Although both hailing from the Long Island suburb of Brentwood, Sermon and Smith each entered rap at different times. Coming together in 1987, originally the duo were set to go by the name EEPMD (Easy Erick and Parrish the Microphone Doctor). However, according to Smith during an interview with college radio station WHOV in 1987, the reason for switching the name was simply because it was easier to say. Kicking things off rapidly, EPMD, short for "Erick and Parrish Making Dollars", recorded their first record, 'It's My Thing', in just three hours.
During a time when seeking permission to use a sample hadn't yet begun, EPMD, along with the likes of Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys, ran wild borrowing snippets from other artists music, which in turn saw them creatively flipped and used to enhance the borrowing artist's sound. With that said, using a sample of Eric Clapton's version of Bob Marley's 'I Shot The Sheriff', the title track from EPMD's 1988 album Strictly Business became a hit. The rest of the album became a blueprint for others to examine. Featuring a combination of edgy street grooves and laid back rhymes, and of course innovative use of sampling, the realism of their lyrical content gave listeners something more than just a party rhyme to digest. Sampling Zapp's 'More Bounce To The Ounce' and Kool & The Gang's 'Jungle Boogie', 'You Gots To Chill' was the perfect example of the EPMD uprising.
Going gold and then repeating the achievement with their 1989 follow-up Unfinished Business, the latter of the two was selected as one of The Source's 100 Best Rap Albums in 1998. With the word business featured in all of their albums titles, it was obvious listening to EPMD that they were in fact all about their business.
However, signed to Fresh/Sleeping Bag Records, their industry business was about to get a lot more complicated. After running into some financial difficulties, Sleeping Bag went under. The duo's first two albums were acquired by Priority/EMI Records before the label was sold, while EPMD's contract was bought by rap powerhouse Def Jam Records - home at the time to the likes of LL Cool J,Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy.
1990 saw EPMD release their first Def Jam album, Business As Usual. Ironically, the album was anything but business as usual. Whilst still spitting laid back rhymes, attacking sucker MC's and discussing romantic rendezvous gone bad [on the third installment of the "Jane" series], there appeared to be no growth as far as instrumental maturity was concerned. Still heavily reliant on sampling, the usage just wasn't as clever as previous efforts. Still going gold, even if critics weren't as impressed as they were previously, one of the album's highlights included the introduction of a New Jersey rapper by the name of Redman, who as many know went on to enjoy a very successful solo career himself.
Going their separate ways January of 1993, the reason for such an unforeseen action was reported to be a controversial one. According to interview footage seen in the documentary Beef II, it is said that Smith's home was broken into by armed intruders and apparently his partner-in-rhyme Erick Sermon was behind it. Whilst not there himself, one of the apprehended guilty party informed police that Sermon paid them to do it.
Before tensions rose to breaking point, EPMD did manage to put out one of their finest albums to date. Business Never Personal was both an artistic and commercial victory. Keeping their ear to the street paid off. With the genre's lyrical content getting more aggressive as the days went on, the formation of The Hit Squad - K-Solo, Das EFX and Redman - injected new blood, new viewpoints, and new influence into the EPMD machine. The outcome? The rough, rugged and raw posse cut 'Head Banger'.
Before reforming in 1997, Erick Sermon went on to have success with his albums No Pressure (1993) and Double Or Nothing (1995). Parrish Smith kept his name on the airwaves releasing Shade Business (1994) and Business Is Business (1996).
Their comeback album, 1997's Back In Business, was testament to Sermon and Smith's natural chemistry and ability to shift with the changing times. With Def Jam owning the charts, rap the following year became the biggest selling musical genre on the planet outselling country by 9 million copies. With that said, the updated sound of the late 90's, which was dominated by tales of street hostility, cartel fantasies and unlimited amounts of braggadocios manhood swinging, birthed a new breed of MC. While names such as DMX, Method Man and LL Cool J were embracing the updated edgier side of rap, EPMD bridged the gap by incorporating both the old and new with yet more clever sample usage - 'K.I.M.' featured samples from both Onyx and the Beastie Boys, as well as classical composing legend Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
With their sixth studio album, 1999's Out Of Business, the title alone was enough to suggest that the duo were once again calling it quits. Officially splitting in 2005, not lasting too long the duo reunited a year later performing at the Rock The Bells Tour in New York at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill. With longtime collaborator DJ Scratch, it was their first New York show in eight years. Not releasing another album until 2008's We Mean Business, caught up in the midst of illegal downloads and lack of promotional funding, the album was received well by critics but commercially proved lackluster.
Solo-wise, while Parrish Smith dropped off another offering in the form of The Awakening in 2003, it was Erick Sermon who seemed to command more respect for his individual works - Eminem even namechecked Sermon during a battle in the movie 8 Mile because of his technical ability. After releasing the gold-selling Def Squad album El Nino alongside group members Keith Murray and Redman in 1998, Sermon then released Def Squad Presents Erick Onasis in 2000. Going on to have a commercially successful run thanks to the albums Music (2001) and React (2002), his last solo effort was the Motown released Chilltown, New York in 2004.
Arguably one of the best rap duos in Hip Hop history, EPMD influenced an army of budding lyricists hell bent on following their hardcore blueprint and fictional tales of urban-orientated street life, as well as those music fans looking for something a little more adventurous than the pop culture norm. With numerous classics under their belts, and thanks to their funky backdrops, simplistically ill lyrical content, and innovative use of sampling, Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith will forever be considered Hip Hop icons.
Words: Will "ill Will" Lavin
EPMD's blueprint for East Coast rap wasn't startlingly different from many others in rap's golden age, but the results were simply amazing, a killer blend of good groove and laid-back flow, plus a populist sense of sampling that had heads nodding from the first listen (and revealed tastes that, like Prince Paul's, tended toward AOR as much as classic soul and funk). A pair from Long Island, EPMD weren't real-life hardcore rappers -- it's hard to believe the same voice who talks of spraying a crowd on one track could be name-checking the Hardy Boys later on -- but their no-nonsense, monotoned delivery brooked no arguments. With their album debut, Strictly Business, Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith really turned rapping on its head; instead of simple lyrics delivered with a hyped, theatrical tone, they dropped the dopest rhymes as though they spoke them all the time. Their debut single, "You Gots to Chill," was a perfect example of the EPMD revolution; two obvious samples, Zapp's "More Bounce to the Ounce" and Kool & the Gang's "Jungle Boogie," doing battle over a high-rolling beat, with the fluid, collaborative raps of Sermon and Smith tying everything together with a mastery that made it all seem deceptively simple. There was really only one theme at work here -- the brilliancy of EPMD, or the worthlessness of sucker MCs -- but every note of Strictly Business proved their claims.
Words: John Bush
EPMD's reunion album Back in Business may not be entirely successful, but it's far from being an embarrassment. Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith remain strong if unexceptional rappers, but the true news is in the music. Much of Back in Business captures the wild spirit of EPMD's classic late-'80s albums, complete with dense layers of sounds, samples, and funky beats. There's enough skill and invention in the production -- and just enough energy in the rapping -- to make Back in Business a welcome comeback.
Words: Leo Stanley
After the popular, praised 1997 comeback album Back in Business, Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith returned with another solid effort that proved they remained one of the best combos in Hip Hop, as relevant and tight in 1999 as they were ten years earlier. Most of the tracks are in-house productions (either Sermon or Smith), a true rarity in the '90s Hip Hop world, and they lend the album a continuity sorely lacking considering the legion of rap albums that feature a different producer for each track. And as the duo has done for ages, EPMD does more than just trade in familiar riffs to drive the tracks on Out of Business. The only familiar sample is on the "Intro," and even there, Sermon and Smith turn "Fanfare for Rocky" into something over and above the original. The pair's raps have definitely progressed in the past ten years, as "Pioneers," "U Got Shot," "Right Now," and "Hold Me Down" more than prove. One of the album highlights is the anti-crossover diatribe "Rap Is Still Outta Control," featuring Busta Rhymes (another rapper who's been around long enough to know) and including great lines like, "They took our music and our beat and tried to make it street/And then got in the magazine to try to sound all sweet." Still, EPMD occasionally falls prey to current trends, with obligatory string-sample productions on "Symphony" and "Symphony 2000" (the latter with Redman, Method Man, and Lady Luck) that serve only to obscure the great guest raps. Despite the title, in the liner notes EPMD dispels any rumors that this could be the duo's last album.
Words: John Bush
EPMD avoided the dreaded sophomore curse and kept its artistic momentum going on its second album, Unfinished Business. Once again, the duo triumphed by going against the flow -- when MCs ranging from Public Enemy to Sir Mix-A-Lot to N.W.A weren't hesitating to be abrasive and hyper, EPMD still had a sound that was decidedly relaxed by rap standards. For the most part, EPMD's lyrics aren't exactly profound -- boasting and attacking sucker MCs is still their favorite activity. However, Erick and Parrish do challenge themselves a bit lyrically on "You Had Too Much to Drink" (a warning against drunk driving) and "Please Listen to My Demo," which recalls the days when they were struggling. But regardless of subject matter, they keep things exciting by having such an appealing, captivating sound.
Words: Alex Henderson