Once described as "the rap equivalent of a rock & roll garage band," EPMD (stands for "Erick and Parrish Making Dollars") got into the hip-hop business not to spout its political agenda, but to have fun and get paid.
Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith grew up together on Long Island, home to rappers Eric B. and Rakim, De La Soul, and Public Enemy's Flavor Flav. In 1987, while on a college break, Smith (who played tight end for Southern Connecticut State University's football team) recorded with Sermon the duo's raps, which they had first performed together the previous year. EPMD immediately released the songs as a 12-inch single ("It's My Thing" b/w "You're a Customer") on Sleeping Bag (a subsidiary of independent Fresh Records), which sold 500,000 copies. Within six weeks of its release, Strictly Business had topped the R&B LPs chart (#1, 1988) and gone gold. Hits included "You Gots to Chill" (#22 R&B, 1988) and "Strictly Business" (#25 R&B, 1988).
EPMD's initial sound blended suburban angst with the hardcore edge of their inner-city rap brethren. The group's self-produced raw, bass-heavy rhythm tracks were fortified liberally by sampled loops (Steve Miller's "Fly Like an Eagle," Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff"). Critics pegged Sermon's slurred vocal delivery as everything from "cotton-mouthed" to sounding like he was "rapping through a mouthful of marbles."
As its title suggests, Unfinished Business offered more of the same. By the early '90s, with the vast popularity of gangsta rap, EPMD acknowledged the style by injecting Business as Usual with a harder edge, and it paid off. The album went to #36 on the pop chart and scored hits with "Gold Digger" (#14 R&B, 1991) and "Rampage" (#30 R&B, 1992), the latter a collaboration with L.L. Cool J. In 1992 the duo released Business Never Personal (#14 pop, #5 R&B), which contained the hit "Crossover" (#42 pop, #14 R&B, 1992). Sermon and Smith formed a production team, working with K-Solo, Das EFX, and Redman, and put together the Hit Squad package tour.
In early 1993 EPMD called it quits, according to Billboard, reportedly over financial disagreements so severe that one member of the duo allegedly hired people to break into the other's home to resolve the matter. Both Sermon and Smith then launched independent careers that included Sermon's Def Squad posse of acts (Redman, K-Solo, and Keith Murray) and the management of Das EFX and other acts via Smith's Shuma Entertainment. Sermon's No Pressure (#16 pop, #2 R&B, 1993) charted with the single "Stay Real" (#92 pop, #52 R&B). Smith (now just PMD after his moniker, Parrish Mad Deep) continued to stay in the business with Shadé Business (#12 R&B, 1994). Sermon also joined Redman and Murray for a Def Squad album, 1998's El Nine O.
The MC duo reunited as EPMD to record 1997's Back in Business (#4 R&B), which featured a more stripped-down sound and earned mixed reviews. It was followed two years later by Out of Business (#13 pop). By 1999, both had also become devout Christians. And that same year, Sermon launched his own Def Squad label (in a deal with Dreamworks/Universal), debuting with Dave Hollister's Ghetto Hymns. He also worked as a producer on new discs by Redman and Murray.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).