Rap musician, producer
In the late 1980s, Erick Sermon, perhaps better known to his fans as the Green-Eyed Bandit, made a name for himself on the rap scene as one-half of EPMD. A partnership with fellow rapper Parrish Smith, EPMD stands for “Erick and Parrish making dollars.” Their aggressive style and Sermon’s laid-back delivery influenced the so-called gangsta rap scene emerging at the time. The duo went on to success beginning with Strictly Business, which features “You Gots to Chill” and “It’s My Thing.” The album quickly reached gold, selling 300,000 copies on the day it was released. EPMD followed that success with Unfinished Business and Business As Usual, which boasts the hit “Gold Digger.” Each new EPMD album was a greater financial success than the one before. The duo exemplified the cool funk style that is now a large part of the hip-hop scene.
Sermon, a native of Bayshore, Long Island, New York, where he was born on November 25, 1968, has developed a trademark slurred delivery that set his albums with Smith apart. In 1992 the duo broke up and Sermon went solo, but he retained his characteristic style. In an article at the ARTISTdirect website, he commented after the split, “I don’t want a war—that’s bad luck, bad karma. It’s just me now, and I have to say so. I was always the personality, the funny stuff in EPMD. I put that all into No Pressure. I make records for the people, not myself—I make what I think they wanna hear. It’s not about image. I’m real with mine.”
Sermon’s first work after the break up of EPMD, No Pressure, is a self-produced outing with 12 tracks of funky hip-hop without frills. Sermon feels that the shorter the songs are, the better. In addition to the bonus track called “Female Species,” the disc includes mock queries from journalists between the songs, questioning whether Sermon can make it as a solo artist. Sermon “replies” to the questions with his music, confident that his skills will put such doubts to rest. The great success of the album did change the generally held feeling that Sermon’s partner had been the true talent of the duo. Sermon’s writing and producing work since then have established him as a hip-hop legend.
Contributing to the album’s success was Sermon’s first single, “Stay Real.” It is his tribute to the hard-core style of rap that he favors, and he tips his hat to seminal rap artists Run-D.M.C. by including a sample from their “Run’s House.” He exhibits little regard for what he calls sell-out rappers with mainstream appeal and instead creates rap music that is raw, bass-heavy, and murky.
Sermon became a hot commodity in the record business when he flew solo and created Def Squad Productions. His production work includes such artists as Heavy D, Keith Murray, Shaquille O’Neal, Redman, Jodeci, and En Vogue. In 1995, with help from guests Redman and Murray, he released Double or Nothing, which was described by some critics as rambling. The release was only moderately successful. Later, Sermon and Smith reunited for the release of two EPMD albums, Back in Business and Out of Business. In 2000, his second Def Squad release, called Def Squad Presents Erick Onasis, was released.
Sermon has moved his Def Squad productions to J Records, which stemmed from a joint venture between Clive Davis and BMG Entertainment. Davis founded Arista Records in 1975 and is credited with nurturing the careers of such stars as Whitney Houston, San-tana, Aretha Franklin, and Sarah McLachlan. In addition to Sermon’s own work, he will produce songs for the recording company. In a release from J Records, Sermon expressed his excitement about the move: “All the years I have in this business I’m counting as experience and now it’s time to do WORK . J Records is giving me a great opportunity and the knowledge, wisdom, and skills of the people here at J—starting with the man on top—will greatly enhance the Def Squad foundation.” The man on top is of course Davis, chairman and CEO, who acknowledged Sermon as a major trendsetter in the field.
After joining the J Records family, Sermon topped the Billboard R&B chart with “Music,” which contains a sample of rare vocals from Marvin Gaye. The single, which received much praise in the industry for its break with current hip-hop styles, simply tells the story of a man and his love for his music. Sermon said he got the idea after listening to Gaye’s Midnight Love album. He said he wanted to show people how music influences
Born on November 25, 1968, in Bayshore, NY.
Joined EPMD, 1988; released numerous CDs with EPMD, including Strictly Business, 1988; Unfinished Business, 1989; Business Never Personal, 1992; released solo recording No Pressure, 1993; released Double or Nothing, 1995; released Music, 2001; released React, 2002.
Addresses: Record company—J Records, 745 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10051, website: http://www.jrecords.com.
our lives. Sermon also voices concern about young people, reflecting the values taught him by his parents, who have worked with learning disabled children. One of his singles is “Safe Sex,” a subject he feels too few African American artists confront. In the ARTISTdirect article, Sermon shared his formula for reaching young people with his music: “The beat’s gotta get you first—it puts the message in their head.”
In September of 2001, good publicity turned sour for Sermon as newspaper headlines out of Paterson, New Jersey, reported that the rap star was hospitalized with injuries that included a broken jaw and head trauma due to a plunge from a three-story window. Numerous conflicting accounts ensued, with J Records and Sermon denying the story about a fall and claiming the rapper had received his injuries from a car accident. Some media outlets reported that the police were treating the incident as a fall and possibly an attempted suicide. According to an article from the VH1 website, Sermon insisted the reports of a suicide attempt were false. “I’m 250 [pounds],” he said, “I ain’t jumping from nothing. I just don’t get that. This is one of the best times in my life. Me jumping out the window, or trying to commit suicide, I was like ‘Are y’all serious?’ I’m like ‘Yo, where did they get that from?’ I just want to say that what they said is not true.” Sermon’s manager, Bernard Alexander, echoed his words. “As his manager and a personal friend for over 20 years,” Alexander was reported as saying at VH1.com, “I must go on record to say that the idea of a suicide attempt is completely ridiculous, and it is just plain wrong to report it in this manner.”
Recovering from his injuries and any lingering negative publicity, Sermon continued making and producing music. He worked on songs for a new album with Parrish Smith while continuing work on a new release for Def Squad. In a VH1.com article, Sermon summed up his place in the music scene and his appreciation for his many fans, saying: “The type of love that is happening right now is just incredible.”
No Pressure, Def Jam, 1993.
Double or Nothing, Def Jam, 1995.
Music, J Records, 2001.
React, J Records, 2002.
Strictly Business, Fresh/Priority, 1988.
Unfinished Business, Fresh/Priority, 1989.
Business As Usual, Def Jam, 1991.
Business Never Personal, Def Jam, 1992.
Back in Business, Def Jam, 1997.
Out of Business Def Jam, 1999.
Larkin, Colin, editor, Encyclopedia of Popular Music, MUZE, 1998.
Music Week, March 29, 2003, p. 21.
“Erick Sermon,” ARTISTdirect, http://www.artistdirect.com/showcase/urban/esermon.html (June 29, 2003).
“Erick Sermon,” J Records, http://www.jrecords.com/artists/erick_sermon_bio.html (June 29, 2003).
“Erick Sermon,” VH1.com, http://www.vh1.com/artists/az/sermon_erick/artist.jhtml (June 29, 2003).
—Corinne J. Naden
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