Thursday, January 04, 2007

Erick Sermon

One-half of the legendary hip-hop duo EPMD, Erick Sermon was also among the genre's most prominent producers, deservedly earning the alias "Funklord" with his trademark raw, bass-heavy grooves. Born in Bayshore, NY, on November 25, 1968, Sermon — aka E Double, the Green-Eyed Bandit, and MC Grand Royal — teamed with rapper Parrish Smith in 1986 to form EPMD, an acronym for "Erick and Parrish Making Dollars"; signing to the tiny Sleeping Bag label, they soon released their debut 12", "It's My Thing," which went on to sell an astounding 500,000 copies. In the years to follow, EPMD emerged as one of rap's most vital acts, their hard-edged beats and Sermon's mumbled, monotone delivery becoming a great influence on the burgeoning gangsta movement. In addition to producing their own material, the duo also helmed records for the extended family of performers dubbed the Hit Squad, whose ranks included Redman, K Solo, and Das EFX. In early 1993, EPMD disbanded, and Sermon soon resurfaced with his solo debut, No Pressure; he also became a sought-after producer and remixer, working with everyone from En Vogue to Blackstreet to Shaquille O'Neal. After a second solo effort, 1995's Double or Nothing, he and Smith reformed EPMD in 1997, releasing the LP Back in Business.

Erick Sermon - No Pressure (1993: Def Jam)
When EPMD finally unravelled after months of rumors and internal turmoil, Erick Sermon wasted no time grabbing the mike. He's quite obsessed with proving he can cut it alone, although his self-titled debut didn't move far from EPMD's trademarks: fat, crunching basslines, neatly inserted samples lifted mainly from Zapp, tight vocal edits, and Sermon's mush-mouthed, deadpan raps. His targets included condoms, sexual warfare, hip-hop groupies, and would-be rap challengers. While this contains the obligatory "bitches" and "niggas" references, there's not as much gun worship as you might expect. No Pressure is as much, if not more, EPMD's final release as Erick Sermon's debut.


Erick Sermon - Double or Nothing (Nov 7, 1995: Def Jam)
Erick Sermon is one half of the influential East Coast hip-hop duo EPMD (the other half being Parrish Smith). Double or Nothing is his second solo album. Every song isn't great but there are no bad ones either. This is an album that you might listen to from beginning to end, free of the impulse to fast-forward. Of course Erick Sermon's signature funky sound is here, along with the influences of fellow Def Squad members Redman and Keith Murray. The three team up on the aggressive "Sound Off" sounding nice together, as usual. Redman appears on quite a few tracks, bringing the punchlines and bold attitude which work so well for him.

Perhaps because EPMD is so ingrained into listeners' psyches, Erick Sermon has never been given a fair shake as a solo artist. While he has exerted every bit of his energy to carve out his own separate identity outside of the EPMD spectrum, it has really been to no avail. That is why the breakout hit "Music" could not have appeared at a more needed time for Sermon. After innocently fiddling around with some old, unreleased Marvin Gaye lyrics, Sermon ended up fashioning a perfect marriage of sampling with "Music," which ultimately spawned a renewed interest in the Green Eyed Bandit and led to his subsequent deal with J Records. Sermon's Music sounds like he realizes that he has only one life left (Lil Kim's sparse appearance on "Come Thru" is included merely for name-recognition only). Recalling his influential past, Sermon waxes longingly about his fame on "Genius E Dub" featuring Olivia (which includes another uninspired recycling of the Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love"). Yet, the script is then flipped on the gospel-tinged "The Sermon" (featuring R. Kelly), on which Sermon relays a feeling of abandonment and discloses how the phone stopped ringing when the hits dried up, though Sermon was sent stumbling to his corner for an eight count after the Erick Onassis debacle. Thanks to Music, this batch of music is the smelling salt that will enable this brother from the boondocks to make it out of his corner for another round.

Erick Sermon, one of the few dedicated artists in hip-hop with a steady hand on both the mic and the mixing board, delivered a hardcore follow-up to his 2001 crossover hit Music. With Sermon spitting rough, raw raps and sequencing the tracks to match, React is much closer to the dark tone of his main concern EPMD than on his J. Records debut. The hit here is the title track, with Sermon and guest Redman locking into a killer groove, helped along by an Indian film loop. "To tha Girlz" proves that Sermon's better telling off the guys than talking to the ladies, but it's one of the few missteps here. For fans of hardcore hip-hop with no concessions to R&B or any type of crossover, Sermon's fourth album is a breath of fresh air.
Erick Sermon's fifth solo album marks his move over to Universal Motown, after a two-album stint spent with J Records. As most could have only expected, Chilltown, New York offers nothing fancy. Sermon produces everything and is helped out on the mike — yet is rarely outshined by — the likes of Talib Kweli, Redman, Keith Murray, and Def Squad newcomer Sy Scott. He has yet to coast on his legacy; actually, he has to be one of the first MCs to underestimate it, claiming to be a 15-year veteran when he could lay claim to close to two decades of business. Chilltown won't be thought of as a classic down the line, but it hardly weakens the MC/producer's reputation. It's unfortunate that most will remember the album for "Feel It," a slight sop to the charts. Those who have been following Sermon all along, however, will see Chilltown for what it is: a hardly disposable, if imperfect, addition to a remarkable back catalog.

2 comments:

Eliko B said...

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Blacktop said...

Great section on the e-double. Good post.