Rakim and EPMD are so close of friends that when it came time to celebrate Eric B. and Rakim's 30th anniversary of the mega classic Paid in Full at the Apollo Theater earlier this year, not only did EPMD come out to indulge in the festivities, they performed. However, things got off to a rocky start between the two pioneering groups 30 years ago.
There was confusion over a couple lines in seminal songs, and fans in Long Island—Rakim hails from Wyandanch and EPMD rep Brentwood— began to fan the flames of rap diss that spread to the MCs.
"The first beef was the Rakim beef," said Sermon while sitting on the Drink Champs set in Miami with hosts N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN. "We're two towns away [in Long Island]. Rakim is my mentor. When I heard him, I thought [his name] was 'Rock Wind.' Somebody was like, ''Rock Wind' came out.' All of a sudden, he was two towns over. The record ['I Ain't No Joke'] came out; me and Parrish was like, 'This is the illest shit we ever heard.' Rakim had, 'You can get a smack for that / I ain't no joke.'"
But tempers flared over the lyrics when EPMD dropped one of their first songs, "You're A Customer," later that year in 1987.
Sermon continued, "Parrish had, 'It's like a Dig'em Smack / Smack me and I'll smack you back.'" In reality, P wasn't shooting at Rakim, rather he was making what he thought was a harmless reference to Dig 'Em Frog, the mascot for the cereal Kellogg's Sugar Smacks.
Ironically, EPMD released their first classic LP Strictly Business in early June of 1988 where "You're A Customer" was one of the highlights in the tracklist. A month and a half later, Eric B. and Rakim continued their hip-hop dominance with another game changer, Follow The Leader. This time, the title track had some bars for EPMD.
"Rakim made this shit called 'Follow The Leader,'" Sermon recalled. "He said, 'Stop buggin', a brother said, 'dig em,' I never dug 'em / He couldn't follow the leader long enough so I drug 'em / Into danger zone.' He went! We not fucking with him! I admit. I can't. We not fucking with him. Let's keep it real, Parrish was incredible, but we not fucking with him."
"We was his students," Parrish added.
EPMD and Rakim did get a chance to end their feud soon after though.
"There was a club called The Building in Manhattan," Sermon said. "[Rakim] and P were at the bar talking. P said 'E, let me talked to you.' And we squashed it."
EPMD and Rakim did get into more confrontation and it almost got physical. Tune into Drink Champs this Thursday at 10 p.m. where the two discuss "The God," artists such as Drake and Diddy making them "the most sampled group in hip-hop," and secret battles with LL Cool J.