February 9, 2018

Erick Sermon - Def Squad Presents Erick Onasis (June 27, 2000)

In 1999, producer-slash-rapper Erick Sermon had just released Out Of Business, which was purported to be the final album by his legendary duo EPMD, which he formed with his longtime friend-turned-foe-turned-friend Parrish “PMD” Smith (and DJ Scratch, lest we all forget). Unlike all five of their previous projects, Out of Business failed to sell enough units to earn them another gold plaque, but Erick and Parrish enjoyed their elder statesmen roles, helping discover new acts while boosting the careers of their protégées Redman, Keith Murray, and EPMD., and the music reflected this.

Fast forward one year later. The relationship with Def Jam is terminated: neither Sermon nor PMD would ever release a project on that iconic imprint again in their careers. PMD is off spinning his wheels in the underground (a story for someone else to tell, as he isn’t the focus of today’s post), while the artist known as the Green-Eyed Bandit is recording for Dreamworks Records under an alias.

What the fuck happened?

Def Squad Presents Erick Onasis is the result of Sermon attempting to earn a living while trying to get out of his contract with Def Jam. As he was signed to them as both a part of EPMD and as a solo artist, he couldn’t very well use his own given name on any recordings outside of his legal obligations. No, that would be ridiculous. So to get around that, when Dreamworks offered him an exit plan, he selected a pseudonym that would represent his mindstate at the time, while keeping it familiar enough that he wasn’t at risk of losing any of his core audience. That’s how we ended up with the character Erick Onasis, the byproduct of the new millennium’s obsession with wealth and status, which he named after Jacqueline Onassis. However, if he was really trying to go after a pseudo-connection to old money such as the Rockefellers (a name he couldn’t use thanks to Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records), the Kennedys were still available. Although “Erick Kennedy” looks horrible now that I’ve typed it out.

Even though he may have been on the run from Def Jam, Dreamworks’ witness protection program didn’t impose any restrictions on the type of output he could produce, so Def Squad Presents Erick Onasis sounds exactly like an Erick Sermon album, nay, an Erick Sermon album he probably would have released while still signed to his original label home. The darker, spacier, more soulful sounds he played around with on his previous solo effort, Double Or Nothing, were abandoned in favor of millennium-friendly bouncier beats and a revolving door for his guest stars, including his immediate family members, a roster of rookies who you’ll never hear from again, and some A-list surprises to help keep things interesting.

Almost immediately after releasing Def Squad Presents Erick Onasis in 2000, Sermon left Dreamworks in favor of a deal with Clive Davis’ J Records; Sermon became one of the first artists signed to the new major label, sought out by Davis personally. What that says for the quality of this project, or the conditions he recorded it within, I don’t know, at least not until I write out the rest of this review.

A rap album intro that starts off with E-Double mowing his lawn (no, seriously) and ends with our host administering a beatdown onto a passing acquaintance who dared to talk shit about him behind his back. It’s a parable for life in our chosen genre, where you have to assert your dominance in your field on a consistent basis, lest you be abandoned in the clearance bin desert. Wait, what? It isn’t a parable? This was just a shitty rap album intro? Yeah, that tracks.

2. I DO EM
Sermon’s instrumental (which is also credited to DJ Scratch) tries a bit too hard, combining the typical E-Double early-2000s flexibility with samples from a bigger band outing, creating some bombastic flair that threatens to overtake the entire track before quieting down into a charming melody every few bars. I get that Sermon wanted to go theatrical for the first real song of Def Squad Presents Erick Onasis, but “I Do Em” doesn’t quite work. Even his boasts-n-bullshit seem forced. The only moment of this track I liked was when the Green Eyed Bandit screws up his second verse, regroups, and starts over, which, interestingly enough, he left in the final cut. I don’t believe he faked the goof, but I also don’t buy that it wasn’t done purposefully, if you know what I mean. Which I don’t, clearly, because now I’m confused. This description has gotten away from me.

Sermon’s rubberband bass beat sounds much better on “Don’t Get Gassed”, an excuse for our host to deliver two verses that display the cockiness that helped make his entire career. The chorus is pretty dumb, but not so much that it distracts the listener from the song overall. “Don’t Get Gassed” is inconsequential, and if you’re an EPMD fanatic or only know the man from his work with Reggie and Keithy, it shouldn’t be considered essential listening, but I wouldn’t skip this track when playing through Def Squad Presents Erick Onasis. It’s pleasant enough, is what I’m trying to say.

The only single I remember from Def Squad Presents Erick Onasis, but if you’re lucky enough to snag a Slick Rick guest feature on your project, why wouldn’t you use it to promote the album? (See also: OutKast (sort of); Cru; Will Smith; Jay-Z (sort of).) Especially when the effort is as good as “Why Not”, which is my favorite track off of the album as a whole. Sermon’s instrumental skews a bit darker than we’re used to, which is a world I’d love to see him explore more often. Erick Onasis takes the first verse, handling it well, but Slick Richard’s casual flow destroys him rather quickly, with plenty of running time left over for The Ruler to coast. Fantastic song, one that still holds up very well today.

Labeled as an interlude for some stupid reason, as this is a legitimate song, if not a very good one. Sermon and Khari (yeah, I don’t know either) each spit a verse while special guest star Reggie Noble performs the hook (he also co-produced the track), which seems like a huge wasted opportunity before you take a look at the next song and your heart rate jumps quite a bit. “Live It Up Interlude” isn’t anything a listener would want to rewind or revisit. Khari sounds pretty much exactly like how an amateur artist unexpectedly given a national showcase would sound, and while E-Double does his thing, you won’t conjure up enough emotion to give a shit.

A follow-up to No Pressure’s “Hostile” that manages to bring that same energy, which is to say, this shit bangs. As if to make up for his past transgressions on “Live It Up (Interlude)”, Redman spits an opening verse that is pure flames, which is great enough to ignore the fact that Reggie Noble didn’t appear on “Hostile”. Sermon, however, obviously did, and his brief performance benefits from the natural chemistry he exudes whenever spitting alongside his Def Squad brethren. Keith “Keith Murray” Murray, the breakout star of the original “Hostile”, closes the track with a short verse that, sadly, isn’t very good, which is why I love “Why Not” a lot more than “Hostility”, before you two start wondering. But overall, this was pretty fucking entertaining.


Sermon’s instrumental sounds like a slowed-down version of the “Hostility” beat, which I had never noticed before, but you two don’t give a shit, you want to know how the late Eazy-E comes across over an E-Double production. Well, you’re lying to yourselves, you don’t really care, but stand down regardless: Eric’s verse (and hook) are borrowed from a song called “Gangsta Beat 4 Tha Street”, straight off Str8 Off Tha Streetz of Muthaphukkin Compton, an Eazy-E posthumous project I once called the man’s finest hour (no, really, here’s proof), and anyone familiar with that song will immediately be thrown off once Sermon lays the hook into “So Sweet”. Why our host felt the need to resurrect a performance that can be easily found elsewhere, I will never know. Unless someone tells me in the comments, of course. I also invite Sermon to tell me himself: you can find me on Twitter at @hhid_Max.

His comfort zone screaming at him to get the fuck out to the door, E-Double stays firmly on West Coast soil with “Focus”, which is co-produced by guest star DJ Quik. Sermon isn’t fully settled in yet, which comes across in his delivery, but to his credit, he does try, and turns in a decent performance . The forever-underrated Quik delivers the middle verse, while Empire’s Xzibit, who already has a song called “Focus” in his catalog, closes things out with a verse that contains exactly one laugh-out-loud moment. Give this a spin and you’ll figure it out. Sermon later returned the favor by producing “Alkaholik”, one of the highlights from X’s third album Restless. Apparently “Focus” was also released as a single, but I never knew a video was commissioned until literally today. The very end of the audio track is dedicated to a sound bite lifted from a porno flick, which, well, didn’t think you’d ever hear that on an Erick Sermon album, did you?

Thankfully, “Feel Me Baby” isn’t about fucking (which makes the inclusion of the porno snippet even more questionable – I get that’s where the song’s title comes from, but were there really no other avenues to that same destination, pal?), but is instead a posse cut featuring a lackluster posse. Khari returns to drop another verse, sounding wholly mechanical, while Sy Scott, who has at least popped up on a number of these collaborations throughout whatever constitutes his career, is a bit more comfortable in the booth. If E-Double thought he was doing these guys a favor by featuring them on “Feel Me Baby”, though, he’s sorely mistaken, as this shit was dull. I can’t even remember a single word from the Green Eyed Bandit’s own verse. Groan.

The instrumental starts off interestingly enough, with disconnected samples and vocals floating around before finding a connection with Sermon’s signature, which is to say “Can’t Stop” ultimately sounds like every other track on Def Squad Presents Erick Onasis. Aside from the guest on the chorus, E-Double handles this one on his own, including what could be easily interpreted as both a dig at Kelis and a threat to murder any romantic partner that gets in his way, which was just weird, if not incredibly problematic. Unless you really need to hear Sermon’s attempt at making gunshot noises with his mouth (which were at least slightly more realistic than Kendrick Lamar’s), this is a pass.

A boring skit at the end of the previous track leads us into “Get Da Money”, a duet between Erick Sermon and his former Def Jam Records labelmate Ja Rule, their second after 1999’s “E-Dub and Ja”. And I have to say, I prefer Jeffrey’s song much more, since the beat Sermon gave him for his debut solo album Venni Vetti Vecci sounds like a leftover spacey instrumental from the mid-1990s (albeit one co-produced by Irv Gotti, but that’s neither here nor there), whereas the more generically titled “Get Da Money” burns through yet another rubberband beat. Performance-wise, though, this combination isn’t bad at all, Ja Rule’s DMX-lite gruff tempered by Sermon’s conceit. All in all, this certainly could have been much worse.

The very first thing you notice about “Ain’t Shhh To Discuss”, aside from the cowardice present in the song’s very title, is the beat, which is provided by Triston Jones for Mo-Suave House Productions and very decidedly does not sound like anything Erick Sermon could have ever dreamt up himself. The second thing is the voice of guest star Teflon, also known as Teflon Da Don, better known today as Officer Rick Ross, making his rap debut on a forgotten track from a Sermon album credited to an alias. Real fairy tale story, that. The curiosity factor alone may drive a few of you two to check this one out, so I will say that Ricky sounds a little bit more animated on here than I’m used to, but otherwise his performance is the same as it always is. The other guest of note, Noah, lends a verse or something, I can’t remember. Sermon closes out the track with another meh verse that pretty much sums up my feelings on the track: there is nothing worth discussing about it, except for the presence of a future Maybach spokesperson.

Erick Sermon sounds so fucking insincere on this interlude that he may as well be trying to sell me a used Hyundai.

This “posse cut”, as Sermon refers to it during the previous skit, features roughly eighty-seven rappers, most of which you’ve never heard from before or since, and also, inexplicably, Parrish Smith to capture the throwback fans. Everyone burns through their contributions pretty quickly and not very remarkably: I can only remember Big Kim, as she is the lone female rapper of the entire project (and is also Sermon’s sister, apparently, which only reminded me that Redman’s sister Roz wasn’t bad behind the mic), and I can also recall reading the name of guest star Ruck (of Bo & Ruck – yeah, shrug) and getting upset that (a) it wasn’t the late Sean Price, and (b) the motherfucker stole his name from Sean P while he was still alive. PMD closes things out with the best verse by quite a large margin, shouting out The Lox and his rhyme partner (who, curiously, chose not to appear on “Vangundy”) and generating interest for another EPMD project. Utterly forgettable, but pleasantly so, I suppose.

This is probably the angriest I’ve ever been at the final song on any album. “Fat Gold Chain” is not an original composition: for whatever goddamn fucking reason, Sermon took the Too $hort track he appeared on for the Dangerous Crew compilation Don’t Try This At Home, “Buy You Some” (which I’ve written about at length), changed the title, deleted the other guest star, MC Breed, from the proceedings, stole the production credit (from Shorty B, according to the Dangerous Crew notes), and placed it on Def Squad Presents Erick Onasis with no further explanation. What the mother fuck, dude? For the record, I still love “Buy You Some”: it features Sermon’s best and cockiest rhymes outside of his own crew projects, the simple guitar plucking on the beat is great (until the music switches up, anyway), $hort pimps his way through as usual, and Breed provided a vocal contrast that helps the track breathe. To add insult to injury, Sermon cuts off the song immediately after $hort delivers the first bar of what was supposed to be his second goddamn verse. This was some bullshit, and you two shouldn’t acknowledge this as anything but Erick Sermon being a dick and trying to steal your money and/or time. Listen to “Buy You Some” on repeat and forget this horseshit even fucking exists.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Sorry about that, folks: “Fat Gold Chain” just fucking pisses me the fuck off. It makes me so angry that it almost negates all of the effort Erick Sermon put into the rest of Def Squad Presents Erick Onasis. So I’m going to try to breathe, and then review everything except for the final song. This album isn’t awful, but it isn’t peak E-Double: his confident delivery is as cocky as ever, but he has nothing to say at this point in his career, and no amount of talking around the subject makes him seem any more compelling. Some of the beats on Def Squad Presents Erick Onasis are among the best he’s done, though, and his choice in collaborators at least helps provide a sense of variety. I mean, were you two expecting Rick Ross to pop up on an Erick Sermon album ever? Or Eazy-E? But there isn’t enough good on here to offset the truly boring tracks, the unnecessary skits, or the uninspired guest performances (Keith Murray, a dude who should have soared on this motherfucker, tanks in his brief cameo). This project has one single purpose: to inform listeners that Erick Sermon once has a bug up his butt to change his rap name for the length of time it took for him to record this one album. And that’s not a good enough excuse for any of this.

BUY OR BURN? Burn it. Stream it. Whatever. But don’t buy this one. Sermon needs to be taught a lesson.

BEST TRACKS: “Why Not”; “Hostility”; parts of “Vangundy”


Catch up on The Saga of the Green-Eyed Bandit by clicking here.


  1. And here for all these years, I thought the Too $hort verse cut off because of the burned CD that I had the album on.

  2. I cannot agree with you more on that Fat Gold Chain bullshit. As for E’s best rhymes outside his own crews, I’d be fronting if I didn’t nominate his performance on Cypress Hill’s Throw Your Hands In The Air. Shoutouts to DJ Muggs & Shorty B.

    1. I would agree, apart from the bit where he claims to be 'doper than Pete Rock remixes'... yeah...