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I make a move like chess

A close up of a hand picking up a king chess piece

Image: jeshoots via unsplash

  • Track: You’re a Customer
  • Artist: EPMD
  • Album: Strictly Business
  • Year: 1988

It’s been a bit hard to pretend recently that it’s business as usual. With all the funny business over the last few weeks I’ve not been focused on cataloguing similes. Or doing anything else important. But even a global health crisis shouldn’t stop an intrepid simile-collector from doing their important work.

So in a display of classic stiff upper lipness I’m attempting to get back to the whimsical appreciation of hip-hop simile use. After a few weeks spent in isolation, consider this blog back in business.

I’m tenuously crowbarring the word ‘business’ into this introduction because that’s what New York duo EPMD do with their album titles. From 1988’s Strictly Business to 2008’s We Mean Business, like an overzealous Apprentice contestant EMPD have taken every opportunity to emphasise their business acumen. Their next release will surely be called There’s No Business Like Show Business. It’s from their debut that we pluck this track. It’s by no means one of their greatest, and a cynic might pass it off as filler, but to a simile connoisseur it’s catnip.

EPDM have a very no-nonsense approach to band naming. The ‘E’ is from Erick (Sermon) and ‘PMD’ from Parrish Making Dollars. That’s one of Parrish Smith’s less-annoying pseudonyms. Others include Parrish Mic Doc and Parrish Millennium Ducats. They just roll off the tongue don’t they? I suppose the ruled out ESPS because it sounds like some sort of syndrome.

In business for over 30 years, EPMD are known for being one of the first hip-hop acts to focus on funk and rock samples rather than disco. This track shows that versatility off: if lifts bits of ZZ Top, the Steve Miller Band and Kool and the Gang. The two rappers have a similar languid style of delivery, and complement each other well.

‘What’s the song about?’ I hear my mostly hypothetical readership ask. It’s a classic boast track really. It’s a solid mid-album tune, although a fair amount of it misses the mark a little. At one point PMD proudly declares himself ‘better than average’ to force a rhyme.

What EMPD’s business actually is is anyone’s guess, but it’s safe to say it’s not running a model village in the Cotswolds countryside. Whatever it is they do, they also offer up a mean sideline in similes. This track is stuffed full of them, with a garnish of sly rhyming.

At a patience-testing five minutes and 22 seconds, this is the longest track to go into the database so far. So this post goes on a bit too. But fear not: the last few verses are as barren as Ann Widdicombe on a hiking holiday in Death Valley, so we’ll gloss over those.

Without further ado let’s get down to it. Business, that is.

The lyrics

View full annotated lyrics on genius.com

[Erick Sermon]

Knick-knack paddywhack give a dog a bone
Yo, don’t give him nothing but a microphone
Don’t stop, I’m not finished yet
You said I’m not the E, you wanna make a bet?
Remember this: lounge, you in the danger zone
I figured you would, now leave me alone
You pick and you wish on a four-leaf clover
To be the E Double E over and over
You’re intrigued by the way I do my thing
(Do what?) Pick up the mic high and make it swing

Erick, sorry ‘E’, kicks us off with a simileless verse. How unsettling. But it does a decent job of setting the stall out for the rest of the track, pouring scorn on MCs of the sucker variety. We’ll be hearing more about them shortly.

[PMD]

I have the capability to rap and chill
Cold wax and tax MCs who tend to act ill
It’s like a Dig’em Smack
You smack me and I’ll smack you back

I get goosebumps when the bassline thumps
A sucker MC arrives, now it’s time for lunch
When I’m cooling on the scene, I notice one thing
I’m not Bounce, so sucker MCs cling
I consider myself better than average
Yo, I rock the mic like a wild beast savage

For those of you not au fait with 1980s cereal lore, Dig’em is an anthropomorphic frog. He’s the face of Kellogg’s disgusting-looking Honey Smacks cereal. I don’t think Kellogg’s thought his catchphrase ‘give me a smack and I’ll smack you back’ through. Though it could have been worse: in the 1950s, the adverts were basically two brothers beating the shit of each other. Simpler times.

I like the idea of a sucker MC arriving on the scene, and PMD disarming the situation by inviting them for a nice lunch. Maybe the elusive business these two are running is some sort of hip-hop café?

PMD does rather fizzle out at the end of this verse. I don’t think boasting of having the mic technique of a wild animal is a good way to show one is better than average.

[Erick Sermon]

I’m in the bottling state, I can’t concentrate
I make a move like chess, then I yell ‘checkmate’
You know why I get zanier and zanier?
Because of EPMD mania
When I walk through the crowd I can see heads turning
I hear voices saying ‘That’s Erick Sermon’
Not only from the women, but from the men
You know what? It feels good, my friend

I’m sure it does, Erick, but I’m also fairly sure yelling ‘checkmate’ would get you kicked out of most chess tournaments. It surprised me to discover this was our first chess-based simile. Chess has always held a special place in hip-hop lyrics. I suppose it’s a shortcut to getting across the idea of tactical mastery in battle.

[PMD]

I’m the P double E, the Thrilla of Manila
Better known as the MC cold killer
PMD’s goal is to keep the place jumping
And if not we feel we owe you something
It’s like lotto, you have to be in it to win it
But if the beat is fresh then Diamond J will spin it
If J spin it, then it has to be def
To make you dance until there’s no one left

I’m not sure I get this ‘double e’ thing – has anyone pointed out to him that it spells ‘pee’? But after an uncertain first verse, PMD is back and a bit more bolshy.

The simile is pretty bog-standard. But here are we also getting a hint about the nature of EPMD’s business? Is it a nightclub where patrons play a sick kind of lottery where their ‘prize’ is a dance-off to the death?

This is a straight up hip-hop track with, just two MCs passing the mic back and forth. So there’s no real hook to speak of, just this bit that pops up now and again.

[Closest thing this track has to a hook]

‘Cause you a customer

[Erick Sermon]

Praying like a prey when the fox in action
I smell blood, no time for maxin’
Camouflage in the green, my back is arced
Plus you in trouble ’cause it’s after dark

Erick’s already hinted at his cunning with his first chess simile, now he’s at it again playing the part of a fox on the hunt. We have to assume it’s Erick’s rivals that are doing the praying here, rather than him.

My eyes close like Steve Austin, I got you in the square
I would let you run, nah, that ain’t fair
So I clear my visions so I can spot him
Snatch him by the neck and say ‘Hmmm I got him’

This simile has got me beat. Steve Austin must be the Six Million Dollar Man from the 70s TV show. It’s a little before my time and I’ve no idea if he needs to close his eyes to use his bionic bits. It seems unlikely. I tried to find a clip of him using his bionic eye but quickly gave up. So in my mind’s (bionic) eye, I’m picturing Lee Majors blinking hard, but I don’t know why. It’s an endearing image.

[PMD]

My neighbour MCs, you’re in over your head
My rhymes are hungry plus they haven’t been fed
The process of elimination is quite simple
Let you grow like a blackhead and pop you like a pimple
Slice you like lettuce, toss you like a salad
Revoke your MC licence if your rhyme’s invalid

PMD’s lunch date is going well then. Maybe if he did a bit less rhyming and spent a bit more time in the kitchen, his rhymes wouldn’t be so hungry.

Two revolting similes about spots don’t seem to put him off his dinner. And what do you know? Salad’s on the menu. Maybe PMD’s rhymes are vegan. It’s a nice little tossed simile salad – though rhyming ‘invalid’ and ‘salad’ is the salad cream no-one wanted in this far-fetched scenario. Maybe the hip-hop authorities should be revoking PMD’s MC licence. And while they’re at it they can check his food hygiene certificate. This salad cream tastes like puss.

As we go on, sucker MCs sound wacker
Like a parrot says ‘Polly wants a cracker’

Indeed it does. Does this weird fantasy lunch menu include crackers?

[Erick Sermon]

Well it was a regular test, nothing we can’t handle
At our house they have the mics on the mantel
Looked at the DJ and said ‘May I?’
Lit it up like the Fourth of July

I’m sure this isn’t the only rap tune to have that Fourth of July simile in it, but can’t find any others.

Because I float like a butterfly, sting like a bee
No, I’m the E of EPMD
I have a strong point of view on the way things run
Just shut up and listen and learn my son

The second (double) simile obviously needs little introduction. But I’m going to anyway: Mohammad Ali said it before winning his first title against Sonny Liston.

Thanks for making it this far by the way, we’re nearly finished.

[PMD]

Absorb that ass like Bounty, the quicker picker upper
To tell you up front, you’re nothing but a sucker
The style we’re using, no doubt copacetic
You try to bite and yet sound pathetic

PMD hasn’t really got the hang of boasting has he? To be fair, it’s EMPD’s first album, he’ll grow into it. Cast aside any thoughts about what absorbing ass might mean, and appreciate the fact that PMD is comparing himself to a bit of kitchen roll. That takes cojones.

Also, copacetic is an interesting word. Really.

‘Cause I’mma rhyme like a tailor, flow like a sailor
As the beat gets stronger, MCs get staler
Not bragging or protagging, surely not fagging
MCs surrender, raise the flags and
Give up the titles ’cause the signs are vital
I keep a voice tuned at a slow and swift idle

Keeping us on our toes with our guessing game, PMD drops two more hints at the nature of their mysterious business. Are they tailors? Seamen for hire? A weird combination of both?

Here’s another interesting word: protagging. It’s what protagonists do apparently. PMD will be boasting about swallowing a dictionary next.

[Hook. Of sorts.]

And you a customer

[Erick Sermon]

I need a man meal sandwich, yes I need Manwich
I feel good, now it’s time to do damage
I feel like battling, you know what I mean?
When I rhyme one time to release the steam
When I grab the mic I get dramatic like an actor
You know why I get over? I’m the master
I do a show, pack it in ’til it’s clamming up
Look for the microphone then I jam it up

The third profession-related simile in a row, and the last of the track (woo). Erick continues the loose theme of food here, referring to the oddly-named brand of canned sauce made by the even-more-oddly named Sloppy Joe. Is ‘sloppy’ an adjective that you really want to use to describe a foodstuff? I know we British aren’t exactly renown for the quality of our cuisine, but that looks revolting.

That’s it for our similes in this track. But E and PMD aren’t ready to get the bill just yet. Forgive me if we gloss over these verses, I’m running out steam.

[PMD]

You said you see me jamming at New York Tech
You got one right fella, you deserve a check
How did you know? You must have been jocking
How would you know the places I be rocking?
Don’t follow me fella, every move that I make
I’m hostile now so I’ll give you a break
Research upon me but don’t go past the limit
Here’s my card and on the back is my fan club digits

[Erick Sermon]

There’s two things to check out in the words that I’m saying
Plus listen to the guitar playing
The bro is bad, the strings he’s pluckin’
Fire rhyme after rhyme, watch MCs duckin’

[PMD]

MCs, it’s the final countdown
You look tired, can you go the round?
If you can, I’ll slap your hand and give you credit
And if not, I’ll turn around and say ‘Forget it’

[Erick Sermon]

People, they say that I’m a party pooper
That’s not true, I’m a Long Island trooper

[Once more with feeling]

You a customer

You just spent over five minutes dissing me, EPMD. That’s no way to treat a valued customer.

Anyway, the bills arrived. Let’s take a moment to check they’re not short-changing us of similes. I’ll get this one, I’m feeling generous.

A fantastic 18 similes on the menu for this one. Not surprising it’s high, given that this has the second-longest word count of any entry so far (just lagging behind the mighty Wu-Tang Clan). But due to its length, it lags behind on similes per minute (SPM).

Sorry again for the pause between posts. I’m going to try to be more regular. It’s not like I’ve got much else to do at the moment. Next time round I’ll be celebrating a whole year of cataloguing hip-hop’s greatest similes. Christ. I do hope you’ll join me.

The stats

Similes:18
Words:860
Words per simile:47.78
Length:5m 22s
Similes per minute:3.35
Section of the Yellow Pages to look for EPMD’s business:Unknown

Leave a comment. Bonus points for similes.