Happy 25th Anniversary to PMD’s debut solo album Shadē Business, originally released September 27, 1994.
Enough has already been said about the brilliance of EPMD, and you’ll find tributes to their best albums elsewhere here on Albumism. As solo artists, Erick Sermon and Parrish ‘PMD’ Smith have traveled different paths. Sermon has achieved the most success outside of the group dynamic with major solo hits and acclaimed production for others. Conversely, PMD has had a more reserved solo career, sporadically releasing new projects when he feels ready. All of these have been good, and PMD is, in my humble opinion, one of the most technically gifted emcees of all time. I’m hesitant to use the hackneyed phrase about giving people their flowers, but PMD and his unique voice definitely deserve a big bunch of roses.
PMD’s solo debut Shadē Business dropped in 1994 at a decisive moment in the long and storied saga of EPMD. It sits in their combined discography between EPMD’s Business Never Personal (1992) and Back In Business (1997), and Erick Sermon’s own solo debut No Pressure (1993). By 1994 the group had split up for the first time over accusations by Sermon about financial irregularities from PMD on royalty splits. For PMD to name his debut Shadē Business was therefore not coincidental, and more than just a continuation of EPMD’s running theme of naming albums with the word “business” in the title. The group’s history of breakups and makeups has always made these album titles ironic, but the intention behind the name Shadē Business could not have been more obvious.
Shadē Business was a commercial flop. Rumors at the time claimed that the promotional run was sabotaged by industry types with ties to Sermon. There may be some truth in that, but the reality is that Sermon had by now proved himself to be the most bankable and reliable half of the group with No Pressure, as well as his production for EPMD protégé, Redman. It also didn’t help that Shadē Business is far from representative of Smith’s finest work as a member of EPMD. Regardless, Shadē Business is still a pretty solid piece of work and a bit of a lost gem, in retrospect.
PMD’s distinctive monotone flow could be one of the reasons why most people would not rank him among the greats. Like Guru, the consistent, steady tone of his voice is solid and reliable, but can sometimes feel empty of emotion and too rigid. But PMD is suitably fired up on Shadē Business and it gives the album some punch. Sermon might have accused PMD of wrongdoings in their split, but PMD was also pointing fingers back at him about shadiness on his part. The story goes that there was an armed robbery at PMD’s house in the early ‘90s, which some claimed was masterminded by Sermon. The whole thing sounds like the plot of a bad movie, but it gave PMD lots to talk about on Shadē Business and much time is spent firing subtle and not-so-subtle shots towards his ex-partner.
The burden of having years of legacy and a lot of bad blood was weighing down on PMD like a giant chip on the shoulder, and the pressure suits his solid voice and flow, especially on songs like the title track, “I’ll Wait,” and “Fake Homeyz.” The full impact of these songs is unfortunately hampered by some lackluster production in places, mostly handled by PMD himself.
The fallout from EPMD’s breakup caused a definitive split among the Hit Squad, a loose collection of artists that EPMD had developed. Redman, by far the most talented of the crew, sided with Sermon, as did Keith Murray. Soon thereafter, the three of them named themselves Def Squad and continue to work together today. That left Smith with Das EFX, who had released their acclaimed, EPMD-executive-produced debut LP Dead Serious in 1992. Members Dray and Skoob appear on one of Shadē Business’ highlights, the rowdy “Here They Cum,” where they proceed to out-perform PMD on his own song.
DJ Scratch was another Hit Squad member who sided with PMD after the split, and produces two Shadē Business tracks, including the single “I Saw It Cummin” (co-produced with PMD). The song, one of hundreds of hip-hop tracks to sample “Funky Worm” by the Ohio Players, has a distinctly west coast feel, especially when DJ Scratch cuts up vocal samples of both Snoop Doggy Dogg and Ice Cube. Both of the vocal samples are verses about going solo, making “I Saw It Cummin” one of Shadē Business’ most explicit references to the breakup of EPMD. The Ice Cube sample holds extra significance as it was taken from 1991’s “No Vaseline,” Cube’s scathing song about his own split from N.W.A and one of the most brutal diss records of all time. The use of this sample on “I Saw It Cummin” made it crystal clear how angry PMD was with his former bandmate. Curiously, DJ Scratch continued to work with PMD and EPMD during their reunions for many years after Shadē Business, although recently he has distanced himself from the group claiming further financial mismanagement.
PMD has released a few other albums since Shadē Business, but he is still best remembered for his time as one half of EPMD. The reunited duo tour regularly, and although it’s said this is purely a business arrangement rather than any sort of lasting friendship, its heartwarming for aging hip-hop fans everywhere to know EPMD still exists.