By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
His name is Erick Sermon and he's back again and again and again and again—started with Lyn Collins and Marva Whitney samples and made respectable dollars and even more respectable classics with partner Parrish Smith as EPMD. They were so laid-back they were just about flatlining—stories about ladies screaming and brothers getting killed and sucker MCs suffering inevitable but just punishment in a city-council-chamber monotone that some people mistook for soporific (after all, the song was called "You Gots To Chill," and function was pushing form).
But the same impulse that got EPMD pushing hip-hop production away from disco/pop/electronic sample sources and toward heavier funk/soul beds—1988 lead single "Strictly Business" sampled Mountain and album tracks wiped up Steve Miller Band and Pink Floyd, and at this moment in history was Grand Funk denied the opportunity to really honor their own name—got them concentrating everything into rhythm and percussion (like James Brown) and not melody (famous contemporary Eric B.).
Strict as they said it was—uber-beat (like the Monks) hip-hop that didn't need to be pretty because it was already pretty tough, or Link Wray rap except "Rampage" instead of "Rumble" with a "Tramp" sample for that baseline. They sold millions but Sermon still qualified it as big, but underground big—and when they broke up, did they go underground broke?
Well, they were underground missed—they'd made and managed their own Hit Squad (a pre-Wu Wrecking Crew that locked associated rappers into various labels) and those who could float floated on. Sermon had some strange times ahead of him—he had an unexpected hit putting Marvin Gaye vocals on his own tracks and he had a almost-tragic car wreck, too, one that spilled out weird rumors of suicide that he had to put down in the press. And that was after EPMD had come underground back with a reunion and two more LPs—Back In Business, which jinxed right into follow-up Out Of Business—and then they broke up again.
But by now the same saturation of access that pulls Vashti Bunyan and and Ruthann Friedman back in front of the glassy eyed baby fans who wished they were there the first time got Erick and Parrish making history again at a re-reunion show in New York on October: this time twenty years of hip-hop momentum monitors were pushing around for the chance to freestyle a verse (Redman, Das EFX, Craig G . . . ) and from NYC they went to Europe for the kind of dinosaur tour you hope for-Erick and Parrish stomping around on a big flat stage in front of thousands of panting Teutonic beat fiends, and do they smoke crack? They smoke MCs, says a chorus who never thought they'd get to say that anywhere out loud except in the passenger seat of a car with the windows rolled up. The RATM and Wu Tang reunions might have smothered a little glow but EPMD back and back out on the road is still big—no qualifier this time.