“Business Never Personal”-EPMD (1992, Def Jam) (click to DL CD Rip)
With three classics already under their respective belts (88′s “Strictly Business”, 89′s “Unfinished Business” and 90′s “Business As Usual “), EPMD broke their trend of releasing an album a year with the release of “Business Never Personal” in the summer of 1992. To make the release of this album even more intriguing it was rumored that this was to be EPMD’s final album recorded as a duo, which did serve to be quite accurate with Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith later re-uniting for the appropriately titled “Back In Business” (released in 1997). While EPMD’s sophomore album “Unfinished Business” served to be my first taste of the duo (*pause*) via their video for the CLASSIC “So Whatcha’ Sayin” (as I would cop their debut “Strictly Business” many years thereafter), I was honestly was a bit let down by “Business As Usual”. Even from the album featured “I’m Mad”, “Give The People”, “Funky Piano” and Redman’s best verse ever recorded to date for “Hardcore”, I was truly amped for EPMD to truly “blow-up” with “Business Never Personal” (even though in retrospect “Business As Usual” is a solid 9/10 if you ask me!). Am I confusing you with all this “Business” yet? Follow along with me for just a moment.
At the time of it’s arrival “Business Never Personal” was the perfect “parting gift” from EPMD to it’s die-hard fans (I see you Jaz!). Not only did Parrish and Erick proceed to unleash their best work to date, but the album was crafted in a near-”Illmatic” fashion, clocking in at only 11 tracks deep…with three tracks (“Boon Dox”, “Nobody’s Safe Chump” and “Chill”) less than 3 minutes in length, nonetheless! By the time the album’s finale, the continuation of the “Jane” series “Who Killed Jane?” came to it’s fitting end you weren’t actually left yearning for more (think Nas’ “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” at the closure of “Illmatic), but rather satisfied with the healthy serving of groggy funk you’d received. Man, these cats were actually goin’ out on top, much like Jordan when he crossed over Bryon Russell and hit the “J” to give the Bulls the ‘Chip over the Jazz..or Jay after his release of “The Blueprint”. However, much like their companions EPMD “couldn’t leave rap alone” and went on to tarnish their legacy a bit with the release of sub-par solo efforts. I actually found Erick and Parrish’s solo albums somewhat enjoyable, but at the end of the day they just couldn’t match the quality of work that the duo put out together.
With the debut single from “…Never Personal”, “Crossover” EPMD threw a bone to an ever-changing rap audience in an attempt for actual “crossover” appeal…quite blatantly. Frankly, even if the title stated so, “Crossover” despite it’s attractive Zapp sample was every bit as street as the rest of their music, which in turn negating any “sell-out” references from the underground. The remainder of the album is as dirty and murky as only EPMD could get but just as equally captivating. From the album’s intro-of-sorts, “Boon Dox” to the rowdy, Hit Squad featured anthem “Headbanger” to the change of pace “Scratch Bring It Back Pt.2″ (Mic Doc) (damn, Erick kills it with lyrics like: “Freakin’ the bassline/Shaking your rump/Squeezin’ my Reebok Pumps ta’ Kriss Kross/Then Jump!”), “Business Never Personal” was one of the most intense, yet minimalistic albums that you’ll ever hear. Simply stated, a CLASSIC, maybe one of my top 15 albums of all-time. To top it off, it wasn’t as if Erick and Parrish hadn’t announced the “split” that followed enough, they did so on the album’s final track where they killed off the ever-popular “Jane”. However, you will never “kill-off” the vibe, feel and chemistry that EPMD possessed on the album, no matter what anyone says..would never the same after this (sadly).
Does anyone else vividly recall Will Smith dancing his ass off to the sounds of Double XX Posse’s anthem, “Not Gonna’ Be Able To Do It” on a lost episode of “The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air”? Ahhh, remember those days when you could cop a fresh pair of J’s for around 100 bones? The true definition of “slept-on”, Double XX Posse dropped a beast of a debut LP with “Put Ya’ Boots On” in 1992. Some may also recall that the group first emerged on the Hip Hop scene as M.C. Sugar Ray & Stranger D with their 1989 single release, “Knock Em Out Sugar Ray” only to expand a few years later for the release of this album. Later dropping an “X” from their moniker as they released yet another criminally slept-on LP in 1995, “Ruff, Rugged & Raw” under the moniker of Double X.
Double XX’s debut spawned the release of two very successful singles. The first and most recognizable cut from the album, the aforementioned “Not Gonna Be Able To Do It” went on to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot Rap Singles in 1992, and also reached 68 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart in 1993 (thanks Wikipedia!!). The second single which you may also recall (shit, it seemed as both of these would find a spot on The Source’s “Fat Tape” for nearly six months straight!) and final single released from the album, the police-brutality addressed “Head Cracker”, reached #15 on the Hot Rap Singles chart as well. Not bad, at least for an album that goes largely unnoticed when talking about great albums from the early-nineties.
The production on the album is really nice, straight up East Coast hardcore, what you could expect from an album that was executive produced by the likes of Daddy Reef and Stretch Armstrong. Oh, and did I forget to mention that “Put Ya’ Boots On” also featured knockin’ beats from T-Ray (Artifacts amongst others) and the LG Experience (Ill Al Skratch)? Aside from the obvious highlight (“Not Gonna…”), other tracks that equally hit as hard the fittingly titled “School Of Hard Knocks” (which, also sounds like something that was left off the “Hard Knocks” album strangely enough) and”We Got It Goin’ On” (produced by BK) which was a very funky, danceable joint.
Even though the production on the album has aged a bit (as expected), it’s good to know that Double XX stepped things up a with both the beats and the rhymes on their 1995 sophomore release. Damn, I almost forgot to mention the lyrics that appear on “Put Ya Boots On”. Well, my man Sugar Ray is the man with the plan on this album, a dude that has a very unique delivery and a gruff almost strained voice that sounded so damn fresh on wax! If I had coin to cop this album or “Ruff, Rugged & Raw”, I’d have to go with the later. However, it’s not to say that this album wasn’t up to snuff with the majority of sh*t that was poppin’ off in 1992, it just needed some tightening up..which they did admirably on their sophomore LP.
Ehhh, the trio of DJ Swinn and emcess Dread One & Kev aka the Rough House Survivors are maybe not so much “unheard”, due to the fact that the remix for the crew’s debut single “Rough House” (which I actually found the cardboard black and white casing for the cassette single while digging in my attic last weekend) was remixed by none other than the Soul Brother #1, Pete Rock, whom at the time was “saving groups” with his stellar production. Not to say that Rough House actually needed any “saving”, but seeing the name “Pete Rock” on the production credits did enable me to cop the single, thus leading to the purchase of “Straight From The Soul”, even though I believe the single didn’t actually drop until a year after the album’s release in the winter of ’93.
You can actually find “Straight From The Soul” for a fairly decent price nowadays at your local Hastings or used CD outlet as I’ve seen this album on numerous occasions priced under $3.00…don’t think for one second that I hesitated picking this overlooked gem up when I first spotted it! With the exception of one track (the album’s finale “Stick Da Butt Out” was produced by none other than Grand Puba), the majority of the production was handled by one of the most important, if not the most…slept-on producers of the Golden Era, Tony Dofat. Tony’s thick basslines and signature horn loops serve as the highlight of the album, but in general, the album is very cohesive and plays out quite nicely considering that it’s been nearly 17 (!) years since it’s release….damn, I’m gettin’ old!!
Nowadays, after listening to the album “Straight From The Soul”, it truly captures the overall “feel” of the 92′-94′ era. The aforementioned emcees possess a nice chemistry, flipping rhymes off one another a la A Tribe Called Quest or Leaders of the New School in a very energetic fashion. Hell, even Pete’s partner in crime, CL Smooth makes an appearance on “Can U Dig It”, while Brand Nubian’s Sadat X joins the party on “We Come To Get Wreck”, which was also one of the album’s strongest tracks. The album clocks in at only ten tracks deep and unfortunately DOES NOT include the Pete Rock remix for “Rough House”. While the album does have it’s pitfalls (at times the subject matter tends to lie on the generic side), it doesn’t grant much time for filler material.
“Straight From the Soul” was an excellent hip hop album crafted in the heart of Hip Hop (N.Y.C.) during the music’s heyday. Cats have been sleeping on this album for years, do yourself a favor and don’t hesitate to “let the cat outta’ the bag”!