The Importance of Leadership in Hip Hop
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The Importance of Leadership in Hip Hop

Do you ever wonder what really happened to your favorite rapper or rap crew? Do you ever find yourself saying “damn, my nigga such and such was nice or Yo, back in the day those niggas was the illest crew out son!” Over the centuries, many great nations have fallen, never to be heard from again while many with the potential to be the next great nation never quite made it to the top. As a true fan of hip hop, (also a former rap artist) I felt compelled to share my thoughts and findings with all those aspiring rappers and future hip hop entrepreneurs on the perils that await them on their journey to be the next great MC or CEO. I wanted to provide a historical hip hop perspective of how fast things can bottom out or possibly never get off the ground when leadership is bad, gone or compromised and the waters become muddied by greed, envy and ego. This is a cautionary tale about one of the greatest rap crews in hip hop history.

I was chilling out at home one Saturday afternoon and I was really in the mood to hear some music. Not just any kind of music either. I wanted to hear some classic, banging, hip hop shit. Hip Hop from the East Coast to the West Coast to everything in between. As I began digging in the crates going through my collection, (over 25 years worth of music) I started seeing and listening to shit I hadn’t heard in years. I began the nostalgia of going down memory lane and reliving my days as a young g and hip hop wannabe reminiscing about the “good old days”.

As I played each record, I began putting to the side each artist or crew that made me in fact say “damn homey, what the fuck happened to you.” Believe it or not, the pile became so crazy I had to stop dead in my tracks and like Jadakiss ask the question, why? The story I’m about to tell is not about some plain ole’ one hit wonder either. I’m talking about rappers that have gold and platinum plaques to their credit and under their belts. The rappers and crews I will chronicle in part one of this five part series all have illustrious histories within hip hop and have helped to set the foundation and blueprint for major success within the game of hip hop. It also speaks to the devastating demise and broken dreams of many a one time rap superstar, CEO or potential rap star. Rappers and CEO’s beware!

Cautionary Tale #1. The Hit Squad- (EPMD, Redman, Das Efx, K Solo, Keith Murray)

Back in the fall of 87, the hip hop world was introduced to a unique and crazy dope duo from an obscure part of New York that most hip hop fans had never heard of. That place was called Brentwood, Long Island and the duo was called Erick and Parrish Making Dollars, better known to the rap universe as EPMD. One guy was the microphone doctor and the other guy was the green eyed bandit. They were signed to a now defunct independent record label called Sleeping Bag/Fresh Records before making a future move to Def Jam Records. They had an incredible joint out called “It’s My Thing” that rocked from the streets of NYC all the way to the west coast. Their debut album “Strictly Business” dropped in 1988 and it became an instant street classic powered by such hits as Strictly Business, You Gots Ta Chill, You’re a Customer, and It’s My Thing. In just 30 days the LP went gold and their follow up albums, Unfinished Business, Business As Usual, and Business Never Personal all met with the same success and are arguably some of the greatest rap albums ever produced. The actual importance of this group along with their accomplishments has really never been accurately documented or appreciated in the media. (Until now) These albums not only showcased an ill one two punch by two emcees, but a totally diverse production style, (those who know credit E-Dub as the first funk rap producer) EPMD were executive producers on all their albums, they wrote and produced their own albums, gave a platform and careers to up and coming rappers who soon would become stars in their own right, and formed one of the most dominating rap crews of the early 90’s, the Hit Squad, and made millions of dollars in the process. (At least one of them did as the story goes) These guys were truly ahead of their time. EPMD introduced a rapper named K-Solo on a record they had called Knick Knack Patty Whack. Soon after, K-Solo would release his own album “Tell the World My Name” which would spawn classics like Spellbound and Your Mom’s in My Business. The “Business As Usual” album would showcase Brick City’s favorite son Redman on the track “Hardcore” and set him up for an exceptional rap career with many gold albums and movie/ TV opportunities to follow. Then there was the now forgotten but amazingly ill Das Efx whose style and originality was unlike anything the rap world had ever heard or seen since. Their “diggity” style was bitten so hard by so many cats that I believe they felt forced to stop using it and arguably lost their identity and eventually, lost their way musically in the process. Das Efx had even eclipsed their mentors and creators and had successfully done what none of their crew had ever done. Gone platinum! Ask anybody you know over age 30 about the records “They Want Efx” and “Mic Checka” and they’ll tell you those joints are still bananas! Last but not least, there was Keith Murray to round out what at the time was truly “The Most Beautifullest Thing in This World” of hip hop! The Hit Squad! (For historical accuracy’s sake, Keith Murray was really more Def Squad and not on record or video as Hit Squad but nonetheless, an important figure in the story)

With all of this success and at the pinnacle of their careers, one might be compelled to ask, what in the hell happened and where did it all go wrong for EPMD, K Solo, Redman, Das Efx, and Keith Murray? As an outsider looking in and based on past stories and interviews by these artists and others close to the situation, I am convinced that it was greed, envy, bad leadership, and ego that derailed one of the greatest rap crews of all time. Somewhere between late 91 and late 92 after the release of the album “Business Never Personal” rumors and accusations of “shady business” and foul play began circulating about Parrish from his partner and right hand man Erick Sermon. The stories at the time said Parrish was allegedly taking more of the lion’s share of the money. PMD allegedly had more cars, houses, and money in the bank. These findings had infuriated Erick to the point that there were allegedly acts of physical violence and threats towards PMD and his family.

In those days, I recall hearing that Parrish said that he would tell Erick about the business meetings and advise Erick that he should be in attendance for these meetings and take the business side of things more seriously. Allegedly, Parrish felt that Erick was more concerned with the fame and fun of being a rap star and thus wasn’t entitled to all the financial perks that he was getting due to Erick’s supposed lack of concern about the business side. Erick’s viewpoint was that he creates the bulk of the music and PMD handles the business so they should split the monies 50/50. Knowing what I know about their careers together as well as separately, along with their body of work over the last 20 years, it seems as though PMD early on was the leader and business mind behind the operation and Erick Sermon was the musical guru. Although PMD, the older of the two and college educated had the business savvy, acumen, and I believe, the harder and edgier component to the group, his lack of production skills, communication skills, and inability to share the wealth caused a once good leader to fall into the hip hop abyss while the careers of Das Efx and K Solo died with him.(when EPMD split, some acts went with PMD and the others went with E-Dub) As history would have it, Erick would go on to make millions after EPMD as a producer, executive producer, and solo artist. He would help establish Redman into one of the best hip hop soldiers of the 90’s while only seeing what could fairly be accessed as moderate success for Keith Murray. Erick’s solo albums never quite lived up to the standards and expectations that so many fans had for him due to his glory days with EPMD. In retrospect, E’s sound as a soloist was “too soft and smooth”. His music as a soloist lacked the intensity, grit, concepts, and “hardcore to make the brothers act a fool” that EPMD was known for. Although in fairness to E, he had a few gems. (Music & React come to mind) Parrish as a solo artist fared even worse! Remember the song “I saw it coming”? Unfortunately, Erick wasn’t a great leader. He was a great musician. I sometimes wonder what life would have been like for Das, K-Solo, Keith, PMD, Redman, & E Dub from an artistic, monetary and historical perspective if things didn’t fall apart. If Parrish had it to do all over again would he have shared the wealth with Erick? Would he have communicated his feelings about the situation more honestly and tactfully to avoid the pitfalls that destroy so many great relationships? Would Erick have taken more responsibility over his business dealings and displayed the kind of focus and maturity PMD may have been looking for in order to consider splitting the doe down the middle equally? Would K-Solo and Keith Murray have avoided the prison time that derailed their careers if the leadership was in tact and the Hit Squad was still a strong, cohesive unit firmly and financially in place to help them in their times of darkness ? Would Das Efx have had at least a few more gold and platinum records and possibly been able to capitalize on their “straight from da sewer” image in Hollywood if they still had Hit Squad management and career guidance? These are questions that I as a hip hop fan ask myself from time to time. I am almost certain that members of The Hit Squad must think about it quite often now that the years have passed and so much momentum has been lost. (Not to mention money and opportunity for most of the crew) They say that time heals all wounds. EPMD have since reconciled their differences. Today, they tour together as a group and plan to release a new album next year. In 1997 after a five year fallout; they did release their 5th album “Back in Business”. But by that time it was too late. The game had changed dramatically and new hip hop powers had emerged and began to dominate the rap scene. The moral of the story is that we need to check our egos and stop being greedy! We must always remember that jealousy and envy are dumb ones tools! You must learn to “play your position” in order to achieve enduring success! There are very few great leaders in this world. The ones that are great and are making shit happen for everybody need to be recognized and respected accordingly. Before things fall apart!

It will be the difference between you making history and being history. The difference in your story going from “rags to riches” or from “riches to rags”! I understand and have accepted that nothing lasts forever. But as a hip hop fan, I like to sometimes ponder and think about what could have been and what could possibly still be if only greed, ego, envy and bad leadership didn’t always creep in to destroy greatness before it has a chance to reach its truest potential!
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