Billboard Bits: EPMD/Sermon, Kiss, Jayhawks

News on EPMD, Erick Sermon, Kiss, Jayhawks

Erick SermonRap duo EPMD and Erick Sermon have signed with J Records, sources tell Billboard Bulletin. Sermon is a solo artist and half of EPMD, along with Parrish Smith. Both were previously signed to Def Jam. Representatives for J declined comment. EPMD has not released an album since 1999's "Out of Business," which debuted at No. 2 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and has sold 247,000 copies in the U.S., according to SoundScan.

Sermon can currently be heard on the track "Music," which features a vocal sample from late soul legend Marvin Gaye. The cut, released on the Interscope soundtrack to "What's the Worst That Could Happen?," is No. 10 Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart this week.

-- Rashaun Hall, N.Y.

Just when you thought Kiss couldn't possibly lend its likeness to a more outrageous merchandising scheme, the veteran hard rock act has one-upped itself by rolling out a line of caskets. In a statement posted on its official Web site , the group announced details of the Kiss Kaskets, which are "completely covered with a specially laminated photomural that features the Kiss logo and the images of the band members." Aside from sending you off in the ultimate of heavy metal funerals, the contraption can also double as a beverage cooler, "enabling fans and their friends to enjoy ice-cold sodas and beer served directly from the ice-filled, completely waterproof" casket, the site boasts. According to bassist Gene Simmons, "This is the ultimate Kiss collectible. I love livin', but this makes the alternative look pretty damn good." Kiss Kaskets will be available for sale through the Web site and via "local funeral homes." Among the gaggle of new Kiss products and services recently launched are Kiss Girl's Intimate Leather Apparel, Kiss Party Cruises, and Kiss Kola.

The Jayhawks will take some time off from writing their next album to play a handful of Midwestern dates next month. The five-show mini-tour kicks off July 7 in Milwaukee, and closes with a July 28-29 stand in Minneapolis. The forthcoming album will be the follow-up to last year's critically acclaimed "Smile" (American/Columbia), which has sold 89,000 copies in the U.S. to date, according to SoundScan.

July 7: Milwaukee (Summerfest/Leinie's Stage) July 14: Indianapolis (White River State Park) July 27: Chicago (Lincoln Park Zoo) July 28-29: Minneapolis (First Avenue; second night is all-ages)