Review Summary: Further refining the Makin’ Dolla’s business system initially developed in 1988, EPMD embrace the 21st century.
Straddling the fine line between accessible radio-rap and hardcore rap has been an obsession of hip hop since the late 1980s. While the gangsta focus of many groups in The Golden Age was extremely effective in catapulting the genre out of its mainstream-party doldrums (see NWA as a prime example), few artists were able to effectively bridge the gap between these movements. Compared to the modern visionaries of this amalgam, groups like EPMD (Erick and Parrish Making Dollars) are nearly lost in the sands of this transitional period. Indeed, they did their part in paving the golden road to mainstream acceptance of traditionally street-bred rap, influencing an entire generation of hip hop.
Twenty years, a break-up, and a reunion later, EPMD’s seventh official recording does little to progress the raw boom-bap of their early years. However, We Mean Business
does have its moments, while making abundantly clear the roots of the east-coast scene should still be respected. DJ Scratch is a definite missing component here, yet a majority of the beats are surprisingly dope regardless. Their signature blend of funk and boom bap is here in full force, with an aggressively modern introduction to the EPMD of the 21st century in “Puttin’ Work In”. It’s immediately apparent that the chemistry is still there, with a fairly even swap of verses and collaboration on choruses, continuing throughout the course of the record. Raekwon makes a welcome appearance, starting off a string of very strong featured artists (many that were influenced by the duo).
“Roc-Da-Spot” is the obligatory throw-back track, a traditional exercise in name-spelling, ego-boosting, and good-natured old-school bravado. While fun, it rarely rises above novelty, but this is alright; in terms of sequence a strong highlight in “Blow” follows immediately. Syllabically, both mcs cling desperately to their classic storytelling structures, yet Erick’s disjointed delivery of punch-lines is as strong as ever, with the multi-alliterative bearing PMD providing a favorable, smooth contrast. Although EPMD are definitely production literate, “Left 4 Dead” whets the appetite for possibility; 9th Wonder makes an impressive composition here, emphasizing each mc’s talents well (especially the relatively young Skyzoo). Regardless, the self-produced remainder accomplishes their intent; a near-desolate atmosphere coupled with a heavily snare-driven boom-bap intensifies verse placement and duet sections.
Likely unbeknownst to the business crew, they’ve created an intriguing genre statement. Within We Mean Business
lies a juxtaposition perpetuated through the whole of the release – magnifying a modern hip hop temporal paradox. How does one properly wield the tools existing from a previous century? EPMD have kept the same Jane-centric Business formula, seemingly willing to introduce themselves to the new millennium. Although not quite fresh anymore, this is not a half-hearted business-only release, and they’re better for it.