It was 1987 when Brentwood duo Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith made their debut on wax. Credited as EPEE MD, the group released their first 12”, “It’s My Thing / You’re A Customer,” on Sleeping Bag Records. By the time they released their second single, 1988’s “You Gots To Chill,” the group had rebranded themselves EPMD, a shorter abbreviation of ‘Erick & Parrish Making Dollars.’ The name proved to be prophetic.
Between Sermon’s funk-heavy production and Parrish’s slow, smooth delivery, EPMD found a winning formula. Their debut album, 1988’s Strictly Business, was released in May, and spent three weeks at #1 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums Chart. Of all the classic singles the album put forward, none are as lauded as the title track, “Strictly Business.” In November, six months after the release, the record achieved RIAA Gold Certification. It was the start of trend for the group: their next four records were all certified Gold less then six months from their release.
In 1998, The Source counted Strictly Business as one of the 100 greatest hip hop albums of all time, as well as including two of the records singles - “It’s My Thing / You’re A Customer” and “You Gots To Chill” - amongst the 100 greatest singles. Rolling Stone placed the album at #459 on their 2009 Greatest Albums Of All Time, whilst Ego Trip called it the 4th best record of 1980-1998, a blockbuster period for both hip hop and music as a whole.
In celebration of the record’s thirtieth anniversary this year, we’re breaking down the samples that underpinned the group’s blockbuster debut!
A true hip hop classic, "Strictly Business" remains EPMD's most enduring release. Though far from their most successful single, their debut offering has been cited as one of hip hop's most essential joints, and a true relic of the golden age. The Eric Clapton record was supplied by Parrish, or PMD, as was the accompanying cutting. "Strictly Business" has been sampled almost 50 times, with elements appearing on tracks by Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, Gang Starr, DJ Jazzy Jeff and Finesse & Showbiz.
The spacey ambience that kickstarts the record could easily be an original sound, but it's actually sampled from Newcleus' "Auto Man (Dub Version)."
The 1984 electro-hip-hop track was included on the b-side of their fifth single, "Auto Man / Where's The Beat," and the a-side original appeared on their debut LP, Jam On Revenge. The group released just two studio albums, ultimately dissolving in 1989.
The guitars that follow the opening ambience are taken from the same source as the vocals that enter at 0:07 - Eric Clapton's 1974 rendition of "I Shot The Sheriff."
Though Clapton's single went to #1 on the Billboard 100, his version was a cover of The Wailers' 1973 original, itself a reggae classic. Despite its fame, the track has been sampled just 16 times.
The drums placed atop Clapton's guitar work is taken from Kool & The Gang's "Jungle Boogie," a classic 1974 hit single.
The track appears twice more on the record, with different elements appearing on both "You Gots To Chill" and You're A Customer." The only other Kool & The Gang track sampled on an original EPMD mix is "Funky Man," which appears on 1990's "Underground."
The phrase scratched into the track at 0:12 - "don't get too cold, because you might get shot" - is lifted from EPMD's own Strictly Business joint, "It's My Thing."
The group also sample the track - their debut single - on "I'm Housin" and "DJ K La Boss." Clearly fans of the self-sample, the duo revisit the track on later records, with elements appearing on cuts such as "Da Joint" and "Never Seen Before."
Dick Darstedly and his loyal offsider, Muttley, were the antagonists on Hanna-Barbera's Wacky Races, though they were given their own program, Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines, in '69. The show always featured a rhyme: "wake up there, Muttley, you’re dreaming again!" Parrish Smith flips this at 1:12.
Muttley was also namechecked in Madvillain's "Accordion," the opening to their sole 2004 LP.
Parrish peppers his next verse with yet another antiquated pop culture reference, this time pulling from the annals of Star Trek: The Original Series. He makes the clear interpolation at 2:15.
The phrase "beam me up, Scotty" has become a common reference since the series debuted, though the quote itself is not verbatim. The phrase "Scotty, beam us up" was said in The Gamesters of Triskelion (Season 2, Episode 16).
To “house” is to be dominant, and the slang term was clearly on trend in 1988. It appeared on another ‘88 release, Ultramagnetic MC's "Kool Keith Housin' Things," and, though different in meaning, the word appeared again on Jungle Brothers’ hip-house crossover, "I'll House You."
The funk instrumental that underpins "I'm Housin" is taken from the opening to one of Aretha Franklin's biggest hits, 1971's "Rock Steady."
The track features Bernard Purdie on drums, Donny Hathaway on electric piano and Cornell Dupree on guitar. It was produced by Jerry Wexler, the veteran music industry figure who coined the term "rhythm and blues."
The recurring vocal sample throughout the opening - "EPMD, it's a world premiere" - is sampled from another track on this very album. "It's My Thing" was released in 1987 as the first single from the record, though it failed to chart in the US.
"Let the Funk Flow"
The EPMD duo attack a peppy, horn-laden beat, graced with a small display of DJ K La Boss’ turntablism.
The eight-second opening vignette is lifted from the intro to Otis Redding's "Nobody Knows You (When You're Down and Out)."
Redding's version of the Jimmy Cox-penned 1923 blues standard was included on his fourth LP, 1966's The Soul Album. It followed versions by Sam Cooke in 1964 and Nina Simone in 1965. Redding's later work is also sampled on fellow EPMD album track "The Steve Martin."
The explosive sample that takes the reins from Reding at 0:08 is courtesy of The J.B.'s. Assembled as James Brown's backing band, The J.B.'s also released Brown-produced band records, creating six LPs throughout the '70s.
"(It's Not The Express) It's The J.B.'s Monaurail" was included on 1975's Hustle With Speed and, as is often the case with Brown-affiliated projects, has been liberally sampled by acts including Nas, 2 Live Crew and Sweet Tee.
The title-appropriate refrain that's scratched into the track from 0:20, "let it flow," is lifted from the opening of Beastie Boys' "Slow And Low."
The 1986 Licensed To Kill cut features a rare writing credit for Def Jam executive and industry mogul Russell Simmons. Though their explosive debut placed the trio at the forefront of hip hop, it wasn't until 1989's Paul's Boutique that they achieved widespread critical acclaim.
"You Gots to Chill"
K La Boss provides the scratching on "You Gots To Chill" - though not a group member, he's given a starring role on later track "DJ K La Boss." In Brian Coleman's Check The Technique, both Sermon and PMD fondly recall the "heavy" echo on the track, a staple of early hip hop by way of block parties.
The titular phrase, "you gots to chill," is sampled from the album's title track, "Strictly Business." That song acted as the group's third single, whilst "You Gots To Chill" was issued as their second.
This track was the more successful of the two singles, peaking at #22 on Billboards' Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. "Strictly Business," though it only peaked at #25, has since been cited as one of the greatest hip hop tracks ever, though Roots drummer Questlove prefers this jam.
The vocoder-esque vocals that slide about the intro are courtesy of funk legends Zapp. Though Dr. Dre's G-funk movement traces its origins to Ohio Players' "Funky Worm," it's easy to see how Zapp's sound helped shape the explosive niche.
"More Bounce To The Ounce" was released in 1980. Though EPMD were far from the first to sample the track, they preceded the '90s boom, which arguably peaked with its inclusion on The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Going Back To Cali."
It takes a little bit of close listening, but there's a vocal sample that appears at both 0:04 and 0:15. The sample, which is inserted amongst the heavy scratching, says "soul," and is taken from Eric B. & Rakim's 1987 classic, "I Know You Got Soul."
That song prominently samples Bobby Byrd's track of the same name, a 1971 James Brown-produced soul hit.
It shouldn't be hard to ID the "jungle boogie" refrain - it's taken from one of Kool & The Gang's biggest hits, 1974's "Jungle Boogie."
The track, included on Wild and Beautiful, is an integral element of EPMD's debut: it appears on three tracks - "You're A Customer," "You Gots To Chill" and "Strictly Business" - and also features on later EMPD releases such as '92's "Can't Hear Nothing But The Music" and '97's "Richter Scale" and "You Gots 2 Chill '97."
The scratching introduced around 3:33 makes use of the horn hits from John Davis & The Monster Orchestra’s “I Can’t Stop.”
The track, included on the disco groups debut record, 1976’s Night & Day, has since become a staple of sampling culture, appearing on more than 80 tracks. You might recognise the breakbeat from its appearances in cuts by Run-DMC, Eric B. & Rakim and Kurtis Blow.
The recurring horn lick that plays out the track from 3:54 is taken from Juice’s “Catch A Groove,” a track usually sampled for its breakbeat.
Though Juice themselves are largely mysterious, “Catch A Groove” has appeared on almost 200 different songs, including tracks by Big Daddy Kane, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Ultramagnetic MC’s, Stetsasonic and Boogie Down Productions.
"It's My Thing"
Originally recorded as verses without a fully-formed hook, "It's My Thing" was workshopped by radio DJ team Awesome 2, who changed up the beat and made the track a surefire radio favourite. Despite their help in developing the track, Kool DJ Red Alert broke the record on 98.7 Kiss-FM.
The helicopter sounds that open "It's My Thing" could be sourced from just about anywhere, but they're actually taken from a British rock classic. Though not as popular as Pt. II, "Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 1" was included on Pink Floyd's political double album, The Wall.
The rarely sampled classic has appeared on just ten tracks, most notably appearing on Charizma's "Here's A Smirk," produced by Peanut Butter Wolf.
The bass that enters at 0:14 is lifted from The Whole Darn Family's "Seven Minutes of Funk." The shortlived funk group released just one LP, Has Arrived, in 1976. "Seven Minutes Of Funk," which is precisely seven minutes long, was issued as their second single that same year.
The vocal sample at 0:21 - "you got that?" - is courtesy of hard rock group Mountain. Founding member Leslie West wrote "Long Red" track for his 1969 solo debut, though the most famous version of the track was included on 1972's Mountain Live: The Road Goes Ever On.
The track takes its titular refrain from the Marva Whitney song of the same name. Whitney's "It's My Thing" was a response record to The Isley Brothers' 1969 hit, "It's Your Thing," and was produced by her longtime associate James Brown.
The grunts that enter at 2:14 are taken from Syl Johnson's "Different Strokes."
The 1967 single has been sampled more than 300 times, with elements appearing on tracks by Wu-Tang, Public Enemy and BDP. Johnson's grunts also famously appeared on Jay Z & Kanye West's "The Joy," included on their 2012 collaborative LP, Watch The Throne, and his daughter, Syleena, featured on West's 2004 single, "All Falls Down."
"You're a Customer"
Featuring a more noticeable rock bent than most of the other tracks on the album, "You're A Customer" was amongst the first tracks recorded by EPMD. Initially released as the b-side to "It's My Thing," Sermon recalls the track taking off "even bigger."
The drums and bass that open "You're A Customer" are interpolated from ZZ Top's 1979 track, "Cheap Sunglasses." The track was the first single from the group's sixth album, Degüello, and remains one of their most popular songs.
ZZ Top haven't become a sampling favourite, perhaps due to their listenership. "Cheap Sunglasses" has been sampled just three times.
Another clear sample comes as Erick Sermon starts the first verse, interpolating elements of a popular nursery rhyme. "This Old Man" is of uncertain origins, though the earliest recorded instance of the rhyme dates it back to the 1870s. The tune is perhaps most remembered today for its use in the Barney and Friends theme song.
The traditional tune reappeared on EPMD's 1989 cut, the aptly-named "Knick Knack Paddy Whack."
The horn hits that punctuate Sermon's nursery rhyme bar at 0:12 are lifted from one of Kool & The Gang's most famous hits. "Jungle Boogie" was released as the second single from the group's fourth studio album, 1974's Wild and Beautiful.
The song was sampled on three Strictly Business tracks - "You're A Customer," "You Gots To Chill" and "Strictly Business" - as well as on joints by Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, J Dilla and future funk predecessor Mariya Takeuchi.
"The Steve Martin"
The titular Steve Martin is not the man himself, but a dance named for the wry comedian. The dance can be seen in the background of the "You Gots To Chill" video - in fact, "The Steve Martin" was written for Stezo, the dancer in the video, and was amongst the last tracks to be laid for the LP.
The hefty bassline is interpolated from Could One's 1979 disco single, "Patty Duke." Though the disco band cut two albums during the '70s, it was their singles that brought them the most acclaim.
This track, released in the infancy of recorded hip hop, was sampled on three seperate '79 rap singles, including Spoonie Gee's "Spoonin' Rap."
All three of these early hip hop offerings were released on Sounds of New York.
The vocal sample that punctuates the introduction - "get bust, y'all!" - is lifted from Joe Ski Love's 1986 hip hop hit, "Pee-Wee's Dance." The standalone single peaked at #16 on the Hot Hip-Hop/R&B chart.
The prominent horn refrain throughout the track is taken from Otis Redding's "Let Me Come On Home."
The Dock Of The Bay, Redding's seventh album, was released two months after Redding's sudden death in a plane crash. It featured his #1 single and signature song, "(Sittin' On) The Dock of The Bay," also released after his death. The trumpet on the track was played by musician Wayne Jackson.
"Get off the Bandwagon"
There's no samples on this one: PMD "played that music on keyboard," despite admitting that he's never been able to play a keyboard.
"D.J. K La Boss"
The titular DJ lived in Brentwood, attending high school with Sermon, and was given the opportunity to cut on the record. Cut he does, incorporating 12 different samples across the scratch-heavy four-and-a-half minutes.
The phrase that kickstarts the instrumental at 0:17 - "bust this" - is taken from U.T.F.O's "Roxanne, Roxanne," a 1984 b-side turned hit.
Lolita Gooden was walking by Queensbridge when she heard three men talking about U.T.F.O's sudden exit from one of their upcoming shows. She suggested that she adopt the name Roxanne Shanté and record a vengeful track. The men - Marley Marl, Mr. Magic and Tyrone Williams - agreed, and The Bridge Wars begun.
The drums that follow the U.T.F.O vocal sample are the work of Fancy, an English pop band comprised of session musicians. "Feel Good" was the final track on their debut LP, Wild Thing, which contained the group's biggest hit, a cover of The Troggs' 1966 hit, "Wild Thing."
The first phrase that D.J. K La Boss scratches into the mix is "rock like me," a fragment of a bar by influential Philadephia emcee, Steady B. "Bring The Beat Back" was the title track from his debut LP.
B, alongside Schoolly D and The Fresh Prince, was one of Philly's first notable emcees, though a botched 1996 bank robbery led to a second-degree murder conviction. B is now serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
The synth-heavy instrumental that enters at 0:35 is courtesy of '80s R&B act Kashif. "The Mood" was included on his 1983 self-titled debut, prior to which the multi-instrumentalist had cut his teeth as a member of Stephanie Mills' keyboardist.
Despite his relative obscurity as a solo artist, Kashif is known for his contributions to Whitney Houston's 1985 debut, writing and producing hit singles "You Give Good Love" and "Thinking About You."
There's a sample of EPMD's own single, "It's My Thing," at 0:37. D.J. K. La Boss carefully inserts Sermon saying "smooth" into the mix, lifting it from the final fragment of his fifth verse.
"It's My Thing," which features five samples in its own right, also appears on both "Strictly Business" and "I'm Housin." It was first sampled on another '87 cut, Bomb Da Bass' "Beat Dis," and most recently appeared on Eminem's "Chloraseptic."
The scratched "check out this" at 0:51 is lifted from "(Nothing Serious) Just Buggin'," a cut by mid-'80s outfit Whistle.
Whistle were an American R&B/hip hop band hailing from Brooklyn. "(Nothing Serious) Just Buggin'," their 1985 debut single, proved to be one of their biggest hits, and was included on their subsequent self-titled LP. The track was produced by noted '80s producer Howie Tee.
The scratching from 0:53 onward relies on a tried and true staple of turntablism: Beside's "Change The Beat (Female Version)." That track has become an oft-utilised scratching record, almost entirely due to the malleable sounds of Fab Five Freddy's vocoder-doused vocals at the close.
"Change The Beat (Female Version)" was released in 1982, though it's since appeared on some 2,200 tracks - that's an average of 62 tracks a year.
The scratched vocals from 0:53 - "so come on beat--" - is the work of mid-'80s hip hop stars The Fat Boys. It's taken from "Human Beat Box," a track from their 1984 debut LP.
The group were noted for helping popularise beatboxing, an effort spearheaded by both Doug E. Fresh and Fat Boys member Darren "The Human Beatbox" Robinson. The group were amongst the first hip hop acts to land lucrative commercial gigs, though they splintered in 1991, and Robinson himself died of a heart attack in '95.
The scratched synth fragments that enter at 1:48 are taken from 7th Wonder's 1979 cut, "Daisy Lady." The track was included on the second LP by the eight-piece funk outfit, 1979's Climbing Higher.
The track was an early hip hop staple, and most notably featured on Sugarhill Gang's 1981 single, "8th Wonder." It's since been sampled more than 50 times, appearing on significant releases such as T La Rock's "It's Yours," Queen Latifah's "Ladies First" and LL Cool J's "I'm Bad."
The recurring laughter that D.J. K La Boss introduces at 1:50 is clearly lifted from Michael Jackson's 1984 triumph, "Thriller."
The cinematic music video featured a full-fledged horror narrative, bolstered by a vocal appearance from Hammer Horror legend Vincent Price, whose maniacal laughter also appears on the non-music video edit. "Thriller" has been sampled by acts such as Public Enemy, ATCQ and Madvillain.
The droning effects and female vocals that enter at 3:13 are sampled from L.T.D's aptly-titled 1981 track, "Cuttin' It Up."
L.T.D., or Love, Togetherness and Devotion, were an American soul outfit that released 10 studio LPs between '74 and '83. The group underwent many lineup changes, and by the time they released Love Magic - on which "Cuttin' It Up" was featured - their popularity was waning.
The final sample on the densest track is taken from a 1984 hip hop cut, The Cold Crush Brothers’ "Fresh, Wild, Fly and Bold." The outfit, led by Grandmaster Caz, was one of the old school’s most prominent groups, most famously appearing in the first hip hop film, 1982’s Wild Style.
Grandmaster Caz himself occupies a strange place in hip hop history: he provided Big Hank of The Sugarhill Gang with rhymes for “Rapper’s Delight.”
Allegedly based on a story that Sermon told Parrish the very first time they met, "Jane" is the beginning of an EPMD tradition. There's a "Jane" track on every subsequent EPMD record: '89's "Jane II," '90's "Jane 3," '92's "Who Killed Jane," '97's "Jane 5," '99's "Jane 6" and 2008's "Jane." The original track is a diss towards a girl who wronged Sermon "back in 1986."
The drum and piano that loop that enter at 0:06 are taken from Joe Tex's 1966 soul tune, "Papa Was Too."
Released as a 7" single, the track was ultimately included on Tex's fifth LP, I've Got To Do A Little Bit Better. This was hardly the case - Tex's debut was released in '64, and he'd go on to release 10 full-length records by the end of the decade.
The more recognisable sample enters at 0:11, the guitar and synthesizer licks courtesy of funk stalwart and party legend Rick James. They're taken from "Mary Jane," the first single from Rick James and the Stone City Band's 1978 debut.
Strictly Business was just the start of EPMD's entrepreneurial career.
The duo's sophomore album, Unfinished Business, was released in 1989. That record was followed by 1990's Business As Usual, the first the group issued on Def Jam Records. Whilst not a critical bomb, the record failed to replicate the acclaim of their earlier efforts. 1992's Business Never Personal was not only a return to form, but a commercial apex for the outfit: singles "Crossover" and "Head Banger"
The group briefly fractured in 1993, after Parish accused Sermon of involvement in a burglary of his home. Though whether or not he was involved remains a mystery, the group split into two solo acts: Sermon released No Pressure and Double Or Nothing before their reunion, whilst PMD released Shade Business and Business Is Business. Their fifth record as a duo, the suitably titled Back in Business, was released in 1997. This was followed by 1999's Out Of Business, which was in turn succeeded by 2008's return, We Mean Business.
Though oft-maligned in favour of their more prominent contemporaries, such as Public Enemy, Eric B. & Rakim and N.W.A, EPMD remain one of the most successful hip hop acts of their era. In continuing to produce work well into the 2000s, they stand as one of the most enduring ‘80s hip hop acts, outlasting many of their peers. Listening to Strictly Business, a showcase of both novel rhymes and the group’s distinctive sample palette, it ain’t hard to tell why.