Interview: Hip Hop Legend Erick Sermon of EPMD

Very few Hip Hop artists have had the ability to sustain the career like Erick Sermon has. Over 30 years in the making and the catalog to rival any of your top 5’s, Erick seems to be just heating up as crazy as it may seem. With a new Kickstarter campaign underway, Def Squad’s revival and discovering new talent, The Green Eyed Bandit has been busy even when he goes unnoticed.

Before we get into the new; congratulations on the upcoming 30 year anniversary of “Strictly Business”. When you think back to that time, did you ever think you’d still be here and creating and as relevant all these years later?
Thank you, first off. It still trips me out to think about those days. When EPMD first started we were just young and hungry and inspired by the world around us.

It was more fun back then. Period. Me and P would go in the studio, hit the road and it would be a cycle. Everything was a machine, especially coming out on Def Jam. The checks were always on time and always cleared.

A huge hot topic in the industry now is how and when producers get paid. When you first started out was the production side more out of necessity or was the fact that both of you could produce and rap always part of the plan?
Honestly, you want to know something crazy? We always made our own beats because we never realized that you could go into the studio and already have beats there. We were so fresh and young, that we made our own beats in the beginning because we thought we had to.

You touched on it a little earlier but did you ever have any situations where you got played on publishing or hung up on sample clearance that hindered a projects roll out?
Never. Ever. Def Jam was a machine especially after Biz Markie got slammed with a clearance issue. I never had to worry about my publishing, samples, paychecks, etc. And even if I was getting jerked the checks were there and I am here now still living my dream.

A lot of producers are either afraid of samples or in the dark when it comes to sample clearance, what’s your best advice for producers that use samples?
Get in tune with Myself, Hank Shoklee, Prince Paul, QuestLove, Statik Selektah, Mr. Green and the team have amassed a library of over 60,000 samples with all the publishing information and split sheets available when the sample is purchased.

It’s a revolutionary platform that could have saved a lot of canned projects back in the day.

It’s been a while since we heard from you and then out of nowhere, we see a Def Squad revival and a new album on the horizon. What can we expect from “Go”?
Actually, we have since changed the name of the album to “Bernia”, which is my late grandmother’s name. As I was playing back the records I have so far, I could feel her presence in the room with me and that’s when I knew.

The album is dope so far; I have a lot of good friends that have contributed and will contribute to the project as we wrap it up and have incorporated a Kickstarter campaign to let the fans be apart of the process and I’ve included a bunch of dope gifts in the campaign.

What was the inspiration behind the Kickstarter campaign?
Obviously seeing the success De La Soul had was an eye opener but I had done something with Kickstarter prior to this one. I just like the idea of letting the fans in on the process. That’s definitely something that never was possible before.

Imagine getting an exclusive Erick Sermon featuring Method Man and Redman record before the world or an inside look into studio sessions; these are dope, dope things that the fans deserve.

Musically, what can we expect?
This collection of music is one of my best to date. I have my Def Squad brothers all over there; Meth, Red and Keith Murray. I have Craig Mack, Mr. Cheeks, Big KRIT, Too Short and a few more. I really tried to keep it family with sprinkles of the young talent like RJ Payne and Ren Thomas.

When I first saw the press release for “Come Thru” featuring Method Man, Mr. Cheeks, and Craig Mack, I was sure it was a Craig Mack sample but it was a new verse. Where did you find Craig? Did you find Craig? Was it a recycled verse? There are literally a thousand questions that came to mind especially when he turned down the Bad Boy Tour. I was sure we would never hear from him again.
Let’s break something right here, you will be hearing more from Craig Mack. It was a complete risk going to see him. Everything you hear about the cult is real but my Brother has a story to tell and we have it all documented. The world is going to hear the side of the Bad Boy story that has been locked away.

Me and Craig are from the same place and someone who has my respect since day one.

When can we expect that?
Soon. Very soon. You’ll have it first so it may be your call when it goes.

How did the Big Krit connection come about?
Krit is someone I’ve always respected musically since I first heard him. He produces, engineers and raps; so we were already on the same wavelength before even meeting.

We became close when he went through his fallout with Def Jam. I really reached out just to offer words of encouragement and to remind him not to give up and to keep pushing. And we built from there.

One thing that separates you from a lot of artists is the fact that you have always worked with all coasts and even when the East Coast vs. West Coast beef was happening, you never got caught up in it and actively worked with artists from both coasts.
Because I love the culture and love creating timeless music regardless of how it sounds and feels. If you go back to my beginning, most of my sample flips were of Zapp and Parliament so when Dre and Snoop took over I was automatically a fan and loved it.

In 92-93, I moved to Atlanta and saw the beginning of a lot of careers like Outkast, The Neptunes, and Usher and was able to be ahead of the curve and not get stagnant.

One thing I always wanted to know is about your appearance on “You Ain’t Fresh” by DJ Quik and Kam. Easily one of the most vicious diss records on wax and you were in the middle of Quik and Kam’s barrage on Dr. Dre at the time. Did you know that’s what the record was going to be?
Not at all. I didn’t even connect the dots and get the whole story until years later and the beef was already squashed.

After “Bernia”, what’s next for Erick Sermon?
Oh man, there are so many options. I’ve never been this excited. I have a project called “Dynamic Duos” and that’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I managed to get almost all of the best Hip Hop duos that I’ve worked with over the years and it’s a classic the making. I’m talking about everyone from The Dogg Pound to 8Ball and MJG to UGK and so many more.

Then we have new Method Man, new Redman, new Method Man and Redman; Tsunami is on the way as well, the follow up to Ill Nino. And of course we have newer acts like RJ Payne and we just brought Ren Thomas on to Def Squad. I called everyone I know in the industry and told them that they fucked up when they didn’t sign Ren.

Then I’m going to release my documentary. It’s been 12 years since I really spoke and have a story to tell. The world is ready to hear the whole Erick Sermon story. Long story short, I’m just trying to stay busy.

With a career as long as yours; I know you’ve had a lot of artists in your hands first. Who are a few that you look back on like, “I should have never let them leave the studio”?
I remember having Nas in the studio in 91. I knew he was a dope emcee, I just didn’t know what to do with him. His content wasn’t necessarily mine but after I seen what “Illmatic” did, I was like, “I get it now”.

I recorded some of Ludacris’ first records when he was “Chris Luva”, I remember a young Usher just wanting to be down when I first moved to Atlanta and he became a global Superstar. I’ve been blessed to be in the right place a lot of times but my focus was the task at hand and the music. Unless it was the Hit Squad and Def Squad, I never thought in terms of expansion.

But, my biggest miss ever was being in the studio with Michael Jackson and not even realizing it until it was too late.

In 93 while I was in Virginia, I got the chance to work with my idol, Teddy Riley. That’s where I first met a very young Pharrell and Chad Hugo. I was so hyped to be in the same room, I didn’t realize Michael Jackson was in the booth until I was getting let out the room so he could record.

What’s been your key to the longevity?
The love of the music and the fact that somehow it seems like every year someone is referencing some form of Erick Sermon in their records. It’s amazing that the music from every part of my career is still worth being brought up.

– Beads Z. Wider


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