Tail-end golden era rap fanatics rejoice—the Hit Squad is back! Emerging after Long Islanders Erick Sermon and Parish Smith found fame as EPMD, the Hit Squad drafted in the duo’s pugnacious rap mates Redman, K-Solo, Keith Murray and Das EFX and reigned as one of the most beloved rap posses of the early ’90s. Alas, internal bickering scuppered the crew’s chances of any real longevity, but in the Hit Squad’s pomp they helped forge a period of raw-but-funky east coast ’90s rap. With what’s being billed as a full-on reunion show this Friday at the Best Buy Theater—although with the egos involved, you’ll want to take that with a healthy dose of cynicism—here’s a countdown the Squad’s most dynamite hits. (Possibly Convoluted Pedant’s Note: While Sermon’s post-EPMD break-up Def Squad splinter group subsequently dropped some dope jams—and that long-ass eight-minute posse cut with Busta Rhymes’s Flipmode goons—we’re running with the logic that only when EPMD were officially in business could a song be classified as a true Hit Squad moment.)
10. EPMD feat. K-Solo, “Knick Knack Patty Wack”
A veritable rap speak ‘n’ spell at times, Erick and Parish invite the Letter Man K-Solo on to a Joe Cocker-sampling track and proceed to engage in Solo’s chief gimmick of spelling out words while rapping. (It was a style that, at one point, D.M.X. decided Solo had stolen off him while they were locked up together.) The sample was later re-upped by Dr. Dre for 2Pac’s “California Love,” but here it retains a certain low-slung charm. And yep, the three rappers do invoke the nursery rhyme of the title while running through their verses.
9. EPMD feat. Redman, “Yo”
P-funkdafied business from Erick and Parish’s 2008 footnote We Mean Business, here the kinda unknown Marco Berto is handed the production reins and, well, he doesn’t do an entirely botched job of attempted to update the EPMD formula. Redman does his characteristic trick of dominating the track—”Yeah, I’m the pimp of the year/ Now sucker MCs can take the window or the stairs!”—while Parish is relegated to sounding grumpy and old as he grumbles about how “It wasn’t nothing like hip-hop music/ Before ProTools took over two-inch.”
8. EPMD feat. Redman and Das EFX, “Serious”
Things gleaned from this 2004 vinyl offering: Erick Sermon is hype from eating cereal (not cocaine); some MCs are softer than Das EFX’s (presumably non-Tempur-Pedic) pillow; and Redman’s “thinking cap” is an afro. One to consign to the curio box. (See also: The strange, Parish Smith-enabled Hit Squad: Zero Tolerance album from the same era, which seems to consist of random off-cut verses slapped on to new tracks.)
7. EPMD feat. Keith Murray, “They Tell Me”
In which an otherwise middling 2008 reunion attempt is made notable for Keith Murray’s fiery final verse, during which he brags about how he “Really hung with BIG, squared off with ‘Pac/ Shook hands in the House of Blues before the shit popped.” That’s after the rap sweetie-pie has ragged on someone “from cop killer Queens but he still getting robbed” and chuckles at a nameless bod who “went to jail and the homo shanked ya.” Unreconstructed rap lyrics, eh?
6. EPMD feat. Redman and Keith Murray, “K.I.M.”
Far from the worst Hit Squad comeback moment on far from the greatest reunion album, 1997’s Back In Business, “K.I.M.” has Red and Mr. Most Beautifullest flowing over Erick Sermon’s classical music-styled beat. The raps are packed with punchlines—not least Murray’s verse, where he sounds amped up and more than a little mentalist”—but the early-days chemistry isn’t quite there.
5. EPMD feat. Redman, “Hardcore”
At its peak, the combination of EPMD and Redman was undeniable. Here the triple threat flows over a beat concocted out of the double-whammy sampling grab of Curtis Mayfield and The Ohio Players, and take turns dropping straight-up brag raps. And if you were ever in doubt, Redman explains how his afro is definitely in the house and that he walks while holding his own very personal jewels.
4. Redman feat. Erick Sermon, “Watch Yo Nuggets”
Fierce and funky, the E-Double and Reggie Noble combine to invigorating effect over production that pilfers from George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog.” As the song progresses, Sermon does that thing where he sings the word “Hey!”—some days that’s all you ever need from a rap track—while also informing that he’s back with “a brand new cassette.” Ah, nostalgia ultra!
3. EPMD feat. Das EFX, “Cummin’ At Cha”
A classic Hit Squad set-up, Erick Sermon sets the song off, Parish airs out his “slow flow” technique, and then their young charges run the track home. This time it’s Dray and Skoob firing off their tongue-twisting nonsense—although there’s great menace in the confession, “I stiggedy stuck Johnny for his Cash and I trashed him/ I miggedy made the bastard look sloppy/ Copy, I pack a nine if you try and stop me.”
2. EPMD, “Hit Squad Heist”
“Freeze! Nobody move!” So opens Parish Smith on this robbery fantasy, as he and his partner E-Double attempt to get in, get the goods and then “haul ass like Carl Lewis.” Alas, while attempting an escape Parish gets hit by “a sharpshooter on the roof,” but it’s still a great excuse for he and Erick to kick some vintage tag-team styled rhymes. And while the rest of the Squad don’t actually rap on the track, Redman and K-Solo are shouted out as accomplices during the jape, solidifying their place in Hit Squad history.
1. EPMD feat. K-Solo & Redman, “Head Banger”
This song effectively is 1992 when it comes to NYC rap. Sparked by Redman’s iconic “Negroes!” holler, Erick and Parish’s production is certified rough, rugged and raw, while the MCs rap rambunctious, with Redman climaxing the song by bragging about how he’s so “wicked with the style you think I have cerebral palsy” and boasting about how he gets “wreck the ‘tec, with the blunt or the Moet.” (Now that’s multi-tasking!) If the Squad simply perform this on repeat on Friday night, “Paris” style, the audience will go home ecstatic. Yo, where’s my hoodie!
The Hit Squad Reunion show is at the Best Buy Theater on Friday.