample kind of hilarious given that Def Squad and the Mobb were beefing at the time?

    1. AnonymousMay 29, 2014

      Are you trying to be as crazy as Max, my fellow anonymous?

      Because, although Sermon is at his highest lyrical level here, he has NEVER outshined PMD. Not then. Not now. Not ever.

  3. AnonymousJuly 24, 2013

    good album , always liked the remix of never see before

  4. fuark, this reminds me: Muddy Waters is coming autumn 2013. I'm expecting great things, Reggie.

  5. AnonymousJuly 25, 2013

    Dope album I love Keith Murray's abysmal grammar in the line where he's essentially bragging about how smart he is - "flippin' more bigger words than Jesse Jackson!"

  6. Hmm...Reggie Noble was great as ever but Keith Murray has my favourite verse because it was the first time I heard Keith Murray and he surprised the hell out of me; he's actually pretty dope! Oh yeah, the album's good too.

  7. I know this is not my blog, but I have my issues with you labelling this album under 'Keith Murray' and 'Redman'. I mean, you don't label all the wu-tang albums under each member. Please change this.

  8. The final EPMD classic to me.

    Solid replay value. This gets my vote.

  9. There is now an official Max-level of crazy...

    Intrigued was AWESOME. If anything, it's where the album hit its stride.

    The remix to Never Seen Before completely robs the original take of its BORING ASS BEAT. The original most definitely does NOT knock. The remix does, though. Fuck you.

    Last Man Standing was a banger and you're fucking crazy.

    Put On WAS grade A bland, indeed. Not bad nor good. Just was.

    Overall, I'm glad SOMEONE appreciates this album other than me.

    Oh, and Do It Again was the primetime tits.

  10. Max. You ARE aware that the original Never Seen Before's beat jacks Public Enemy's Timebomb instrumental wholesale, right? Add that to the fact that Erick's opening bars jack Chuck D's in that very song, as well. So I join the previous anonymous in being much more inclined to enjoy the remix.

    By the way, You don't give Out Of Business a buy while handing Business As Usual a burn rating. You just don't. For shame.