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EPMD & Oh No - It's Business Time

Author: Nina Bertok
Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Headed to Australia for the first time, legendary hip hop duo EPMD are ready for action. 3D’s Nina Bertok spoke to the New Yorkers about staying busy, while hearing some heavy praise from support act Oh No.

It’s been a long time coming but after two decades of reigning as hip hop’s first ever legendary duo, New York’s EPMD are finally jetting over to Australia this month due to popular demand – and they mean business. Literally.

“We dropped ‘We Mean Business’ last December after 20 years in the game,” announces one-half of the duo, producer Erick Sermon. “All of our albums have had the word ‘business’ in their titles, but this time it’s particularly relevant because this record is the first one that we’ve ever put out on our own EP Records. We’ve done this ourselves, we created this vehicle in order to release the album, even though at this stage it’s a one-off thing.”

Carrying on from EPMD’s 1988 Strictly Business, 1989’s Unfinished Business, 1990’s Business As Usual, 1992’s Business Never Personal and 1997’s Back In Business, Sermon says he and rap partner Parish Smith have no intention of slowing down when it comes to delivering the most groundbreaking production and innovative rap style.

“You come to a point where you realise you’ve got to be thankful that you’re still here and doing what you love,” Sermon claims. “If you’re able to last this long in the business – and it is a business – then there is no reason to stop. I feel blessed to be part of what some people call ‘classic’ hip hop but we had a lot of lessons to learn since we started, which is where the ‘business’ part of our record titles comes into it. We realised very early on that it isn’t all about fun and games, it’s a business that has to be taken seriously. The music industry is still corporate America, it’s the same shit! We found out very quickly, believe me.”

Sermon and Smith also came to find that most people that talked the talk weren’t always necessarily prepared to walk the walk… “Man, everybody is arguing about music and nobody is making records,” Sermon complains. “Everybody is bitching about the status of the game but it’s not going to fix itself if you just sit back and talk about it! If you want to fix it then make good material. With our album I think we’ve still got the funk coming and we are definitely still working hard towards making good music. I mean, hard work- When EPMD started out we came up with all our own material, we rapped, we produced. Right now, everybody seems to have kind of stopped. I think that’s what’s happened to New York and Los Angeles, that’s why the South has come in and taken over so much of the music that it’s scared everyone, including me at one time.”

Despite this claim, Sermon acknowledges there are still artists willing to put in the hard yards for the greater good of hip hop music – a case in point being LA rapper, Oh No [AKA Mike Jackson]. Alongside Def Wish Cast, Dialextrix, DJ Mathmatic and DJ Ology, Jackson is set to join forces with EPMD in bringing the rawness of the genre back to the masses.

On the prospect of playing side-by-side with his idols Sermon and Smith, Jackson says it’s what dreams are made of. “I’ve never met the guys but let’s just say I know them very well through the music they’ve done,” he enthuses. “I’ve been a very big fan for a long time so when I was told it’s an EPMD tour I said I had to go. I can’t wait to meet them, I think I can honestly say my whole career is based on the stuff they’ve done in many ways.”

Much like the dynamic duo, Jackson is on a mission to remind us what real hip hop is all about, he says. “Raw hip hop, it’s all about being dirty, it’s about being original and it goes back to the whole funky sound. It’s got to be ill and straight-up. There’s a lack of it because there are so few people who can do it well. I guess if there was a lot of it around it would just be really watered down.”

Considering Jackson’s background, it’s safe to say the man knows what he’s talking about. As the brother of iconic hip hop maestro Madlib, the son of ‘70s soul singer Otis Jackson and the nephew of renowned jazz trumpeter Jon Faddis, this California B-boy was very much in tune with quality music from an early age.

“But that’s the double-edged sword,” Jackson insists. “Sure, there’s lots of advantages of coming from such a musical family but there’s a lot of disadvantages that you face that other people wouldn’t necessarily have to go through. You do have to work harder to step out of that shadow because you know that some people might want to hear your stuff just because they know of what your family did musically.”

One thing his brother, father or uncle never did, however, was apply an obsession with video games to a passion for music.

“Yeah, some people can’t get their head around how it works,” Jackson laughs. “Video games can sometimes give me fresh ideas for my music. I’m definitely a video game fanatic, much more than a musician or a rapper actually. I collect everything – every controller, game, system, every handheld system, I’ve had systems custom-made for me… It’s crazy. I’ll play a video game and then go work on some beats and I could come up with an album. You get kind of like an ego-boost when you’ve just finished a game and that’s inspiration in some ways to make this really crazy beat. It’s difficult to explain because it can sound absurd.”

Whatever it takes to make some of the most innovative rhymes and production – the very skills Jackson has come to be known for among his peers and the very reason he’ll be accompanying the likes of EPMD on his first ever visit to Australia.

“I guess it’ll kind of be a vacation,” he claims. “Right now I’m working on a hundred different projects at once, it seems like it’s all coming around at the same time. One thing I’m really excited about is an album I’m working on with The Alchemist which we’ve got like about 30 songs for so I can’t wait to bring that out soon.”

WHO: EPMD supported by Oh No
WHAT: Play Manning Bar
WHEN: Saturday 18 April