EPMD helped usher in a new era in New York hip-hop when they arrived with their funk drenched samples and bass-heavy beats. The sound created by Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith was different and fresh, anchored by solid rhymes, great chemistry and sample-heavy production that pushed the envelope while remaining comfortably nostalgic.
A lot of EPMD’s legacy is anchored in Erick Sermon’s production— he’s undoubtedly one of the best producers hip-hop has birthed. His beats are sleek but still hard-hitting, soulful and nostalgic with an undertone of newness that’s made much of his work feel timeless.
“My thing is I’m already me, I’m already iconic,” he told HipHopDX in 2012, rejecting the idea of striving to remain “relevant” in an ever-changing hip-hop scene. “If people take that away and be like, ‘Yo, he’s not relevant no more’ – I ain’t trying to be relevant; I’m already me! I don’t have to go and prove nothing to nobody. My legacy lives on. I’m 22 years in this game.”
EPMD’s classic 1988 debut, Strictly Business, spawned more than a few hip-hop staples, including “You Gots to Chill,” and a song that would go on to become one of rap’s most sampled tracks of all time, “You’re A Customer.”
The song itself is comprised of samples—”Cheap Sunglasses” by ZZ Top, “Fly Like an Eagle” by Steve Miller Band and Kool and The Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” make up the beat. Still, EPMD’s “You’re Only A Customer” maintains a level of authenticity that makes it easy to see why so many artists after them have lifted from the track, across genre.
Featuring a relaxed but funky bass line and hard drums with a few scratches looped in, the beat is minimalistic in the best way. It’s clean and sharp while remaining warm. Basically, it’s one of the best hip-hop tracks of all time, and as a result, it’s been sampled to death.
Mario Winans didn’t know wanna know if his woman was playing him, but EPMD fans know the “You’re a Customer” drums that line the beat, which also features a heavy sample from the Fugees “Ready Or Not.”
“Come and Talk To Me” is the fourth single from Jodeci’s game-changing debut album, Forever My lady, and Al B. Sure and Devante Swing’s production prominently samples “You’re a Customer”—listen to the bass. It’s a creative use of the clip, demonstrating that if you’re creative enough, you can make a sample sound original.
Suffice to say; Diddy loved this EPMD song. It shows up in the “Puff Daddy Remix” for one of Faith’s signature songs, “You Used to Love Me.”
Zhane’s dazzling debut featured the mellow jam, “Sending My Love,” which contained a prominent sample of the EPMD classic. The track was released as the third single from the duo’s album and remains one of their staple songs. Produced by Naughty By Nature (we can see more clearly why the EPMD sample was used), the song was a Top 10 hit on the R&B/Rap Charts. It’s probably one of the best uses of the sample ever. It’s clean and warm, and although recognizable, the sample doesn’t overtake the groove of the song, letting it breathe and become its own thing.
DJ Pooh samples the drums from “You’re A Customer” on one of the standout tracks from The Dogg Pound’s debut Dogg Food, “New York, New York,” which helped push the whole East Coast-West Coast beef to another level. In the video, Daz and Kurupt stomp around New York, crushing buildings, adding fuel to the fire at the height of the coastal war.
Cypress Hill grabbed the sample, which is creatively scratched into the track, for their 1992 song, “Hand on the Glock.” Produced by veteran beatsmith, DJ Muggs, the song showed up on Cypress’ Black Sunday album.
One of the most memorable recent uses of EPMD’s classic track comes from the 2016 Drake track, “4 PM in Calabasas.” Erick Sermon appreciated the gesture.
“I think it’s the true essence of what ‘You’re A Customer’ means. It transforms through so many different generations. And it’s self-explanatory,” Sermon told HipHopDX. “Look how it came through, to the Golden Era, through the era after that, and the era after that, and the era after that. And now that me and [Erick Sermon] is really back on our square, it’s used by one of the [sic] hugest artists. It’s a sign of respect, and also it’s a sign that at the end of the day, everybody wants to be associated to real authentic Hip Hop. To us, that’s a compliment and reassuring that we made our mark.”
A Memphis underground rap staple, “Lookin 4 Tha Chewin” featuring a young Eightball & MJG, also features the EPMD sample throughout the track.
Mac Mall, another Bay Area vet, grabbed the EPMD sample for “Sic With Tis” from his 1993 debut, Illegal Business.
Erick Sermon interpolated the track for his production work on “Maaad Crew” from Red and Meth’s collaborative album, Blackout!—with head-nodding results. The 1999 album (produced mostly by Sermon, who’d long collaborated with Redman) debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and set up the 2001 film, How High.
Shock G borrowed the drums from the EPMD classic for his track “The Danger Zone” from Digital Underground’s classic 1990 debut album, Sex Packets. The hook features E. Sermon’s “Just lounge, you’re in the danger zone” lyric from the song.
Not the beat, but the vocals were sampled for another Snoop Dogg ode to weed, “Pass It Pass It.” The song was featured on one of his best album, Rhythm & Gangsta. Snoop later collaborated with E. Sermon on the 2013 track, “Let Me Explain.”
Miami vet, Trick Daddy, paid homage to the EPMD classic with his 2012 song, “Chevy” basically rapping over an un-altered version of the beat.
9th Wonder sampled EMPD on Rapsody’s 2011 treat, “A Crush Groove.” A fan of Erick Sermon’s numerous talents on the mic and behind the board, in a 2010 interview with HipHopDX, 9th admitted he looks to E. Sermon as an example of greatness.
“I’m not as good [of an emcee] as an Alchemist, as an Erick Sermon, as a Nottz,” he said.
Above the Law’s 1992 outing, “Process of Elimination” from their Black Mafia Life album featured the EPMD sample toward the end of the track. It’s yet another example that E. Sermon’s production skills extended beyond coastlines.
In 2004, The Alchemist paid homage to the EPMD classic on his production on “Fourth of July” from Evidence’s 1995 album, Another Sound Mission.
Compton’s Most Wanted borrowed prominently from the EPMD track—the bass and drums— for their 1992 song, “This Is a Gang” from their album Music to Driveby.
Featured on their 1991 album, Derelicts of Dialect, 3rd Bass’ “Microphone Techniques” incorporates the EPMD sample around the 1-minute mark.
Produced by Marly Marl, EPMD’s drums are sampled for Noreaga’s 1998 collab with rap legend Kool G Rap, “40 Island.” The song is featured on N.O.R.E. and is one of the standouts on the album.
J. Dilla was known for finding obscure samples or using well-known samples brilliantly. So was the case for the instrumental, “Jay Dee 51” from 2016’s posthumous, Jay Dee a.k.a. J Dilla ‘The King of Beats’, Vol. 2: Lost Scrolls, where EPMD’s drums are sampled. Dilla and E. Sermon shared a lot of similarities in terms of their sound, with the former drawing from Sermon’s example.