EPMD's Strictly Business: A 25th Anniversary Retrospective
To put this all into further perspective, right after Strictly Business dropped, Marley Marl's In Control Vol. 1 then Eazy-E's Eazy-Duz-It came out. It was a golden era and making a classic in the midst of all of this musical excellence only magnifies EPMD's achievements.
On August 30th, 1988 the LP dropped shortly after the title track was released as a single. The responses to both were immediate and overwhelming. The sample layering between Kool & The Gang's "Jungle Boogie," Eric Clapton's version of "I Shot The Sheriff" and Mountain's "Long Red" made for a trunk rattling beat that every B-Boy needed as his personal theme music. At a time where MC's rhymed at frenetic paces while utilizing college level vocabulary words and flows that grew increasingly more complex, EPMD stayed with their slow pronounced flows with what seemed like straight talk. If the beats were hard, then the rhymes were easy listening. It was quite a departure from the other rappers of the same era. They stood out simply because they rhymed effortlessly and it perfectly complemented their rich, layered production.
EPMD had to contend with the noise of The Bomb Squad, Dr. Dre, Ced Gee, Marley Marl, Daddy-O, Prince Paul & DBC of Stetsasonic, Teddy Riley, Paul C, Hurby Luv Bug and many others at the time Strictly Business was released but they were soon catapulted right into that strata after the album hit store shelves. PMD famously rapped “30 days later the LP went Gold” but recent findings say it took closer to 4 months before that happened. Regardless, an independent Rap album going Gold in those days was quite an eye opening feat no matter how long it took. Now let's discuss the album itself and it's lasting influence.
EPMD's strengths were their stellar production, effortless quotable rhymes without flying over listeners heads and their song construction. In addition to all of these factors was the utilization of their DJ, first Diamond J and later (for the other eight tracks of their album) DJ K La Boss. K La Boss' scratches figured prominently in the tracks "Strictly Business," "You Gots Ta Chill," "I'm Housin'," "K La Boss" and "Jane." In retrospect, the departure of K La Boss allowed for EPMD to upgrade to DJ Scratch for the rest of their careers. That, however, is a story for another day.
Their rhymes were easy to remember and stuck in your head without you even realizing it. Even 25 years later, this is one of those iconic albums that most heads know from front to back by heart. Much like Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince on the ultra popular album He's The DJ, I'm The Rapper, EPMD didn't take themselves super seriously. This was evident by E Double's random attempts at singing even with a noticeable lisp. The fact that he rhymed and did whatever he felt like drew the listener in even more. It was a direct contrast to what LL Cool J, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G. Rap, KRS One, Chuck D, Ice Cube, MC Ren and Kool Keith were all doing and it resonated with listeners on an unexpected level.
EPMD were a change of pace and unconventional at the same time. They were different from the rest but yet ended up part of group of young rappers and producers who established the aesthetic that future Hip-Hop albums would aspire to from then on. And to think, they were both barely out of their teens when they dropped their first single back in 1987 and had to learn their way around the studio through trial and error.
Funky album tracks like "Let The Funk Flow," "The Steve Martin," "Jane" and the DJ scratching exhibition "DJ K La Boss" incited rewinds and never failed to get people dancing whenever they were played. If you add to that equation some of Rap's greatest singles in "It's My Thing/You're A Customer," "Strictly Business," "You Gots To Chill" and "I'm Housin'/Get Off The Bandwagon"—the end result is a classic album that's an enjoyable listen from top to bottom devoid of any skippable tracks.
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