NEW YORK — EPMD haven't put out an LP or a single as a group in almost 10 years, but you would have thought they were in their prime judging by the crowd waiting to get into their concert Saturday. The group was performing the first of what it promises will be many comeback shows in the U.S. (A 10-date European tour is scheduled in the next few weeks as well.)
The line to get into the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill spanned nearly an entire city block. The duo of Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith and their DJ, Scratch, were back in town, and their fans, who catapulted them to the top of the rap heap in the late '80s and early '90s, waited patiently for an hour just to get through the door.
"I didn't have the luxury of seeing them the first time they were out because I was only 11 years old," said superproducer Just Blaze, who had just made his way inside the club. "This is like getting to relive my childhood a little bit. When I got here and saw that turnout, I was happy to see that many people come out for a group that's been out for so long. That's a testament to the fact that they are one of the greatest groups in hip-hop history."
"To sell out someplace and get massive love 19 years in the game, it feels dope," Sermon said the day before the show. "It's bigger than us," Smith added. "God is great. We had a spiritual bond before music."
From 1987 to 1992, EPMD were a model of consistency and creativity with their distinctive, self-produced underground funk. Many songs from their catalog were flipped and sampled years later by their peers: Jay-Z sampled "It's My Thang" for "Ain't No N---a," DMX rapped over a beat similar to that of "Get the Bozack" for "Get at Me Dog" and even Mario Winans took parts of "You're a Customer" for his "I Don't Wanna Know." Many people also followed in Sermon's footsteps by using samples of Parliament, Funkadelic and Roger Troutman.
"We set the standard of what not to do, with being fake," Sermon said of another mark they made. "I remember when Vanilla Ice and Hammer was out, [some people] was trying to make it seem like that was the new hip-hop. We dropped 'Crossover' and put it back in line. We even had 'Gold Digger.' People was like, 'What's a gold digger?' 'A chick that's getting your money — watch out for her.' "
"We never were caught up in the hype," Smith said, explaining the group's popularity. "We always had a commitment to hip-hop. Keep your album tight, your image tight, never front on the fans."
Their 1992 breakup was one of the most disappointing in hip-hop history (the group temporarily re-formed in the late '90s). They had the game on lock at the time of their demise. Not only had they just put out their third and best album, Business Never Personal, but Sermon and Smith had set the business template for rap crews by breaking new artists, their protégés K-Solo, Redman and Das EFX (the Hit Squad), all of whom had recording contracts at different companies.
On Saturday, not only were EPMD coming back together, they brought the Hit Squad with them, with the exception of K-Solo.
"It feels great because I haven't had my family around me in, like, 10 years," Redman said, standing outside of EPMD's dressing room. "It's an EPMD show, and it brought everyone. We gonna get a good laugh and a good show out of everything. I'm already buzzed."
"The sh-- is mad energy," said Keith Murray, an integral cog in Sermon's Def Squad crew, formed by Sermon, Murray and Redman after EPMD disbanded. "I get to open the show and tear everyone's asses up. We got everyone here from the golden era."
Not quite everyone, but almost. Backstage, among the swell of people, were members of the Ultramagnetic MCs, freestyle specialist Craig G, Lords of the Underground and Special Ed.
Murray started off the night by shouting, stagediving, freestyling — about slapping Prodigy from Mobb Deep and leaving Def Jam — and bringing back some of the classics from his catalog. The most energetic and well-received was his closer, "The Most Beautifullest Thing in the World."
EPMD came onstage looking as they had for much of their run, wearing fisherman hats, hoodies and boots. They started the show at the very beginning of their career, with hits from 1988's Strictly Business LP such as "You Gots to Chill" and "It's My Thang."
"I feel kinda amped 'cause I'm in NYC," Sermon said from the stage. "N---as is saying NYC is dead. But f--- all that, this is hip-hop music. New York City is the originator of hip-hop music. When I say n---as is coming back, we coming the f--- back. I'm not doing no popcorn-rap sh--. I ain't gonna be shake dancing and snappin' fingers. None of that."
"You gotta be yourself," Smith agreed.
After performing most of their catalog, the two MCs let their old friends rock. Das EFX came out for "They Want EFX," and Redman followed with "Tonight's Da Night" and "Time 4 Sum Aksion." Soon after, the crowd started screaming for the signature Hit Squad song "Headbanger." Finally, the Squad answered the fans' chants and performed the record.
As EPMD exited the stage, Red and Murray closed out the show. "You could feel the energy escalating," Smith said. "You had the old school, the young kids. It was great. This was a whole big reunion."
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.