Man, sometimes I feel sorry for PMD. A well respected member of one of rap’s most respected duos, EPMD, Parrish Smith never fully recovered from the “spit” with partner Erick Sermon. While the E Double, after a shaky start, succeeded in his second career, the microphone doctor has taken his share of lumps as a solo artist. Who can forget his failed label venture, PMD Records, and his less than impressive solo debut “Shade Business”? After those “mishaps”, many would have felt compelled to disappear from the rap scene for good, but not PMD. A pure testament to his resiliency was the release of “Business Is Business” in the winter of 1996 (Relativity Records). A successful attempt that revisited the heights of his illustrious past. The success of the album’s first single “Rugged-N-Raw”, released on P’s own Boondox imprint, helped to rejuvenate talk of a PMD comeback and landed him a record deal with Relativity. Featuring production from 8-Off The Assasin, “Rugged…” was a gripping battle cry that me made me feel that maybe Mr. Smith had one more good fight in him. With assistance from proteges Das Efx and a collaboration with certified Brownsille “ruckus bringaz” M.O.P. (“It’s The Ones”) , “Business Is Business” captured glimpses of the hardcore sound that became EPMD’s signature. Pee’s clever usage of sampled chorus hooks from Biggie (“It’s The Ones”), Jay-Z (“Kool Kat”) and Onyx’s Sticky Fingaz (“I’m A B-Boy”) meshed nicely with the songs’ musical landscapes as transparent attempts to be contemporary with what was hot in Hip Hop proved to be quite successful. Lastly, as much as PMD tried to convince us that he didn’t need his partner to thrive on his own, it’s evident that when the two took a healthy serving of Krs-One’s advice and “squashed all beef” the finalized product was twice the dish.
When it comes to innovative rhyme styles, Busta was ahead of his time, and because of his lack of activity following the “break up” of Leaders Of The New School, he paid the penalty; other emcees xeroxed his flow and called it their own. Maybe Busta wasn’t the first emcee to growl or rap in a “grimey” voice, but it damn sure became his trademark. How ironic it must have been that cats who were accused of biting Busta eventually became associated with him. Hell, if you take a close look at the video for “Woo-Hah! Got You All In Check” you’ll see his once rumored nemesis Onyx jumping along to the odd rhythms of the 1996 winter smash. Thankfully, “Woo-Hah” wasn’t the only dope moment on Busta’s then long-awaited debut “The Coming”. There were many minutes of pure pandemonium and bone jarring beats. “Everything Remains Raw” (the B-side to “Woo Hah”) features Busta’s finest lyrical performance over Easy Mo Bee’s futuristic funk. “Ill Vibe” was a contagious collabo with the “on point” Q-Tip, and on the “back to the old school” “Abandon Ship”, Busta and his ever present sidekick and cousin Rampage pass the mic like a hot potato. Even when a dash of sultry vocals were thrown into the mix, the results were exhilarating. On “It’s A Party” Zhane’s honey flavored harmonizing gives you that “roller skating jam” feeling. However, “The Coming” did have it’s share of pitfalls. “Flipmode Squad meets Def Squad” was as choreographed as a wrestling match, and the L.O.N.S. reunion on “Keep It Moving” never really lived up to it’s billing. Overall though, it’s hard to find fault on this album but it did lack that one crushing blow (let’s be honest “Woo-Hah” isn’t exactly classic material either!) that would allow it to creep into my list of favorite albums.
With imaginative names like Phantasm and Ug, you would have thought that the Brooklyn duo’s main musical attribute would be originality, right? However, like a shooting guard with no jumper, that was one skill that the Cellas Dwellas didn’t always possess. The Six Foot Ten (!) tall man, Phantasm, sounded like a mixture of Tek, Special Ed and….maybe, just a hint of Masta Ace. On the other hand, partner Ug came straight outta’ Busta Rhymes University armed with a gravely voice and off the wall rhyme tendencies. Never really coming off as wack, the Dwellas instead remained like the same dude who’s been driving a Fed Ex truck for 30 years, who is comfortable yet would never want to step up into management. In the meantime, he still gets the job done if not with sparkling results….get it? With beats provided by Megahurtz, Nick Wiz and the Bluez Brothas, the fault lies not in the production but in the emcees themselves. Most songs on “Realms…” are given a jazzy feel that they (Ug & Phantasm) comfortably fit into but never overwhelm the listener. “Reality’s” best moments, like “Medina Style”, the trademark mid-nineties “hustlin’ to rappin” autobiography, and the twinkling, piano laced “Wussdaplan”, both were mainstays on East Coast mixtapes. Oddly enough, my favorite cut from the album also happened to be the softest track. “Perfect Match” may have turned many a hard-rocks’ noses up, but honestly, I loved the sultry R & B hook coupled with the hardcore vocals from Ug & Phantasm. While the album may have been bland at times, the musical production was way too dope for “Realms” to go completely unnoticed.