Along with the Geto Boys, no classic rap group has had such on-again, off-again, businessmen and frienemies status as EPMD. Just when it seemed that all the time outs were used, in 2007 it was announced that Erick Sermon [click to read] and Parrish Smith would make their first album in nine years with We Mean Business. Great things come at a cost,
as this project marks the first in a decade without the participation
of DJ Scratch, a longstanding ingredient to EPMD's stage-show and
from the likes of emcees they inspired: Raekwon, Havoc and Method Man
to look at their accomplishments just as much as furthering the
ironclad EPMD legacy.
"Left 4 Dead" is arguably the most evolved track we've seen from EPMD in years. Produced by 9th Wonder [click to read] and joined by Skyzoo [click to read], the song's chorus stresses the senseless deaths of Hip Hop luminaries. Inside the verses, day-to-day interactions are revealed as rappers, as legends, and the kind of fraternity found in Hip Hop. As gunfire has been an element in EPMD's own career, it's rare to hear Erick Sermon rhyming about rubber grips, but the song does anything but glorify the gangster. Skyzoo closes out the track with a verse that makes the active Brooklyn emcee a worthy microphone holder in the collaboration. "Bac Stabbers" also clears the air about that aforementioned group status. The O'Jays flip works nicely as scratches bring out one of the more up-tempo offerings from the group known for their verbal similes and low-end drums.
Although debates of who does what when together are 20 years deep , EPMD has been the rap genesis of co-production. The signature "You Gots To Chill" rhythms return on "Roc-Da-Spot," one of the few tracks without features. Sermon brings out a signature leading verse, routes to a makeshift chorus of a Biggie sample, before PMD's deep tones sew it shut. "Listen Up" with Teddy Riley [click to read] brings Sermon's solo sound from recent to his group. A vocoder-assisted Riley comes more Roger Troutman than T-Pain, as the radio-production builds around a chorus, while the lyrics challenge the messages of modern rap. While We Mean Business takes nods from PMD's hard-nosed solo work of late as well as E-Double's smoother styles, the classic chemistry is still there. An unnumbered "Jane" (seven, for those playing at home) is two-minutes of rhyming that feels as impromptu as Yo! MTV Raps finale, and yet exactly what fans of the ever-changing groupie saga want to hear.
Although Raekwon [click to read] KRS-One [click to read] and Havoc [click to read] are welcomed guests to any party, EPMD is still best supported by the Def Squad (with Hit Squad members sitting this affair out). Keith Murray's [click to read] appearance on "They Tell Me," is his strongest 16 in years. Sermon funnels several high and low vocal samples underneath classic percussion, while Keith pulls the card of all the tough-talkers, and speaks generally about several of his publicized industry bouts. Redman's appearance equally resonates on "Yo" [click to listen] where teachers and onetime student remind fans why rappers put each other on in the first place. We Mean Business is a contemporary album that upholds '80s emcee codes of honor, and the '90s tradition of collaboration.
From the very beginning, EPMD has never made a poor album. No longer with Def Jam and big studio and sample budgets, they still haven't. The formula is in tact. "Jane" is still around and the subject matter and production approaches haven't changed, but after nine years of waiting, that's likely what fans want, if not need from Erick and Parrish. Moreover, after Out Of Business felt like a fulfilled label obligation, along with a steady offering of good, traditional New York rap, the real takeaway from We Mean Business is to see E and P together for them and the fans, and have it feel as sincere as it did in 1987.