Classic Albums: 'Business Never Personal' by EPMD

Classic Albums: 'Business Never Personal' by EPMD

Published Thu, July 28, 2022 at 12:00 PM EDT

“They’re the most stable rap group, the most stable music group in the industry — artistically and business wise."

Russell Simmons told Spin that in his 1992 interview. And there's no denying that EPMD was on a helluva run. Since their 1988 debut Strictly Business, the duo had become the mainstays for hardcore East Coast Hip-Hop. The duo of Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith had been a model of consistency, and that had somehow become both a gift and a curse. They were known for strong albums (Unfinished Business, Business As Usual) and classic singles like "You Gots To Chill" and "Rampage," but there was almost a sense that Hip-Hop was taking the greatness of EPMD for granted. They'd been so consistently good for so long, it was almost taken for granted that an EPMD album would be good. They'd begun their journey on the Fresh Records imprint (a subsidiary of Sleeping Bag Records) back in 1988, and made the leap to major label Def Jam for 1990's Business As Usual. Both it and it's predecessor—1989s Unfinished Business—went gold; and EPMD now had its sights set on elevating the Hit Squad collective; which included fellow Long Island native K-Solo, who'd made his debut on Unfinished Business in '89; Das EFX, a duo of speed-rappers who'd come together at Virginia State University; along with New Jersey rapper Redman, who'd made his debut on ...As Usual.

K-Solo had been first out the gate (he dropped his debut, Tell The World My Name, in 1989, followed by Time's Up, which was released just under two months prior to Business Never Personal); but it was Das EFX who really set the table for Hit Squad to take over 1992 with their debut album, Dead Serious, which was out in the spring of '92. That album was a platinum-seller, and seemed to be the perfect setup for the collective, and for EPMD's new album.

The most famous track on Business Never Personal, the hit single "Crossover" was the final song recorded for the album.

“Roger Troutman had just come out with his last album, and I bought it when we did an in-store [out in L.A.]" Sermon would recall years later. "So after we got home from L.A., we went to go see Russell Simmons to play him our album. And Russell was like, 'The album is dope, but y'all are missing the single.' We had a song called 'Play the Next Man' on the album. And we wanted to drop it first as a 'Gold Digger' part two. Russell Simmons was like, 'You drop that record [as a single] and that will be the end of your career.'"

The track found Erick and Parrish taking aim at Hip-Hop's ever-growing mainstream appeal. Pop-rap artists had turned rappers into chart-topping stars, but there were cries of inauthenticity and commercialism. EPMD decided to throw down the gauntlet for non-crossover Hip-Hop.

“MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice came out, and they kind of shook the world," Sermon said to COMPLEX. "And we thought Hip-Hop was [about to take] a turn in another direction. We had no idea that a record dissing radio was going to be that huge. But Russell knew. He didn't tell us that, but he knew."

“I made 'Headbanger' for Ice Cube [who was my friend]. But I never got it to him. I never got the chance to give it to him. That was the last song before 'Crossover' was made."

“We were in the studio one day, and we needed a crew record. So I threw the beat on. And we started yelling. The session just went that way. The beat made you amped. I was just so aggressive. I was thinking about The Bomb Squad when I made that record. We had it set up like a Tempations thing, with the four mics set up. Just screaming. It was hard to EQ that record because you had the leakage [from one microphone to the others] like back in the day. But we did it that way, and it came out fine. [Performing the vocals live together] made it very exciting."

Business Never Personal should've been simply the latest feather-in-the-cap for EPMD. Sermon's craft was peaking and both rappers had mastered their distinctly monotone style; while also delivering Redman and K-Solo. Everything was cresting, but their personal relationship would begin to deteriorate quickly. Members of the Hit Squad collective were grumbling about Smith, who was head of EPMD's production company. There were gripes about finances. Just before the album's release, Smith was the victim of a home invasion. No one was hurt, but a rumor spread quickly that Sermon had been involved. And Smith was aware that one of the assailants was a friend of Erick's. Sermon would subsequently be arrested and questioned by authorities on the matter, but no charges were filed. It was an unexpected fissure in the once-stable union between the two emcees, and the drama proved to be the final blow for EPMD. "Crossover" had been their biggest hit to date, but EPMD would break up just months after the release of the "Headbanger" single in October 1992.

"EPMD departed for personal reasons," Smith would say un-ironically in THE SOURCE in 1993. "We had a major blowout in the cockpit between Erick and I that wouldn't have allowed me to be in there 115%, like I had always been with EPMD."

The bond seemed to be irrevocably broken.

"The problem that we are dealing with is something that only he and I can understand," Smith added. "People speculate, but they'll know the real on how me and E worked."


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We had a major blowout in the cockpit between Erick and I that wouldn't have allowed me to be in there 115%, like I had always been with EPMD."

Of course, rap fans know how things played out from there: Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith pushed forward as solo artists and rivals; slinging darts at each other in interviews over the next several years. Parrish (rechristened PMD) would keep the Hit Squad mainstays Das EFX and K-Solo in his fold; while Sermon moved on with Redman and newcomers Keith Murray and teen rapper Jamal. Redman's career would flourish after the release of his debut Whut! Thee Album in fall 1992. Murray would go gold with The Most Beautifullest Thing in This World in 1994.

Sermon would become one of Hip-Hop's most in-demand producers as Redman evolved into a superstar over the course of the 1990s. The trio of Sermon, Redman and Murray would find tremendous success as Def Squad, before something most unexpected happen. EPMD would surprisingly reunite in 1997 for yet another gold-seller; the appropriately-titled Back In Business.

The drama of their breakup may be somewhat negated now because we know that EPMD reunited to close out their career in stellar fashion in the late 1990s/early 2000s. And Sermon continued to solo success with hits like 2003's "Music." But Business Never Personal still stands as the final home run of their classic period. When Erick and Parrish didn't just make dollars—they made fucking classics.

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