Happy 20th Anniversary to EPMD’s sixth studio album Out Of Business, originally released July 20, 1999.
It was around the time when EPMD began promoting their sixth studio album Out Of Business that I remember hearing my favorite analogy of the legendary rap duo, one of the genre-defining hip-hop groups of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith, the two co-founding members of EPMD (Erick and Parish Making Dollars), were about to begin a filmed promotional concert for the album’s release, when an attendee was asked why he had two teenagers with him. The hardcore rap fan explained, in his own words, that the concert was intended to be a cultural experience, and the musical significance of EPMD for his generation was the equivalent of The Delfonics to his father. I understood immediately what he was trying to convey, and not just on the surface, but in the deeper meaning of how the consumption of soul music, which is intimately intertwined with the environment of its conception, is often considered as important as actual sustenance and other life essentials.
The summer of 1999 began with a lot of awkwardness for me. I was 16, prepping for my senior year of high school, in between jobs to help supplement the burden of my mom’s single parent income, which had fallen on some particularly hard times. Periodically, I’d run into an odd job to earn a few bucks, but I remember it being mostly a lazy summer of PlayStation, Monday Night Wrestling, and Showtime After Dark. 1999 hadn’t been a stellar year for young hip-hop backpackers like me, in fact the year seemed to peak as early as February, with LPs from The Roots (Things Fall Apart), Eminem (The Slim Shady LP), and Black Moon (War Zone). There were some bright spots during mid-Spring, like Slick Rick’s The Art of Storytelling and Rawkus Records’ Soundbombing 2 compilation, but the summer was off to a slow start, at least on the East Coast. My friends and I were forced to make the most of GZA’s Beneath the Surface LP, which was still in heavy rotation when we received a gift from the rap gods.
Right as July began to roll in, EPMD dropped “Symphony 2000” as the lead single to what Erick and Parish were calling the grand finale to their storied discography or final episode of the “Business Saga.” Even with the disappointment of EPMD announcing an early retirement, and only two years after their long-awaited reunion, the blow was significantly lightened by the four-minute lyrical decathlon of aural excellence of the “Symphony 2000” posse cut. Somewhat undervalued as a top-tier example of Erick’s sampling brilliance, the Green-Eyed Bandit’s use of the opening violin of Ennio Morricone’s “Uccellacci e Uccellinin” showed his acumen had matured beyond the level of “crate-digger” to full-fledged connoisseur.
The action-packed rhymefest can be construed as the official passing of the torch from Erick and Parish, who reigned as the genre’s hardcore dynamic duo a decade earlier, to labelmates Redman and Method Man, who were becoming more of an inseparable pair that would go on to release their first album as a group later that year. Newcomer Lady Luck was given the arduous task of anchoring the star-studded vessel, a feat which was well accomplished by the battle rap gladiator.
By the time Out Of Business finally dropped, it was time for back to school shopping for my all-important senior year of high school. A less than partially employed teen, with a struggling single mom, made for a strained budget for fall fashion. Fortunately, my big brother volunteered to co-sponsor a respectable wardrobe, with the explicit instructions that I “not spend any of the money on music, strictly clothing.” With a summer banger like “Symphony 2000” and the addition of a deluxe edition greatest hits CD, EPMD’s Out Of Business was definitely on my list of back-to-school essentials, despite my brother’s admonishment.
Just minutes after leaving my favorite mall with a brand new pair of black suede Timberland boots and a Phat Farm sweat suit, I was ripping the plastic off my EPMD CD, inserting the disc into my discman, and enjoying the ode to the group’s honorary third member, DJ Scratch. The album intro, which Scratch himself produced, samples “Going the Distance,” one of the major themes for the 1976 film Rocky. Sermon begins by explaining that DJ Scratch is the black Balboa and elaborates with the rhymes, “ The Boy Wonder, the second Nature, the Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Eraser, upon the cross fader / from Brooklyn, Albany Projects / been around the world with the DJ sets, catching wreck.” Parrish follows up with his own salute to the acclaimed turntablist turned producer with his vintage style of hurling hard bars like, “Yo the track drives me to excel / Scratch is dangerous like a third rail / got the feel like braille, stayed charged like a Duracell.”
The tribute was well-deserved to say the least—besides being an integral contributor to EPMD’s success, Scratch produced some of the biggest hits for Busta Rhymes and his Flipmode Squad, and added some extra thump to Onyx’s Shut ‘Em Down (1998) and Q-Tip’s Amplified (1999).
Proving that it’s not gratuitous bragging when you’re stating the facts, the duo list some of their victorious spoils in the song “Pioneers.” Over the chorus the group explains, “Here comes two big pioneers / Rolex watches, cars by the pairs / the stock we got shares / EPMD (That's right!) / Legendary, hardcore b-boy is the pedigree” over a base-heavy, vintage E-Dub beat that would have fit perfectly on Redman’s Doc’s Da Name 2000 (1998), Keith Murray’s Enigma (1996), or even the Def Squad’s El Niño (1998).
A mid-point highlight for the LP was the revised “Rap is Still Outta Control,” a new spin on their 1990 song “Rap is Outta Control” from the group’s third album Business as Usual. The revision features Busta Rhymes for an off-beat cameo, providing the hook and signature adlibs for a song that showcased the maturity of the group’s trademark chemistry.
“Symphony” serves as the album’s even harder version of the lead single, which shares the same beat and lyrics from Erick and Parish, as well as a similar title, but features the Brownsville Brooklyn duo M.O.P. “Symphony 2000” is very well-delivered, but the M.O.P. assisted version is a straight adrenaline shot, accentuated with Bill Danze and Lil Fame’s explosive manual sound effects to complement the gun bars.
Overall, the LP further cements EPMD as hip-hop royalty, whose first three albums sit at the apex of rap’s Golden Era and inspired the next generation of lyrical hard knocks. I was a kid, learning to appreciate seeing my culture represented on TV right before the culmination of Erick and Parish’s initial run, and always used the single “Headbanger” as my gold standard for artists extracting emotion from their audience. Rushing out to get an EPMD album for me was well worth sacrificing a few days of lunch money, an additional t-shirt, or even the wrath of my big brother.
EPMD was my soul music, the personification of hip-hop. After a few weeks of studying their new LP, I would now know how to dress, and have new slang to converse with my friends. I paid $16.99 for a full cultural experience the way my uncle’s game got tighter after studying a Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes album two decades earlier. Out Of Business was like taking a semester in contemporary art or urban expression and proved essential for this young man’s early development.