Erick Sermon Details EPMD’s Terrible 1st Contract & How They Got The Big Payback

EPMD is one of those groups that are always mentioned among Hip-Hop’s legendary duos, however it always seems like they don’t quite get their full due. That was especially true of a mid-1980s contract that the pair of Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith signed. They later got the big payback in the form of a seven-figure payday.

Sermon joined Take It Personal Radio recently and explained how the Brentwood, New York duo came together. He details Parrish Smith already being in with graffiti artists, DJs and breakers who helped get their name out there early, and how a rat infestation made it so they would be united in the same neighborhood. He also spoke about how EPMD signed one of the worst record deals in Rap history.

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At 14:00, the hosts ask Erick about how he spent his “first big check.” The double-threat corrects, “I didn’t have a big check; me and Parrish got signed for $1,500.” He adds, “I think EPMD had the third worst contract in Rap. I think Biz Markie and [Big Daddy] Kane was before us.” While Juice Crew members Biz and Kane were both artists on Fly Ty Williams’ Cold Chillin’ Records label, EPMD’s career began on Fresh/Sleeping Bag Records. “I’m 17 years old; all I want to do is be on radio,” he says. Erick and Parrish drove a newly-painted custom 1968 Chevrolet Camaro into Manhattan and personally visited the addresses they saw on the Rap singles and albums of the mid-1980s. “It was a lot of money to us; we was too young to understand what was supposed to happen. We signed with no lawyers [present]; that’s how we was able to get out [of the deal] and go to [Def Jam] because [we were minors and did not know what we were doing]. Again, all we wanted to do was be on radio.”

The Strong Isle’ duo signed to the label founded by Will Socolov. It was an off-shoot of Sleeping Bag, an imprint co-founded by musician Arthur Russell. The duo detailed the signing on “Please Listen To My Demo,” including a shout out to later partner Juggy Gayles. Although the pair “had dreams, of fancy cars and limos,” that was not what they got at the imprint that was also home to Mantronix, Just-Ice, and Stezo.

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After EPMD released 1988’s Strictly Business and 1989’s Unfinished Business, the biggest label in Hip-Hop made an offer that Fresh/Sleeping Bag could not refuse. “[Our manager Russell Simmons] came and got us because they audited [Fresh/Sleeping Bag] and the fact that they knew that something was wrong. We had back-to-back #1 albums, and the money didn’t match. So Lyor [Cohen and Russell Simons] came and got us.” Sermon adds that Def Jam/Columbia Records signed EPMD for $1.6 million. “I was with a partner who wasn’t playing right. That’s why the group went left [in 1992].” They later reunited and worked with Def Jam into the early 2000s.

Unfortunately, E and P seem to be done making new music, for the time being. Regarding EPMD, Erick closes out the interview claiming that he felt “very uncomfortable” during the last few years the duo had their run. A decade ago, EPMD released an album called We Mean Business. Last year, on an episode of Drink Champs, the pair detailed an upcoming concept album (releasing through JAY-Z’s Roc Nation) called Big Business. However, it seems to be on the skids.

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“It’s no more music. As far as me, I don’t think you really listened to those records, I can’t just be on there trying to hold down the situation,” Erick says. “It’s not the same. It ain’t the same firepower. You can’t just create to create when it’s not there no more. Me and Parrish been touring for the last 15 years now so as far as doing shows, people are fine with that.”

Back in January Erick Sermon launched a Kickstarter for his forthcoming album Vernia. Aside from it being his eighth solo studio effort, the LP promises appearances from AZ, Big K.R.I.T., Xzibit, Too Short, Styles P, and others. In August, Sermon dropped a trailer for Vernia, which featured a verse in which he set aside his humility and proclaimed his O.G. status.

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#BonusBeat: The full Take It Personal Radio mix with interview: