Words by Dart Adams
EPMD, the Long Island rap group comprised of Erick Sermon, Parish Smith and DJ Scratch, were recognized as one of the premiere groups in Rap following their Gold certified debut Strictly Business and sophomore album Unfinished Business.
However, due to financial issues with their label Sleeping Bag/Fresh Records, Erick and Parrish weren’t going to be making any more dollars with them. Luckily, EPMD was rolling with Russell Simmons owned Rush Artist Management so Def Jam Records acquired their contract, along with another Rush group signed to Fresh, Nice & Smooth. Afterwards, EPMD focused on crafting their Def Jam debut. Based on earlier EPMD albums, anticipation was high for what E Double & PMD were cooking in the lab.
EPMD & DJ Scratch crafted bangers on Unfinished Business such as “So Wat Cha Sayin’,” “The Big Payback,” “Total Kaos,” etc. but being on Def Jam meant they had to raise the bar and deliver material on an even higher level of quality than what already drove heads crazy in years past. In November of 1990, EPMD dropped their lead single “Gold Digger” on an unsuspecting populace. The uptempo beat coupled with DJ Scratch’s cuts made for an instant head-nodder that packed dance floors. “Gold Digger” eventually became the #1 Hot Rap single and even broke the Top 20 of the Hot R&B charts (it stalled at #15). The video made the rounds to BET’s “Rap City,” “Yo! MTV Raps” and the syndicated Rap video show “Pump It Up!,” gradually building buzz until the album Business As Usual dropped on December 18th, 1990. Needless to say, it ended up a Christmas gift for a lot of heads that year.
Business As Usual received the full marketing treatment from the new label. Def Jam’s legendary in house art department The Drawing Board handled graphic design and famed comic book artist Bill Sienkiewicz painted the album’s cover art, as if to further give off the impression this project was an event. Business As Usual was also the first Def Jam release to bear the Rush Associated Labels (RAL) logo before CBS Records became Sony at the top of 1991. Cosmetic stuff notwithstanding, the important thing is the album itself. I’ll never forget popping the cassette into the tape deck, pressing PLAY and hearing “Let’s take it to the stage, sucker!” before the beat to “I’m Mad” dropped. I can remember my face melting throughout that track playing with DJ Scratch’s cuts as the icing on the cake.
Once “I’m Mad” faded out, the sinister “Hardcore” began playing. PMD and E Double traded dope verses but the third verse was our introduction to Redman who went on to deliver an epic 90-second rhyme that instantly put the entire Rap world on notice. The next track was the kinetic “Rampage” that opens with a hard PMD followed by a monster LL Cool J verse. Heads were only three songs into the new EPMD tape but they were already calling their friends asking them if they’d heard it yet then playing songs for them over the phone. Mind you, this was back when everyone didn’t have cordless phones.
“Rampage” became the album’s second single, peaking at #2 on the Hot Rap Singles chart and featuring an amazing remix by Pete Rock. The video got serious burn on “Rap City,” “Yo! MTV Raps,” “Pump It Up!” and “Video Music Box.” Part of the video’s popularity can be attributed to the fact it featured many attractive models and dancers, one of which being a young Jennifer Lopez. “Rampage” and its remix got considerable radio play and were also big on the college radio and mixtape circuit. The album proved so successful that it became the #1 LP on the Top R&B Albums chart for two straight weeks (March 23rd & March 30th, 1991) after it knocked off Whitney Houston’s I’m Your Baby Tonight. Business As Usual’s reign at the top would ultimately be dethroned by Ralph Tresvant’s self titled debut. On May 7th, 1991, the RIAA awarded EPMD a Gold plaque for sales exceeding 500,000 units. The Def Jam acquisition yielded big dividends for both the Def Jam brass as well as Erick, Parrish & DJ Scratch.
Of the 14 tracks on Business As Usual there is only one clear weak link, that being “Rap Is Outta Control” which is strategically placed between “Give The People” and “Brothers On My Jock” on Side B of the cassette so you can fast forward it and it wouldn’t negatively affect the overall listening experience. On their previous album Unfinished Business they made sure to place the tracks “It’s Time To Party” and “You Had Too Much To Drink” in places where they could be fast forwarded without taking you completely out of the zone as well.
Redman’s second guest verse on “Brothers On My Jock” had everyone anticipating hearing more from the hungry young emcee. Little did we know he’d drop his classic debut on Def Jam Whut? Thee Album almost two years later. The final track on Business As Usual, “Funky Piano” was the first beat ever produced by DJ Scratch to appear on an album. It was a portent of his own successful production career which would take off near the end of the decade. What was the final verdict on Business As Usual? It was universally considered one of the greatest Rap albums of the 90’s even before the second Golden Era was officially underway.
Beyond being a great album BAU had an impact on the culture that would outlast EPMD’s tenure at Def Jam. “Business As Usual” was one of the tapes Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose & Jimmy King had on repeat when they all played at the 1991 McDonald’s All American High School Classic. When Chris Webber and Jalen Rose both officially declared they’d attend Michigan, signed their letters of intent and become part of the Fab Five, Business As Usual was the top album on the R&B charts. Jalen Rose pays homage to Business As Usual to this very day by singing the hook of the final single “Give The People” to kick off episodes of his ESPN podcast “Jalen & Jacoby.”
When The Source magazine published their list of the “100 Greatest Rap albums of All Time” in 1998, Business As Usual was ranked at #37, with their previous releases Strictly Business and Unfinished Business ranked at #38 and #39 respectively. It was also considered one of the top 5 albums from 1990 in Ego Trip’s “Big Book Of Rap Lists.” Designer, marketer and producer Frank The Butcher named his apparel line Business As Usual partly due to him being inspired by this same album as a youth. In the 25 years that have passed since Business As Usual, it has held up incredibly well both sonically and lyrically. These are the attributes and hallmarks of timeless, classic music and a testament to why in 2015 I’m writing this piece about an influential piece of art that inspired so many the world over.