October 20, 2010

Erick Sermon - No Pressure (October 19, 1993)


EPMD broke up in 1993, the result of infighting between the two principles, Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith.  Smith accused Sermon of orchestrating a break-in at his home, and even though the police later cleared him as a suspect, the bond between these two was shattered (temporarily, it turns out, but that's a story for another day).  Sermon began complaining publicly about mismanaged funds, and the days of EPMD were officially numbered.  Business Never Personal wound up being the final album released during the golden era of Erick and Parrish Making Dollars.

In the divorce, PMD gained custody of Das EFX and their deejay, DJ Scratch.  Erick Sermon was able to walk away with his dignity, along with upstart rapper Redman, who he would go on to make some big moves with.  (Rap duo Knucklehedz, EPMD affiliates that most hip hop heads have forgotten about entirely, were the lone major casualty of the breakup: their debut album, Strickly Savage, which featured production from both Erick and Parrish, was shelved indefinitely after they disbanded, and they quickly became the tiniest of footnotes in the annals of history.)

E Double was also allowed to retain his record label, Def Jam, although that may be more because The House That Russell Built was more convinced of his talent than that of Parrish Smith, who moved on to RCA.  Nine months after his world changed, Sermon unleashed his solo debut, No Pressure, addressing his concerns in the most ironic way he could think of.  Unlike his former partner, none of Sermon's solo albums feature the word "business" in the title: this could be seen as a sign that our host for the evening was trying to finally have some fun, since he now retained final cut.

No Pressure was the first album conceived in the EPMD breakup, and it was a huge hit, cementing Sermon's legacy in our chosen genre and allowing the man to enjoy a second phase in his career, something that a lot of artists never receive.  Today, it's most notable for featuring the debut appearance of Def Squad cohort Keith Murray, another relationship that would prove fruitful for E Double later on down the line.

Seventeen years out, it's time to see if Erick Sermon's No Pressure holds up as well as everyone thinks it does.

1. INTRO
Useless, useless, useless.

2. PAYBACK II (FEAT. JOE SINISTR)
Erick Sermon clearly intended for this track to be seen as a direct sequel to EPMD's “The Big Payback”, which sounded nothing like this. (The horrible chorus only underscores the obvious.) For the first real solo song on Sermon's catalog, he introduces an awkward flow that sounds fucking terrible, but he's smart enough to know his own limitations: our host is acutely aware that a little bit of him goes a long way, so he recruits Joe Sinistr to join him behind the mic, and he sounds so much better than our host that E Double's contribution to the vocals is somewhat negated. Not exactly how I would kick off my own solo album, but fuck it, I'm not Erick Sermon.

3. STAY REAL
Our host provides some pointed commentary toward hip hop fanatics about how to secure the future of our chosen genre. Sermon doesn't stray too far from his comfort zone, giving listeners what sounds like an EPMD song that PMD simply failed to make the cut of. (Which is one of the biggest problems I have with No Pressure, but I digress.) E Double sounds much better on here, his natural habitat at the time (tons of samples mashed together into a coherent, funky song structure), than he did on “Payback II”, leading me to wonder why this song, which is actually quite good (even though I couldn't make out E's comment about Das EFX before the third verse), wasn't placed immediately after the intro. Hmm...

4. IMMA GITZ MINE
I imagine that a lot of EPMD fans who picked up No Pressure out of sheer loyalty were not entirely convinced that Erick Sermon could actually carry an album by his lonesome. This may be due to his lazy stoner flow, which favors simple phrases and clichés over character development. Sermon isn't an idiot, though: if you pay attention to his lyrics, he'll usually surprise you with some out-of-left-field references and clever wordplay, and besides, it's almost impossible to hate the earnestness heard in Sermon's rhymes. This song was by no means great, but it does its job.

5. HOSTILE (FEAT. KEITH MURRAY & JEFFREY STEWART)
This track is best known as the official debut of the third member of the Def Squad, the combustible anger ball known as Keith Murray. Sermon sounds awkward over his own beat: his violent threats are transparent and seem to exist only because he wanted to be taken seriously when alongside the rookie. But Keith sounds fucking incredible. His verse takes you back to the finest moments of The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World and Enigma, back when he was amazing with the wordplay and not physically assaulting record label employees for looking at him funny. Never has a song title been so appropriate a description for a guest artist. This was really good.

6. DO IT UP
Sermon's instrumental is at once familiar and foreign, as he takes samples that most hip hop heads will recognize and combines than into something altogether different. However, Erick most certainly spent more time on the beat than he did with the writing of his rhymes, as his verses are an amalgam of stream-of-consciousness braggadocio and pop culture references. Once again, this sounds like an EPMD song missing the co-star: Erick would have benefited from bringing a plus-one to this particular party.

7. SAFE SEX (FEAT DEBRA KILLINGS)
Corny as fuck, and not only because, in giving listeners a public service announcement, Erick Sermon also insists on protecting the listener's ears from STDs by censoring the song. Hiding the message of AIDS awareness in what was probably a leftover EPMD beat isn't a terrible idea, but Erick leads folks down the wrong path, insisting that everyone have a good time (with the drinking and the oddly uncut drug use that goes with it_ before flipping the switch and commanding everyone to wear a condom. I won't even get into how he tries to pass off the phrase “respect my floor” as a euphemism for “take off your shoes, in English”. Huh? Run that by me again?

8. HITTIN' SWITCHES
The drum beat on here is so overused in hip hop that “Hittin' Switches” automatically sounds like something that you've already heard at least twenty times over, even if you're only two years old and this was your first bit of exposure to our chosen genre. This isn't entirely a bad thing: the instant familiarity with this song goes a long way towards enjoying it. Erick's random rhymes sound pretty good over the simple instrumental, and the track contains enough of a feel-good vibe that you're left with a smile on your face. Or maybe that's a snarl. A smarl, perhaps?

9. INTRO
An introduction to the second side of the cassette tape. Well, that was nice of him.

10. ERICK SERMON
E Double decided that he didn't want to make the same mistake as his peers, so his self-titled song appears on his very first solo album, just to get it out of the way. The chorus is awful, as it exists only so Erick can sing his own name, but if you look past that, this is fairly interesting. I'm still not convinced that Erick Sermon absolutely needs to have a solo career, though: as with most of the other songs on No Pressure: I was left wishing that a guest star would make a surprise uncredited cameo. Alas, no such luck here.

11. THE HYPE (FEAT DERRICK CULBREATH)
Erick Sermon wastes a Beastie Boys vocal sample on a simplistic tale (in both structure and delivery) that devolves into a PG-rated letter to Penthouse toward the end. E Double spends the majority of this tale obsessed with the power his own celebrity brings, which is never a good way to appeal to the general audience. Also, he ends the song by having a three-way with two sisters. Isn't that fucking gross for the sisters? Does any girl ever really get off by watching her sibling get fucked? I've never understood that shit. If they were best friends, I would believe the hype, but Sermon spins this into some kind of pseudo-incestuous nightmare, and the presence of a shared bloodline is what kills it for me.

12. LIL CRAZY (FEAT. SHADZ OF LINGO)
The instrumental on here is actually pretty dope, but Erick's opening verse is fucking terrible. Thankfully, he steps out of the room as the crew Shadz Of Lingo (who were teased at earlier on during No Pressure; oooh, foreshadowing!) attempt to rip shit the fuck apart. Kolorado doesn't provide the best verse in the world or anything, but it was highly enjoyable: it's just too bad that his partner, Lingo, screws everything up with his performance, switching back and forth between your speakers in a highly annoying manner. (I might have possibly gotten the order of the Shadz emcees incorrect: I'm not really familiar with their work.) This was interesting as a glimpse into an alternate universe, one in which Erick Sermon never collaborated with Redman and Keith Murray in the first place.

13. THE ILL SHIT (FEAT. ICE CUBE & KAM)
Fulfilling the need for a batshit collaboration for his solo debut, Erick calls upon West Coast stalwart Kam and, of all people, Lottery Ticket's Ice Cube, who sounds uncomfortable over a Sermon instrumental, even though E Double goes out of his way to craft a Left Coast beat. Kam sounded as authoritative as he always does, but otherwise, there wasn't much to recommend on here.

14. SWING IT OVER HERE (FEAT. REDMAN & KEITH MURRAY)
To my knowledge, this is the very first Def Squad track, and by that I mean this is the very first song that featured Erick Sermon, Redman, and Keith Murray together. Too bad it fucking sucks. Let me extrapolate a bit: the beat is weakly constructed, and Murray, so good on “Hostile”, sounds like he was in way over his head, so his performance may leave you two wondering why he's even in the Def Squad in the first place. However, Sermon sounds rejuvenated, and the almighty Reggie Noble (who receives his own grand introduction right before his verse starts) steps into the restaurant and clears out the buffet, even though he was still in the midst of his "sounding like Erick Sermon" period. This is in no way a good song, but at least two of the three verses were alright.

15. INTERVIEW
The beat playing in the background was re-used by Erick for Keith Murray's “Make It Hot”. That's the only fascinating aspect of this skit, really, since this is truly just an interview with E Double.

16. ALL IN THE MIND (FEAT. SOUP)
Sermon's instrumental explores much darker territory than anything else present on No Pressure: it sounds like some of the bleaker stuff from Keith Murray's debut. That is to say that it's really fucking good. The verses on here aren't all that hot, though. Guest star Soup does his best, but E Double's shitty hook and awkward performance hammer the nail into the song's coffin fairly early on. Sigh.

17. FEMALE SPECIES
Erick Sermon devotes an entire track to the opposite sex, but he has enough sense to tack it on at the very end of No Pressure, so that listeners (such as myself) can eject the disc and pretend that “All In The Mind” was the finale. How thoughtful of him, right?

FINAL THOUGHTS: Although it was fairly popular, Erick Sermon's No Pressure was criticized for sounding too much like another EPMD album. While that is a valid point, my biggest issue with No Pressure is that it's about as engaging as the shittier songs in the former (current) duo's catalog, although it should be noted that this is not an album made up entirely of hip house garbage. Sermon seemed convinced that he didn't need his former business partner to record successful music, and financially he was correct, but most of these songs lack heat, as E Double simply coasts on his prior life instead of establishing a solo identity. Not every song on here is bad, though: in face, a few of them are quite good, and the Green Eyed Bandit goes a long way toward proving to the hip hop audience that he held the majority of the talent in EPMD, as evidenced by his continued success in the game. However, Erick Sermon shouldn't have rushed out the product just to appease his fans: had he taken his time and honed his craft a bit, the end result could have been much more entertaining. Instead, we have No Pressure. Groan.

BUY OR BURN? No thank you. Look up the tracks listed below and come back when Sermon attempts to redeem himself with his sophomore effort. Will that one be worth it? How would I know? I haven't actually written about it yet.

BEST TRACKS: “Hostile”; “Hittin' Switches”; “Stay Real”

-Max

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10 comments:

  1. Hahaha, that incest line had me rollin. Good review, I'll def check the good tracks but I was afraid that this would just be Erick Sermon on auto-pilot and I guess I was right. Oh well, onto the next one. Thanks Max!

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  2. I totaly disagree with you Max. This is a buy album. It's Sermon's best work, except 2 or 3 tracks. Plus, I can't understand why you stamp Erick Sermon's flow "awkward".

    He just talks slow and the more heavier he gets the more slower he rapps. Nothing wrong with that, because his flow follows the tempo of his instrumentals. Just like Too Short does!

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  3. 'Safe Sex' is also pretty pause-worthy if you take some of those lyrics in the literal form. Why is he inviting all these dudes to a sex party and throwing in, 'call up your girl and invite her TOO', like the girls are some sorta afterthought, but they can come too? Then again, he says 'there was a buncha niggas standin' by my door'... why? But maybe I'm just jokin' in regards to his overall pause-worthyness.

    Either way, decent album. Probably woulda been better with more guests and even less Erick. He really turned in some lame verses for this thing, and they stand out even more when it's just him on the track.

    -D!

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  4. Been waiting for this review... TNX

    IMO this album was ok-good.

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  5. I gotta disagree with this, specially on "The Ill Shit", cause that song has a very appropriate title IMO.

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  6. Mr. AquariusOctober 22, 2010

    E Double... Not my cup of tea, but this was still an interesting listen. By the way Max. Kno of CunninLynguists just released a solo cd. Quite an amazing listen I must say. It's too early to call, but I see this ending up on my best of 2010 list easy. You should really check it out seeing as you enjoyed "Will Rap for Food". I'll even buy a digital download for you if you will Gut Reaction it, ha ha.

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  7. hahah you cant fuck with Erick Sermon

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  8. I thought this was hot I really like E.

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  9. There is a b-side to Stay Real 12inch, "Rock Da House", it's 2:30 only and it fucking rocks! "Hittin Switches" was soundtrack to "Who's The Man" of the very first Biggie track fame. And it's a good album, Max!

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  10. AnonymousJune 04, 2014

    See, this is exactly why I like this blog.

    I friggin LOVE the majority of this album.

    But, 7 tracks are, as Max said, absolute crap.

    The remaining 10 warrant a purchase, though.

    ESPECIALLY the featuring tracks. E-Dub really had a talent for choosing his features in the 90's.

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