[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at 1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Tuesday, June 29.]
NEW YORK With its black, wood floor, low ceiling and minimal
stage lighting, the Manhattan club Tramps looks as though it could be
the set of a cable-access show. It felt like one, too, Monday as
old-school hip-hop fixtures EPMD played host to what would have worked
as a low-budget documentary on rap's good ol' days.
They got help from the Wu-Tang Clan's Method Man and Newark, N.J., rapper Redman
in a set that blended old with new. EPMD reprised some of their old-school
classics, but also introduced four songs from their upcoming sixth album, Out of
Group members Erick Sermon, 30, and Parrish Smith, 31, wore all-black
outfits and came equipped with a full array of "check 1, 2" and "say,
'hell yeah!' " chants for their 40-minute set. The duo known for
their tag-team rhyming, battling lyrics and bass-heavy grooves
traded rhymes as if they were baseball cards, casually interchanging
verses on such crowd favorites as 1987's "You're a Customer" and 1989's
"So Wat Cha Sayin' " (RealAudio excerpt).
Their DJ, Scratch not to be confused with the occasional member
of the Roots scratched a record with his elbow and his butt.
Sermon hushed the crowd and
freestyled a cappella about his "lyrical fitness," calling other MCs
"irrelevant" and himself an "elephant."
"They're the best combination in hip-hop, period," said a 22-year-old
fan from Queens who identified himself only as J-Zone. "They have the
best chemistry. They just fit perfectly together."
Sermon and Smith invited Method Man (born Clifford Smith) and Redman
Noble) onstage for a rendition of EPMD's new single, "Symphony 2000" (RealAudio excerpt), and a
thunderous version of "Headbanger," during which Redman got the crowd to follow
lead and jump around. They were joined by Lady Luck, a rapper who won a
radio-sponsored talent show in New York last year and now has a recording deal
EPMD were preceded by Funkmaster Flex, a New York DJ who, as if writing the
a hip-hop encyclopedia, spun and scratched to songs by L.L. Cool J,
the Beastie Boys,
Run-D.M.C., Chubb Rock, Heavy D, Gang Starr, Leaders of the New School, Cypress
Hill, Slick Rick and dozens of others over a two-hour span.
Slick Rick introduced EPMD. "This is the pioneers of hip-hop up in here, you
I'm saying," the 34-year-old rapper (born Rick Walters) said in a low-key voice
packed house of hundreds erupted.
Though that build-up fostered a 1980s party flavor, the show was to
promote Out of Business, scheduled for release July 20. A
limited-edition version of the album will include a second disc of hits
and best-of album cuts.
EPMD, who first worked together in 1987 but took a five-year break after 1992's
Business as Usual, told the audience they plan to continue making albums
Sermon said the album title doesn't mean EPMD are breaking up, as has been
"The name does not mean the group is out of business," he told the crowd. "It
means the name is out of business."
The titles of the group's albums, starting with EPMD's 1988 debut,
Strictly Business, have all included the word "business":
Unfinished Business, Business As Usual, Business Never Personal
and Back in Business. But Beverly Paige, EPMD's publicist, has
said the group is retiring that practice after this album.
Parrish and Smith formed EPMD which stands for "Erick and Parrish Making
Dollars" in 1987. In recent years they've had as much success
outside the group as within: Sermon has become known for his production
work for Redman and Keith Murray, while Smith runs Hit Squad, an imprint
home to Das EFX and other groups.
The business of the group's future seemed unimportant to the crowd. The fans
came for a show, and their energy never let up.
Stephanie Marshall, 25, of Brooklyn, who was seeing the group for the fourth
time, said she was disappointed the performance was short. But, she said,
"I'll come see them anywhere in the world. They're my favorite group."