Remember the end of American Gangster when Frank Lucas was finally released from jail and he looked lost and out of place? His suit didn’t fit right and he stuck out like a sore thumb. His time away didn’t help him at all as the world moved on without him. Nearly 10 years removed from their last album Out Of Business, EPMD are in the same position as Mr. Blue Magic as they navigate today’s hip-hop scene. Although they’ve never been strangers to the business side of hip-hop, they could use some help in the fashion part as they craft Construction Timb music in a Nike Boot world. As they continue to make analog music in digital world on their latest effort, We Mean Business, Erick & Parish (are still) Making (contractually obligated?) Dollars.
The duo literally come out guns-a-blazing to start the album on the Raekwon assisted “Puttin’ Work In.” Over a simple violin sample and heavy bass they exchange tuff talk with The Chef. They fare slightly better on “What You Talkin’” thanks to an injection of The Infamous Mobb in the form of Havoc. A lively mix of bells, chimes, scratches, and bass liven things up a bit. Redman and Method Man separately appear to temporarily liven the mood , on “Yo” and “Never Defeat ‘Em” respectively.
It’s only when they take the stance most of their peers from the Golden Age do the pieces begin to fall in place: that their era was the end all, be all in hip-hop. To their credit it takes them almost to the end of the album to lambaste hip-hop’s current state. “Left 4 Dead,” is another song in a long and ever-growing list of songs to speak on the erosion of hip-hop as a culture and art form. A beacon of hope closes out the song as Skyzoo drops a quick counter argument on this era’s behalf. “They Tell Me” allows them to turn up their noses to naysayer’s who say their better days are behind them, while calling out emcee’s who don’t live up to their personas once they step out the booth.
Ultimately, We Mean Business fails because they are still stuck in a forgotten (but well reminisced) era. Too many pucnhlines and metaphors have you checking your metal calendar to see whether it’s 1988, 1998, or 2008. While still proficient in constructing 16 bars, their structure is basic even by today’s lower standards. Coupled with the fact that their already slow flows have only diminished with time, it makes for a tedious listen save for guest spots. With 9 of the 13 songs having a feature, it only shows how archaic their flows are, even when fellow old timer KRS-One takes a turn behind the mic on “Run It.”
The production sounds like leftovers from the late ‘90’s, which wouldn’t be such a bad thing if more were done to the samples than looping them and adding a bassline. Even when they try to get in on the autotune phenomenon on “Listen Up,” it’s out of date thanks to Teddy Riley and his vocoder. Even in the tough economic times like we’re in now, smart business men know when and where to cut corners and still see a profit. If Erick and Parish want to stay in business, they’d be wise to allocate more of their budget to update their backdrops next go around.