Erick S. & Rakim

Rakim with Erick Sermon, Parish Smith and Slick Rick; it
seems whatever tensions might have once existed between Ra
and EPMD have long since eased, and the acts now frequently
perform on the same bills as one another. 
Long Island Rap's sixth (!!!!!!) annual Rakim week starts now, with a look at a topic that we've never really touched on, but which, despite being long settled, continues to get attention even today. I'm talking, of course, about the on-wax "beef" between Rakim (then of Eric B. & Rakim) and EPMD's Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith. For those who don't already know the story, EPMD gave a pretty thorough recap during a 2017 appearance on Nore's Drink Champs podcast.


Erick Sermon: We’re two towns away. Rakim’s my mentor. When I heard him, I thought his name was Rock Wind. All of a sudden, the record came out so me and Parish were like, “Yo, this the illest shit we ever heard.” …Rakim had, “You could get a smack for this, I ain’t no joke.” Parish came back and said, “It’s like a Dig’em Smack, you smack me and I’ll smack you back,” not knowing—

Parrish Smith: Just a rhyme about the cereal, you know, the frog. I was just writing rhymes.

Nore: Time out, I never caught that.

Erick Sermon: But the two towns did because it’s Long Island! Then Rakim made this shit called “Follow the Leader” and said, “A brother said dig 'em I never dug 'em/ He couldn’t follow the leader enough so I drug him into the danger zone,” so he went! And we’re not fucking with him! Let’s keep it real, Parish was incredible but we’re not fucking with him though. There used to be a club in Manhattan called The Building, so him and Parrish were at the bar talking and P said, “E, let me talk with you real quick,” so P called me over and we squashed the beef right there in the bar.


The records Sermon's talking about here are Eric B. & Rakim's "I Ain't No Joke," EPMD's "You're A Customer," and Eric B. & Rakim's "Follow the Leader." The misunderstanding that sparked the beef was over a line referring to Dig 'Em, the cartoon frog mascot of Kellogg's Sugar Smacks cereal. Check out the commercial below, which contains the jingle Smith was referencing on "You're A Customer."

Cereal catchphrase miscommunications aside, with EPMD coming out after Eric B. & Rakim, with both groups selling well right out the gate, and with Sermon's laid back vocals drawing immediate comparison to Rakim, it's not surprising that many Long Islanders who knew both camps may have been looking for reasons to pit them against one another. In fact, the rap rivalry between Brentwood and Wyandanch can be traced back even further, and if those who were around for it are to be believed, "Follow the Leader" wasn't Rakim's introduction to it.

In a 2009 interiew, DJ Belal (an early DJ for Rakim and later of Groove B Chill) recalled "being in Brentwood at a little house party and Smitty’s group, the Rock Squad came down." Parrish Smith was actually in that group, but back then went by the name D.J. Eazzy "P." Belal continued, "From Wyandanch, it was just me and Ra and some people who weren’t MCs. And Ra tore them up by himself. He did the whole 'Seven MCs in a line' routine then. The look on they face was priceless because it was 7 of them."

Which brings us back to a larger point about battling and friendly competition. Rakim didn't write the seven MCs line for the Rock Squad — it was part of a routine he did before it was ever recorded — but when rapping on others' turf or in any competive setting (and really, what isn't), it could and certainly would be used as lyrical artillery. The same might be said for Parish Smith's "It's like a Dig 'Em Smack, you smack me and I’ll smack you back." Whether it was originally directed at Rakim, as he thought — or not, as Smith contends — it certainly could've been taken that way. Regardless of the artists' true targets or lack thereof, the competitve spirit they shared made for some of the best records in history; and their listeners' equally passionate fandom, which drove them to analyze their favorite artists' lyics and often prescribe new meanings, only fueled the artists' fire.


While we're considering Rakim's early brushes with EPMD and how listeners' interpretations can allow for records to be heard in new ways, here's something far doper: a blend of the vocals from Eric B. & Rakim's "I Ain't No Joke" with the instrumental for EPMD's "The Big Payback." The blend comes from an episode of the Club Krush radio program, which aired on WPRB 103.3 FM in either Augst or July of 1990. The show was hosted by DJs Eazy M and G, and it seems like the latter was behind the boards for this blend. You can read more about the program and listen to the full episode via RawDealRadio.com and the Internet Archive.

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