I was listening to the classic EPMD debut album Strictly Business on my way to work recently. It’s unassailable. The use of funk and rock samples ranging from Pink Floyd to Bob Marley and The Wailers to the classic Zapp riff from ‘More Bounce to the Ounce’ on ‘You Gots to Chill‘ gave the album a unique sound that’s aged excellently. I feel that they hit their creative peak with the song ‘Crossover‘ from the Business As Usual album, as Sermon in particular adopted a more aggressive tone and flow that better fit the changing tastes of listeners in the early 90s. DJ K La Boss, their ‘guest’ DJ and producer during their heyday, remains an under-appreciated beat craftsman and skilled technician. Crammed between loud teenaged girls and clueless Wall Street flunkies, EPMD made the commute to the pit of suck known as Midtown tolerable.
Were I man with lesser self-control, I would gladly give the entirety of early 90s rap the Patrick Bateman treatment. This is because I am single dork with very few friends. *steps away to dab away tears* I plan to delve into the nuance of Special Ed’s ‘I’m The Magnificent‘ (so good) at some point in the near future, but I’m going to hold off because I heard something on the song ‘I’m Housin’ that requires urgent analysis:
Coolin’ at a party, no better yet–disco / Head feelin’ mellow from a bottle of Cisco
Wait, what? Cisco?!? THAT Cisco? The heinous, fluorescent colored alcoholic sludge that’s notorious for turning its consumers into brightly-mouthed manifestations of id? WHY? More importantly, how the fuck does Cisco make you feel mellow?
Every great MC successfully employs hyperbole, and EPMD were no different in this regard (“It’s like beam me up, scotty, I control your body / I’m as deadly as AIDS when it’s time to rock a party“). There’s a fine line, however, between hyperbole as a mechanism for boasting and hyperbole for amusement’s sake. Big L’s career was largely based on the latter (“I’m so ahead of my time my parents haven’t met yet”;”I’ve been f@#$ing chicks in the a@# since I was six and a half“; et al.), and he’s rightly lauded as an all-time great. There’s nothing wrong prima facie with gross exaggeration. This is different, though. It’s just so implausible. More outrageously, it’s couched within a context that screams ‘storytelling rap’ in bright gold letters. Parrish actually thought that he was setting up a story about something that actually happened by saying that Cisco made him feel ‘good’.
I tell you from experience that the verb “coolin'” and the adjective “mellow” are in fact antonyms for the physical sensation of bum wine consumption. As a large gentleman with a strong predilection for cooler climates, the combination of summer heat and nuclear-colored firewater intake creates an exothermic reaction akin to what happens when one puts a block of sodium in water. In layman’s terms, Cisco makes you heat the fuck up, much like eating curry in the sun. The other immediate side-effect of this heinous concoction (deathly hangover comes later) is that one shunts aside self-control in favor of uncontrolled yelling, shouting, and high-intensity cavorting. Gallivanting is also a possible side effect, but this is not universal. The appropriate words, therefore, would have been something more like “thrashing” and “maniacal.”
Further examination of EPMD’s lyrics reveal more about their drinking preferences, but yield little in the way of clarity. While their affinity for six packs of Stroh’s is shared, Erick and Parrish’s disagreements on the merits of Miller seemed to foreshadow the difficulties that led to their break-up in the mid 1990’s. Erick finds little to choose between the two brands (“Listen to heavy metal, hardcore, rock and roll / Drink a six-pack, maybe Miller or Stroh’s“), but Parrish famously eschewed it in favor of Budweiser: “… I’m the Thriller of Manilla, MC cold killer / Drink Budweiser, cannot stand Miller / MC’s cold clockin til the party’s through / Then they tap me on my shoulder and say, ‘This Bud’s for you‘”
Further examination of EPMD’s references to alcohol consumption yielded a moderate amount of data. The majority of references were to beer, usually without citing a specific brand, and drinks derisively referred to as ‘fruit punch’. On close inspection, there is little doubt that these songs all in fact refer to that other inner-city scourge of the 1980s: wine coolers.
An additional discovery was the strange and awesome (if incongruous in context) anti-drunk driving track “You Had Too Much To Drink.” The doomed protagonist of the song, Frank, starts his night innocuously enough with beer. Continual consumption leads to impaired judgment, however, and so it was that Frank made the fateful decision to switch to the dreaded ‘fruit punch’. The consquences were dire, as the subject in question a) spent the majority of the night courting a rather homely woman whom he was convinced resembled Paula Abdul, and b) spent his early morning hours in jail on a DUI charge. Honest discussion without moralizing on drinking and driving fits in well with their general attitude toward alcohol: best enjoyed casually.
These findings, however, fail to address the Cisco question. EPMD profer advice and opinion of varying quality on numerous topics, including but not limited to: beer selection, sucker MCs, the proper technique used to wax suckers (use like Mop-N-Glo), New Jack Swing, pop records, chillin’, gun usage and acquisition, and women named Jane. The majority of the positions Erick and Parrish take on these topics are easily relatable, but the idea that Cisco is a conduit for a laid-back time is, at best, a fatuous and factually bereft assertion. It is a startling outlier in a data set of otherwise regularly distributed points, and there is only one explanation that I am willing to accept with reasonable confidence:
EPMD were full of shit. (I still love you, though)