Interview: Erick Sermon Brings Back The Real With His ‘E.S.P.’ Album
Erick Sermon has been on a winning streak since his 1988 EPMD debut, Strictly Business, which contains the classic “You Gots To Chill.“Since then, E Dub has milked the game for six RIAA certified gold albums. Even among the Shady/Aftermath/G-Unit industry takeover back in the early 2000s, the Green Eyed Bandit moved bodies with the infectious Marvin Gaye-sampled “Music,” which peaked at No. 2 on the R&B charts.
You’d be bugging to think that Sermon is limited to lyrics. The Long Island native also crafts backdrops. Among his list of clients are hip-hop heavyweights like Jay Z, LL Cool J, Akon, 50 Cent and Raekwon. In an industry filled with facsimiles, the “Crossover” rapper anted up on his OG status by adding to the culture. How? Bringing us Das EFX, K-Solo, Redman and Keith Murray.
Before Young Money, Migos and TDE, there was EPMD, Def Squad and Hit Squad—all lead by Erick Sermon. So, yes, the 45-year-old MC is most definitely qualified to school these young-uns on mic control. That’s why Sermon is bringing back the real for his seventh solo album, E.S.P. (Erick Sermon’s Perception), any day now.
“I wanted to make a New York record,” he says. “Something that reminds me of New York, whether it’s [Jay Z’s] “Reservoir Dogs,” [Diddy’s] All About the Benjamins,” or Lil Kim and Mobb Deep’s “Quiet Storm.”
While singles “Make Room” co-starring Joell Ortiz and Sheek Louch, and “One Shot” make rounds in the streets and night spots, Sermon rolled through VIBE HQ to talk recording at 45 years old, his upcoming LP and why hip-hop is still flourishing.
Get schooled below– Darryl Robertson
VIBE: Why’d you decide to drop a new project?
Erick Sermon: I’m just trying to let people know about the culture. The reason why it’s dead and no one is buying records from those so-called hot artists is because no one cares about that. The club is cool but I’m not spending my money on that. My nieces say, ‘Yeah, Uncle E, I be in the club, ratchet but I’m spending my money on J. Cole.’ If J. Cole selling 345,000 pieces and the average artist selling no records, who billing the win? If Kendrick sells close to a million records and this other kid sold 2,000 copies but he on the radio and everybody in the club is dancing to him, who’s really the winner? That’s why I think that hip-hop, no matter what you do, will still reign supreme. No matter how you look at it, we still win.
You’ve lowkey had a crazy impact on the culture. You’ve brought major players into this game.
Me and Parrish were before our time, because the beats that you hear, people used them. “You’re a Customer” was used by Puffy a thousand times. If it was Faith Evans, if it was Puffy, if it was “I Don’t Want To Know” by Mario Winans, that’s my beat at the bottom. “It’s My Thing” was used by Jay Z and Foxy Brown on “Ain’t No N***a.” I can keep going on and on about how many beats were sampled by EPMD. But again, we were before our time, and for us to be able to do what we did, there was no crews at that time. The crew was us—Hit Squad—EPMD, Redman, Keith Murray and Das EFX. We ran sh*t at the time. Everybody was platinum, everybody was number one on the charts, we were all kicking a**.
What was your formula for creating so many sounds for those different artists?
I patterned myself on having something different. When you heard Reggie (Redman), it was different. When you heard Das EFX, it was different. Das EFX changed the culture. Everybody was saying “miggidy, miggidy. ” There’d be no Kris Kross, there’d be no Lords of the Underground, no Fu-Schnickens, no “Rump Shaker.” Ice Cube even called [Erick Sermon raps “Chickity check yourself”]. That’s how big they were so we were able to marry with the vocabulary. Nobody ever heard that before. I was on the cusp of making something exciting. That’s what hip-hop was. We don’t have that no more. All we’re doing is making records. There are no artists saying, “Yo,” until Kendrick came. Before then, you had the emergence when 50 Cent came, he was like, “Yo.” Em came, “Yo.” You can tell from the reaction from certain people when they came. We don’t have that now.
But the streets f**king with trap and club music.
But it’s not selling. Nobody believes in the product. I’m not going to be at home chilling at the crib and putting that record on. It’s not stimulating me. Not making me do anything because that’s not reality. I’m in reality right now—bills, food, kids. I need something to stimulate me. [With Kendrick Lamar’s] “King Kunta,” I got to hear what this conversation is [about].
But doesn’t every hip-hop era have its, for lack of a better term, “bullsh*t rap?”
Back then, hip-hop was reality. Nas was conversation. Look at Public Enemy when they used to preach to white America while they were in the audience and still win. J. Cole is conversation. Kendrick is conversation. They both kick that sh*t. J. Cole been kicking that sh*t for the last two years. He dangerous. And for him to say they taking our music—look at [Iggy] Azalea, look at Eminem—and for him to put that on a record? Hands down, you got to give it to J. Cole. And Kendrick Lamar, ‘cause he’s awesome. ‘You calling me… yo, yo, yo, I’m proud to be a monkey.’ What?! [Screams for emphasis]
Is it safe to assume that E.S.P. is bringing the convo back?
On my album, when you hear “Make Room,” we doing what hip-hop is. We in a cypher. We’re rhyming. People with skills do that. Now my next single is called “Clutch.” “Clutch” is that because all that you see today, what’s going on in the world, we put in the record, like, ‘Yo, this is what the world is. How can I ignore this? How can I dispute it?’ When Stevie Wonder made records and whatever was going on in the world, he wrote about it. When Marvin Gaye wrote records, whatever was going on in the world was what he wrote about. Whatever the moment was, we wrote about it. It won’t sound preachy but you’ll hear it inside the sentences. While all of this is going on, you need me, Redman and Method Man to take care of this for you.
Speaking of the squad, will they be on E.S.P.?
Me, Keith Murray and Fred The Godson is on a song called “You Can’t Take This From Me.” Fred’s a rhymer who can’t win yet. No matter where you put me at, you can’t take this from me. And that’s what we discussing. No matter what you say about us, you can’t take this [rhyme] from us. I have Mary J. Blige on a record with Faith Evans called “With You.” I got Jarren Benton and Bodega Bamz on my record. [Bodega’s] the nicest Puerto Rican since Big Pun. You can’t sh*t on MCs. If a rapper doing other sh*t, that’s on them. I don’t want that.