Not every MC war becomes a full-fledged battle. There are countless accounts where rappers took shots at one another without actually naming names. Some shots are obvious and feuds become widely-known. Some are not so obvious, going way over the heads of average listeners. Often lines or bars are incorrectly perceived as shots leading to unwarranted return fire. This is the first post of many to follow on the topic of "Shots Fired", and this particular entry features several shots between Eric B & Rakim -vs- EPMD.
It was 1986, when the streets were knockin' heavy to the hit debut single from Eric B & Rakim, "Erick B For President" and its flip-side "My Melody" which played in heavy rotation for over a year strong. Eric B & Rakim's single came out at the right time and had quite an impact on hip-hop overall.
The boom-bap beat and funky baseline in "Erick B For President" was so intoxicating it made listeners move their necks and shoulders in a way that arguably started, but certainly propelled a dance craze called "the wop". Rakim's delivery was extremely laid back and his voice was almost completely monotone. He single-handily brought lyricism and thought provoking metaphors to the game. He also manifested a new revelation, that rap could be respected in the streets without yelling and cursing. In fact if you think about the rappers that never cursed or cursed the least over time, Rakim is right up there with the likes of Young M.C. and the Fresh Prince. Toppled with his 5% knowledge, clearly Rakim came to the game to "show and prove".
In 1987, Eric B and Rakim followed up with "I Got Soul" and a separate single called "I Ain't No Joke". Just as the year prior the two songs became hits which solidified their ranking amongst the greatest. They shot their first music video for "I Ain't No Joke" where many saw them in the flesh for the first time ever. The song was up-tempo with horns sampled from James Brown accompanied by Rakim's laid back flow. "I Ain't No Joke" gave you reason after reason as to why Rakim is to be taken seriously. To anyone considering biting their style, Rakim concluded the 2nd verse with this warning:
Your offbeat DJ, if anything he play,
Sound familiar, I'll wait til E say Play 'em. /
So I'ma have to diss and Bro
you could get a smack for this, I ain't no joke. /
Eric B and Rakim soon after dropped their first album "Paid In Full" leading to a very successful year with a string of songs playing all over the radio including its title track. Meanwhile an emerging unseen duo called EPMD was beginning to hit the airwaves. Their song "It's My Thing" was done over the then classic break-beat "7 Minutes of Funk" by Whole Darn Family, (later used again by Jay Z and Foxy Brown on the song "Ain't No Nigga"). Both E and PMD went back and forth over the beat and some noticed that both, mainly PMD, had somewhat the same laid back monotone flow as Rakim. However vocally, not lyrically. Ultimately comparing them to The R lyrically would be like trying to compare Ma$e to Notorious B.I.G., you just can't. Likewise EPMD's lyrical flow was more simplified but they were just as confident, slick, and sarcastic.
On the flip side to EPMD's single was a song called "You're A Customer", which boldly pointed out the distinction of EPMD being the "stars" and anyone who brought the record as merely a "customer". Credit them for introducing that level of extreme confidence and as for the fans, they just ate it up and became customers as the duo anticipated. The song contained a very simple yet highly contagious beat and base riff that gave you "goose bumps when the baseline thumps". The now classic track was a real treat for Hip-Hop (later used to remix Jodeci's "Can I Talk to You"). In "You're A Customer" Erick sparked it off in the first verse with lines like "Remember this line you're in a danger zone, I figured you would, now leave me alone" while PMD boasted in the following verse:
I have the capability to rap and chill,
Cold wax and tax MC's who tend to act ill. /
It's like a digg'em smack,
Smack me and I'll smack you back. /
So the controversy began. Was this an answer to Rakim's line, "You could get a smack for this"? Hip-Hop had its first official smack fest. At the time there wasn't a die hard listener that would say different. I can personally reflect on the time with additional knowledge stemming from my days producing Video Undaground". The show interviewed E (Erick Sermon) directly and the topic of these shots was addressed from his perspective.
Video Undaground host, Smitty Dawgs, was with Erick Sermon in the studio years later when Erick recalled, "That line was not directed to Rakim or anybody in particular but everybody was coming at us like why y'all dissed Rakim?" Nevertheless an explanation really didn't matter at that point, it had already become an outbreak in Hip-Hop. The fact that it was perceived as a diss meant everyone expected an answer regardless, especially from the self-proclaimed God, Rakim. There would be some time before there was an answer. Meanwhile EPMD continued their agenda by releasing their follow up single "You Got's To Chill" as well as their debut album "Strictly Business" in 1988. Throughout 1987 - 88, both sides were riding high on their success and promoting their albums to the fullest; both realising multiple singles and videos.
Very late in 1988, Erick B and Rakim returned with the sophomore album titled "Follow The Leader" and as expected Rakim answered both of them in the title track with this:
Stop buggin', a brother said digg'em, I never dugg'em
He couldn't follow the leader long enough so I drug 'em. /
Enter danger zone, he should arrange his own
Face it, it's basic, erase it, change your tone. /
In only two bars Rakim addressed Erick's danger zone, PMD's digg'em smack, the fact that their rhymes are basic and that PMD or perhaps both should make a change from the monotone style Rakim is noted for. There were more shots taken in the song that could have been directed at the duo, but these were the bars that pretty much came at them specifically. Erick Sermon told Video Undaground exclusively, "It was crazy after that, his camp was amping him and our camp was amping us". Everyone wanted the forming battle to reach the point of naming names. Ultimately since they never went at Rakim in the first place they ended up addressing the subject without going back at Rakim directly. In 1989, EPMD dropped the sophomore album titled "Unfinished Business". The first single was "So What You Sayin' ". In that song PMD came with this:
People 'round town talking this and that,
on how we sound like The R, and our music was wack. /
Dropped the album Strictly Business and you thought we would fold,
30 days later, the LP went gold. /
Ironically the follow up album "Unfinished Business" went gold in just 10 days, a true milestone for hip-hop back then. According to Erick, after that both sides finally met and it was all cleared up. One has to wonder how ugly it could have gotten if they went into a full-fledged battle. Who knows if a career would have ended early but so it is, the shots came to an end without casualties. --End
Note: This story was retitled as "Secret Wars" and is also featured on ALLHIPHOP.COM
P.S. Its been a while since my last blog so to acknowledge that, I'm leaving off with these lyrics by Rakim that also express my thoughts:
It's been a long time, I shouldn't of left you,
without a strong [blog] to step to. /
Think of how many weak [blogs] you slept through,
times up, sorry I kept you. /