Monday, January 29, 2024

CD Odyssey Disc 1708: EPMD

Before we get to the review, a quick word of remembrance for one of rock and roll’s greatest – Shangri-La’s singer Mary Weiss, who died a week ago at age 75. The Shangri-Las are one of music’s all-time greats (read more about what I think of them at Disc 1024). Weiss will be missed, but she leaves a lasting legacy of amazing music to remember her by.

Disc 1708 is…Strictly Business

Artist: EPMD

Year of Release: 1988

What’s up with the Cover? Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith, aka EPMD, chillin’ in a matching set of outfits which was a thing hip hop bands did in the day.

The background shows a high tech studio, you can tell because they have COMPUTORS with huge monitors. Hey, it was 1988.

How I Came To Know It: Many years ago my friend Spence made a compilation CD of all the original versions of the songs on Rage Against the Machine’s cover album, “Renegades”. One of the songs was EPMD’s “I’m Housin’” I found myself relating to the matter, and so I dropped the bomb. Or in this case, I dropped the $15 to buy the CD.

That reference makes more sense if you know the lyrics.

How It Stacks Up: I have three EPMD albums, and this is the best one. #1!

Rating: 5 stars

There are some records that go beyond just plain excellent. Records that define a genre and a moment in time, against which all others are compared to or descended from. That is EPMD’s 1988 debut “Strictly Business”. This record is a colossus of style, execution and swagger.

The first thing that will catch your attention on this record is just how God damned funky it is. This is from the golden age of rap, when you could sample anything you wanted with impunity, and EPMD use their powers entirely for good. They take large chunks of tunes and completely repurposes the borrowed riff into something new and different that makes you forgive the borrowing.

The record launches with a snippet of “I Shot the Sheriff” so artfully matched with a back beat and a side-sliding rhythm that will defeat any attempt to sit still. You will bob your head, and if there is room, you will drop some dance moves. You will do this.

Things get better from there, starting with the aforementioned “I’m Housin’”. This track has even more funk, as if that were possible. As with all tracks, we are treated to the flow of Erick Sermon (the E in EPMD). Sermon and PMD (Parrish Smith) are two of rap’s all time great emcees. The words just roll like a bobsleigh on an Olympic course: fast, smooth and cold as ice. Like all the greats of the time (Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Chuck D) no one sounds like EPMD as they artfully navigate a pocket. Now front, now back, now playfully delaying to the next beat just so you know they can.

Let the Funk Flow” follows and as the title suggests, the funk continues to flow. Does it get even funkier? Funkin’ rights it does. It is hard to be funkier than zero degrees Kelvin of funk on the first two tracks, but somehow “Let the Funk Flow” manages to overflow the funk.

And on and on we go. At one point you will be advised that “You Gots to Chill” but the verbal admonition is unnecessary. That’s Track 4, and you will already be fully and completely chilled. Then later you’ll be invited to learn “The Steve Martin” a song that encourages a dance craze based on Steve Martin’s back porch moves at the beginning of The Jerk.

This being 1988, we are treated to some high quality ‘I rap better than you’ lyrics, best served on “Get Off the Bandwagon”. Tons of great stuff, but I dig this section:

I'm not bragging, but tagging
And snagging the biter that tries to imitate
Time to go on strike and demonstrate
On the foe, that does not N-O
That if he pulls my card, I'm good to flow
Toe to toe, blow to blow, without H2O
Ayo, you want to battle? I'm good to G-O”

Indeed, they are.

This record’s weakest track is still great. “DJ K LaBoss”  is four minutes or so of scratching and sampling. An average dance tune, but a technical masterpiece that you can admire for the skill alone.

And so, finding no downside, and plenty of up I declare this record as good as it gets, give it the five stars it was going to take anyway, and reluctantly move on to whatever album comes next.

Best tracks: all tracks

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