Erick Sermon | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Erick Sermon

Chilltown, New York

Hip hop is about 25 years old now. Erick Sermon's been around for about 15 of them, and you can see them in three phases: the EPMD years, the Def Squad years and the post-Wig Split years. He's probably most widely recognized for the first, as EPMD was hip hop's first major duo, having influenced most all of your rap favorites: Outkast, A Tribe Called Quest, Beanie Siegel and Freeway, to name a few.


You could throw their '88 cut, "You Gots To Chill," on at any bar or club from the Phase in Homewood to Dream in D.C. and guarantee yourself a dancefloor riot.


After parting ways with partner, Parrish Making Dollars, the Def Squad age emerged spawning two of the most rah-rah, most beautifullest emcees of our time: Redman and Keith Murray. This is where Sermon started becoming more known for his producing prowess, rather than rapping -- which for argument's sake, he's never been stellar at.


It's in this post-Wig Split era that he delivers his third solo effort Chilltown, New York. We call it Wig Split because of the infamous incident where he allegedly jumped, fell or was pushed out of a window, dropping a few floors and supposedly literally cracked his head open. In an XXL interview, the woman whose apartment he plunged from said that she had to put his baseball cap on to keep his head together. After bumping his head, he left Def Jam Records for Clive Davis' new J Records and was putting out tunes you could groove to with yo' grandmamma, like "Music," which employed a generous sample of an old Marvin Gaye song.


Sermon as a solo artist has never dropped a thoroughly dope banger. Chilltown is probably the closest he's come. He does all the production for it, which will always win because it throws him back to a heavily favored hip-hop era where a singular producer normally would soundtrack an entire album -- or most of it. Remember when a Mobb Deep CD would be all Havoc, a Snoop joint all Dr. Dre, ATCQ all Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Outkast or Goodie Mob all Organized Noize? The decision to do that ensures that an opus will have a true identity as opposed to the schizophrenic offerings that come out now featuring every producer out there: Timbaland, Neptunes, Just Blaze, Kanye West, Mannie Fresh, Kanye West, plus a bonus track from Kanye West.


Sermon's lyrical growth hasn't been as refined as that of contemporaries Kool G. Rap, Masta Ace or KRS-ONE. He can't resist rhymin' about the rims on his Benz and his goddamn green eyes. It seems so high school, and in an age where teens get color contacts to make their pupils every color in a Skittle bag, no one cares what color his eyes are. For black people, the green-eyed look, natural or not, is no longer exotic or even interesting.


There are also points of laziness, such as in "Street Hop" where he finds, like many others way before him, that Nas' one-liners make for excellent hooks. But Sermon decides instead to steal an entire bar from Nas for his hook. Then he goes so far as to recite Nas' lyric, "I'm the man's man / you favorite rapper's rapper," taking from Nas and rapper Styles P. in one breath. There's a fine line between flattery and biting in hip hop and Sermon unfortunately stumbles into the latter too often.


Sermon is cursed with the fact that though he's been out as long as Dr. Dre, he doesn't have that producer's money or accolades, not even in the hood. He often bitches about this in his songs, probably to little sympathy. But as long as he continues his steady stream of solid production quality and keeps a keen eye for new talent (his new artist Sy Scott is off the coat rack), he won't have to worry about being forgotten.