Erick Sermon :: Chilltown, New York :: Universal Motown Records Group
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

Back in the days when he was a teenager, before he had status and before he had a pager, Erick Sermon was an aspiring rap artist from Bayshore, New York with big dreams. When linked up with fellow aspiring rap artist Parrish Smith from Long Island, the duo astounded hip-hop fans with some of the most rugged, hardcore, uncut raw hip-hop the world had ever seen. Dubbed EPMD, short for Erick and Parrish Making Dollars, the team went on to record four successive albums with the word "Business" in the title, each improving on the last and solidifying a cult status that guaranteed they would go gold each time out with or without support from radio or MTV.

Hip-Hop fans were shocked and heartbroken when the two parted ways in the 1990's over creative differences. One had to wonder - what would the outcome be when the two went their own way with solo careers? For Sermon, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Little recognized during EPMD's heyday as the architect of their many booming basslines and beats, he proved as a soloist that he was the true foundation of their success. While critically acclaimed Sermon solo albums like "No Pressure" and "Music" have had modest sales over the years (usually several hundred thousand units sold) they've fared far better than the solo albums of Smith, for whom going "double lead" or "double wood" would have been a step up from double nothing. The two briefly reunited in the latter 90's to give it "the ol' college try" one more time, but the spark was gone and each ultimately moved on.

Having doubled in age and certainly MORE than doubled in stature in the rap world since his debut, Sermon could easily rest on his laurels both in his own career and for the hit records he has produced for numerous other artists. Erick Sermon's having none of it though. The self-described "Green Eyed Bandit" is like De La Soul, KRS-One, Chuck D and Too $hort - he'll retire when he damn well feels like it. Thus in 2004 Sermon has released "Chilltown, New York" - a phrase he has used to describe his stomping grounds in the Big Apple for years and years. If you had any doubt that Sermon still had chops musically and lyrically, the "Home (Intro)" puts all doubts to rest:

"The Roger Moore of the rap game
He's 007, I'm E-Double the veteran, the name
(Erick!) The way I do it is Mean Joe
Green Eyed Bandit, nigga check the pamphlet
On my CD, you won't hear the same
It's two special guests, and the rest is my name
You won't hear the bling, or the champagne - nuttin
You won't hear a nigga on the microphone frontin
And no love songs, I'm not serenadin
I'm just narratin the streets on my beats"

Now that's vintage Erick Sermon. The beat is slow and well-crafted, the lyrics are simple and highly effective, and that slight slurry lisp to his speech gives him one of hip-hop's most distinguished, recognizeable and enjoyable flows. For 18 years and running, E-Dub has been one of the premier voices of East coast rap, and he won't be the first to deny it. The cocky rapper not only claims he's "God Sent" but has a message for his fans who are stuck in EPMD's past and not up to date with the times:

"For those who wonderin, it's no other
Five times on The Source, I graced the cover
So save your opinion, you wanna hear that old
"You're a Customer" type flow, when I rhyme slow
That was 15 years ago - if you wanna hear that
then buy that tape, and hear that flow (YO!)
Jah said somethin like you have to grow
Can't stagnate the flow, cause you said so
I walk this way, cause I've paid dues
I'm a giant, and you need platform shoes"

Sermon tends to bring along a few of his close homies for each album, so it's no surprise to see Keith Murray and Sy Scott on "Listen" or Redman and Tre on "Street Hop." This generally has mixed results - while Red and Keith are two hip-hop veterans who literally owe their career to being put on by the Green Eyed Bandit, rappers like Scott have been hanging on to his coattails for a while and never seem to branch out successfully on their own. More to the point, it's not readily apparent that they could. Scott's gimmicks of alliteration and repetition on "Like Me" doesn't constitute much of a lyric or for that matter a flow:

"Give or receive, and give or take, I'm an Indian giver
I take back what's given to the getter from the giver
Nigga give way, give up, you never get a glimpse
of the Glimmer Man, glimmer glitter when I trek your body shiver
Rhythm I'm rippin whatever I can get a grip of
Just to get a giggle, this literature's ishkabibble"

Fortunately for the listener, these underwhelming moments are few and far between. There are plenty of pleasant surprises on the album, like Talib Kweli getting down for his crown on "Chillin'" or the Jamaican sound of Sean Paul sampled into "Feel It" so smoothly you'd think he was a guest rapper. Even the aforementioned Scott redeems himself on this track by not being too over the top in his brief appearance. There are bugged out songs like "Future Thug" featuring Redman, and down to earth songs like "Do You Know" where Sermon warns about the perils of being caught up in the music business:

"What happen when the clock stop (uh?)
Injury, and no more wicked jump shots (two!)
ESPN ends...
There goes your 2 million fans and there goes your friends (uh-huh)
They don't care who you are and what you did
You a "Where Are They Now?" VH-1 type kid (it's over)
Major fact is, all the actors mad
Cause they Rolls been takin by rappers
"How High?" You thought you had it all figured out
Get the car, get the truck, and then get the house (uh-huh)
Touchy subject, I ain't wanna paint this picture
But Picasso's dead, so I did it instead"

"Chilltown, New York" proves itself a worthy successor not only to 2002's "React" but to the rest of Sermon's long and storied rap career, where the sounds you hear may be devestating to your ear. While some might in fairness argue that at this point he's so consistent from album to album that he's on cruise control, that's really not a bad thing. After all, being consistently fresh from the late 1980's through the early 90's is what made four successive EPMD albums gold on the charts and to their fans. Those who've ignored him since their split have done so at their peril, because like Nice & Smooth said so many years ago, he keeps coming back with more and more hits.

Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10

Originally posted: June 29, 2004