EPMD :: Business as Usual :: Def Jam
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

Some albums are LOCKED IN from the very first time you hear them. No one can really say why it happens - you were at a certain age and very impressionable, among good albums in a given year it was by far the best, or you just listened to it over and over so much you can recite every word and hear every note in your head without even having to play it. For me EPMD's "Business as Usual" was LOCKED IN for all of those reasons and more. The year was 1990 - I wasn't even graduating high school for another three years yet. In those days people still bought cassettes instead of CD's, because CD players and compact discs were still far more expensive than tape decks. In fact my biggest goal at the time was to get a removable tape deck for my piece of shit car, precisely so I COULD listen to tapes like EPMD's "Business as Usual" when I drove the ten miles to and from school each day (that's rural life for ya).

Thinking back now that whole year might have just been DEF to the motherfuckin JAM. If it wasn't EPMD it was Public Enemy. If it wasn't Public Enemy it was LL Cool J. If it wasn't LL Cool J it was Slick Rick. Kool G. Rap, N.W.A. and the Geto Boys were probably the only ones who could break that log jam. Somewhere along the line I must have traded in that tape for a CD, because I went through my collection and pulled this one out of the "all EPMD related albums" case, which technically ought to be much larger than it is now since I didn't include Das EFX or K-Solo. For reasons I can't even begin to fathom I left a Half Price Books price sticker on the cover, which duly notes I picked up this version for $6.99. I'm sure that's $3-$5 less than I spent on the tape but believe me when I say this album is a bargain at ANY price. I'm not even going to pretend to be unbiased about this one because SIXTEEN MOTHERFUCKING YEARS LATER I still love this album. It's incredible how right from the first track EPMD was hitting home runs straight out the ballpark. The frentic energy of "I'm Mad" was like a call to arms - a backdrop that sounded like a heart monitor with hip-hop attitude and rhythm, DJ Scratch going absolutely nuts on the 1's and 2's between verses, and even the sometimes slow-flowing Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith sounding positively AMPED UP. Words just won't do it justice, but here's a little sample of the flav' anyway:

Erick: "It's the E and I'm smokin; wild like Tone Loc
I'm roastin, bakin MC's, the E I'm not jokin
So back up - punk, slack up
Watch your weak posse, before they get smacked up
One by ONE, two by TWO, three by THREE
Yo P... (What's Up, E.D.?)
Pass the uzis to blow up, any wack MC that show up
There goes one blast him now (E, hold up)
{Don't make me wait...}
Because it might be too late, the punk might escape
and buck wild, and in fact bite my style
And I'ma catch a bullshit charge, plus trial"

Parrish: "My life story I tell straight from the heart
When suckers tried to crash my shit straight from start
A young black kid, destined for success
No Olde Gold, no cocaine, or buddha sess
Straight up hard work, no sleep and no shorts
Brainstormin with the skills that Pop Duke taught
to keep swingin, yeah and not to quit
Now I ride the Benz, you ride the dick
with your punk friends, straight up pussy from Punk City
My attitude's fucked up, and real shitty
From the backstabbers, yeah my so-called friends
Who swim in my pool, when it's time flex the Benz
around town, windows down as the sound pounds
Cool J tape or K-Solo's _Spellbound_"

Didn't matter what bullshit was going on in my life - home, school, work or whatever. Listening to "I'm Mad" would set things RIGHT. It would channel all those aggressions and rip them right out the frame. Still does today. That's only one of 14 incredible tracks on "Business as Usual" though, and the next one is very memorable indeed. "Hardcore" was Redman's official debut on Def Jam, and his single verse on this funked out track was enough to leave me on the edge of my seat with anticipation waiting for him to finally drop an album. Read to see why:

"Yes, I yam what I yam when I jam, bro
My afro's in the house (YO YO YO!)
Long as I live large, life will be luxury
Ladies in Lamborghinis, love is like luck to me
Nasty nigga, competition is none
From Newark, New Jersey, knock heads like Mike Nunn
Shit, grab the steel when I'm strokin
Smoke with shotguns but the sign said no smokin
Cool it kiddo, I control from sea to sea
Cut like Chuckie, plus style is cock-D
Superman Lover, cool from the new school
Hold your breath, while I walk holdin my jewels"

Ironically this song might have introduced me to the world of professional boxing, because I had no idea who Mike Nunn was before Redman said it, but I was damn sure gonna find out why Red compared himself to the guy after. This album is relentless though - just when you think you're going to catch a breather the funk comes right back on attack with "Rampage." Even though I was just barely beginning to be aware of the internet around this time, there was certainly enough speculation both on AND offline about the video for this song to go around. Was that really LL Cool J behind the curtain in the video? If so, why wouldn't he show his face? If not, why didn't he show up and where did they get such a good doppleganger for him? His verse is instantly memorable in the song regardless: "Pure entertainment, tonight's your arraignment/you're GUILTY, face down on the pavement." The song was all the right elements yet again - funky-ass bassline (which we would all hear in dozens of songs that followed it), DJ Scratch just getting straight BANANAS on the turntables, and EPMD laying down unfuckwittable verses. Ironically the first time things actually let up a bit in pace was on "Manslaughter," which was still a musically and lyrically vicious track - just at half the tempo:

Erick: "Code name E-D, check on the one two three
Black male, hard MC
Rap record slave, a brother on the scene
with a machine gun, and one magazine
Wanted, a half a million for the body alone
Two million for the microphone
If you see him, dial 5 dash SLAYER
A hotline, to the governor and mayor
He's armed with ammo, a weapon that's mine
All black in rap, strapped tech nine
Silencer clipped, check the rip on the sneak tip
The boy's about ta flip - manslaughter"

And in what I think might be the illest out of all the "Jane" tracks over the years, "Jane 3" features a woman trying to masquerade as a man named Jay who gets "caught in the act" by our duo with wild consequences as a result. What follows afterward might be the one and ONLY way in which "Business as Usual" dissapointed me. Don't get me wrong, "For My People" is a fine track, but to this day I still can't fathom why this ONE song out of an entire album was censored. Didn't make sense then, still doesn't now. Sometimes a song is censored because it's either the first single or a forthcoming single off an otherwise explicit album, but this was never released as any kind of video or radio single at all. It makes even less sense when you hear the next track "Mr. Bozack," a song where both Erick and Parrish speak as the voice of a penis that fucked up and caught a disease by fucking some random girl at a party. Yes you read that right - they are speaking FROM THE DICK'S PERSPECTIVE. EPMD could be some wacky and wildly creative guys at times. Moving right along though we come to another of the absolutely unqualified classics of this album, one which was also one of the greatest EPMD videos of all time. "Gold Digger" is quite literally the gold standard for songs about scandalous women. Kanye's version was not bad for modern times, but verbally and musically EPMD's 1990 joint just OWNS shit:

Sermon: "Oh what the heck, let's get married
and have a son named Erick; no big deal, no sweat
Hmmm, I was in for a big surprise
And when I saw the judge hammer pass my green eyes
Brainlocked, my whole damn head was malfunctional
Cause I forgot to co-sign a prenuptial, agreement
Now her case is hard like cement
I have no files on all the money she spent
She has a car, nineteen ninety brand new Jaguar
Fly kit, with chrome rims that's five star
that she bought, when I was away on tour
Hittin my bank account, gettin more and more money
She got paid, it wasn't funny
Talkin to myself - oh you big big dummy
Just my luck, that I'm stuck with a marriage
And a baby, who lays in a gold carriage"

Parrish: "(P cool, she could be a gold digger)
Not with that smile and that stupid boomin figure
'til one day, she spent the crazy dough
Ten G's on Levi's, cold went Rambo
But then she smiled, gave me a back massage
Gassed my head up, and said (oh P you're so large)
Like a jerk, I went for the line like a fish
But she was far from dream girl, and more like a death wish
She likes to sit back, lamp, walk on plush rugs
Whip my five-sixty sip Moet and bug (so did you flip?)
Tried to but she cut me off
And said, 'Guess what?' (What) 'I'm pregnant' (Pregnant? Damn)
Yeah and the child is yours
So to fellas, who wanna keep they cash
Well beware of the jackhammer and the helmet that glows
Cause she's a gold digger"

Word life. I'm trying hard as hell to be objective here but I can't find fault musically with anything on this album. "Give the People" wins again - a great walk down nostalgia lane as Erick namechecks both Ed Lover & Dr. Dre from Yo! MTV Raps. The song actually makes quite the political statement about how rap gets blamed for violence and not played in the mainstream unless it's watered down and diluted past being meaningful:

Parrish: "But it's a fat jam, that will never win a grammy
Unless we sellout and kill the black movement dead
Which means swallow our pride and become flunkies instead
And stop the rap about freedom, thoughts of a black president
And rap about a black crack, the mayor in our residence
Give me a break brothers, it's time to take a stand
And kill that no sir, yes sir, and thank you ma'am
Cuz the word is a luxury a black man can't afford
That's why poverty's on the rise and we still ignored
And it's a setback and yet the clock still ticks
And if we let it, rap would be run by politics
I read it somewhere that every man's created equal
But not in this day and age, maybe in the sequel
Which means next time, so observe these rhymes
And take a stand and go for yours cause I'm going for mine"

The biggest mystery of this album to me for years and years was who the hell Tom J was, since he got a repeated shoutout at the beginning of "Rap Is Outta Control." Later I figured out he was one half of the rap group Knucklehedz, who just barely managed to get a couple of singles out before EPMD's eventual breakup permanently shelved their album. Ah well. That's getting way ahead of the times this album is from, and in the here and now it's worth focusing on the absolutely hard as FUCK track "Brothers on My Jock," which opens with another killer verse from the up-and-coming Redman:

"I go wild as I sip from a cold Lowenbrau
Set up rhymes like fire to gunpowder
Boom, did the bassline crank
From being rated R, from bein top rank
I'm hard like an erection
Phrases might get too tough to break down in sections
So I grab a pen and pad, I'm back
to make a killer, similar to a backstab
Don't arrest me, arrest my brain, it's insane
If I'm booty, then I've been framed
By an MC, who can't be the R-E-D
Fuck wit me, you'll get slapped up and capped up easy
By me and a tre-eight pistol
so vacate the premises, or ask Mayday Mayday
for H-E-L-P"

The beat on this one was so damn fresh it came all the way back around again to become another hip-hop classic, Ghostface Killah's "Daytona 500," and wasn't the least bit burned out. Probably helps that it was at a different tempo in each case, and DJ Scratch blended in some fine scratches from the classic EPMD track "So Wat Cha Sayin." Things keep rolling right along with "Underground" and "Hit Squad Heist" but just to bring this review to a close in timely fashion I'm going to jump ahead to the grand finale "Funky Piano," and GRAND would be an understatement. It opens up sounding like a concert, then morphs into their "Please Listen to My Demo" track from the "Unfinished Business" LP, then changes up AGAIN with a fly Chuck D sample in the chorus and some of the most bangin piano loops that have ever been put on wax. Peep Erick paying tribute to their DJ:

"Straight from Brooklyn, from out the projects
it's DJ Scratch, so girls fix your Kotex
The Ruler; not Slick Rick, but the ruler on the mix
with ten or more tricks
Take flicks, prick, but please don't miss this
watch my DJ cut with his dick
Yeah, slick ain't it? See your moms fainted
Technique 1200, and watch scratch train it
I'm-a step off and let Scratch collect dough
while you hear my jam with the funky piano."

Yet another thing that's far too often absent from rap songs these days - songs that celebrate the DJ. Actually I just miss having groups with two dope MC's and one fly DJ period - it still seems like the best of all possible combinations to me. EPMD had certainly perfected the formula on "Business as Usual." This was right around the time EPMD hit the apex of their career, and they'd have one more dope album before things really went South, but in this era it truly seemed like they could do no wrong. On the strength of the fanbase they could go gold with or without radio play, but if you're going to call in a request to your modern day old school radio show pick a song from this album - ANY SONG - and trust me you simply can't go wrong. Better yet go to your used record store and pick a copy of this one up, it's still a classic and even if I lost my CD and my iPod broke in two I could recreate every song from the album in my head. "Business as Usual" is locked in FOR LIFE.

Music Vibes: 10 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 10 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 10 of 10

Originally posted: June 13, 2006
source: www.RapReviews.com