INNER VIEW – Erick Sermon
We all have a purpose for being here. Those of us whose talents are discovered much earlier than others are often referred to as prodigies. For others, the true nature of our calling can come from over-looked sources at the most unexpected of times. Brentwood, Long Island’s Erick Sermon, one half of the pioneer group EPMD, had plenty going well for him. With a successful group and solo recording career, a long list of accolades and a steady schedule of music projects to complete, the future appeared to be headed right where anyone would expect. It all changed one day in November of 2011. Erick had suffered a heart attack that caught many of his family, friends and fans by surprise. We recently caught up with The Green-Eyed Bandit at his home studio and talked about his new view on life, his medical scare and the need for variety in the culture we all know and love called Hip Hop.
Pigeonhole Principles –
Erick Sermon: There has to be a wave change and I gotta bring it. I was hanging with Raekwon recently in Atlantic City and we was talking. I was like Rae, you gotta continue doing what you doing because we need that. We need more stuff coming through with some different sounding music, other types of conversation. We’re one-sided and there’s no balance. We need to make a change in the category system like pop culture does. They not gonna let Britney call herself Rock and Roll. No, you’re pop! Blink 182, you’re alternative! We’re the only genre who got no categories. It don’t work. You got gangsta, southern and more conscious rap. We need that. Same way they have Soft Rock and Roll, alternative jazz, adult contemporary. We just have one genre, Hip Hop. We’re bigger than that. I’m gonna be that forefront dude for the digital world.
A Close Call –
I’m speaking with Russell [Simmons] the other day and he’s like, “Erick, what’s up? Come see me.” I was returning phone calls to those who reached out to me after the heart attack. I thanked them for not being boushie and upscale. They were down to earth like I am. This is bigger than me. Having a heart attack was about getting across to a black man that the leading cause of our deaths is heart disease. It’s not AIDS, HIV or cancer. This disease is the number one killer. I talked to Fat Joe and he told me six of his friends died from heart disease. We know about Big Pun’s heart attack but it was five other friends that weren’t obese who died from heart failure. That’s why he changed his diet and lost so much weight. I believe that’s why it happened to me so I could live and be an advocate and warn people. You need to go to the doctor for regular checkups. We falling off like flies. High blood pressure and stress is laying us out. It’s deadlier to the black community than guns or anything else. That was the most alarming thing I ever heard. I’m trying to put together the Erick Sermon Foundation to help the youth in the Hip Hop community focus on healthcare in the near future.
Steering the Wheel of Music –
Music is a second language that’s never going anywhere. The way that it sounds and the direction it’s going in now is making our kids ignorant. It’s making our youth wanna become rappers. Kids stopped going to school. You’ve got guys that say they care about the youth but still glorify certain lifestyles heavy. America don’t give a fuck about the music sounding the way it does. They like it. They tell their kids to not do what those other kids do. It’s just entertainment. You make sure you still go to school and do the right thing. We’re not doing that. We’re trying to become what we hear in the music. With all these things going on in the world and not one record talk about it? Marvin Gaye made a record called, “What’s going on?” Stevie Wonder was raised in the inner-city. When EPMD talked about “Gold digger”, “Crossover” there was a message somewhere. On “So Whatcha Sayin”, we said, “People round town talkin this and that/Of how we sound like the R, and that our music was wack/Dropped the album Strictly Business and you thought we was bold/Thirty days later, the LP went gold/So what you sayin. We were still hard and you still was amped to it. Rakim was the best ever to put a message in a record. We told the children some things.
The Importance of a Mentor –
You know how many artists who graduated from me talking to them? All the talks I had with [Ice] Cube when he left N.W.A. The talks I had with Q-Tip at the Juice [Movie] premier. I talked with Crucial Conflict in Chicago. Rapper’s graduated because I told them to stay in school. Eminem said he snuck into the elevator in Detroit to go watch EPMD. When he got in the elevator I was there. He told me he rapped and I told him to keep doing what he was doing and you’ll make it one day.
Pedro Mojica: How do you plan to implement your authentic sound to the younger generation?
A lot of my colleagues are not trying to refresh themselves. See what’s going on, do you but be current. People always ask me how I stay so relevant. I stay around rappers. I also stay around music. I go XM radio. I listen to satellite radio. This is my life. Even though I’m a father, no matter what I’m gonna always be Hip Hop. If you’re an emcee how you move or how you talk is gonna always be Hip Hop. I’m not the one who’ll turn stuff off and be like “I hate this music”. My kids like this music. This is not my era. All you gotta do is do you. You can’t compete with these young people or do what they’re doing. It’s just that simple. Sade proved it. Raekwon proved it. Maxwell proved it. The list goes on and on. These are people who kept it real with themselves. If you can’t do that then you can’t be here because you’ll look foolish and you won’t win. People my age still wanna hear rap. They still wanna hear R&B but nobody’s making what they wanna hear. We’re the consumers. I’m the one who gives my sons and daughters the money to go out and buy records. I want something to buy too. That’s why Sade sells so many records. The mainstream has got so many people confused. You think that everybody’s listening to what’s playing on radio but they’re not. Go and ask the person next to you when was the last time they brought an album. Whose record did they buy? They play old music. It’s a mirage out there.
Earlier this year I put out the Breath of Fresh Air mixtape that was just a warm-up for me to get ready and come through. The Jimi Hendrix joint speaks on what we as a people are trying to do. It could be finding a way out of a relationship, your struggle, your house or your job. With me it was the things I was doing to even get a heart attack. It got a huge response from the women. You know you’re gonna get the Swizz [Beatz] party record. I had to put that out there before putting out anything else. Once the audiences’ ears are open they have to listen. You gotta plan your moves carefully so that you won’t be out there looking crazy. You gotta play the game somehow. Play the game your way so that you can get stuff done the way you want to.
Pedro Mojica: Do you feel like you’ve been given a second chance?
I know what my purpose is now. I’ve got to change music somehow. I’m not taking anything away from anybody but that is an important language. You have memories from where you were when you heard certain records. A song can make you feel a certain way. You can’t do nothing without music. No commercials are coming on. When you’re at the dentist office or the airport you’ve gotta have sound. It’s not going anywhere. I need to start a wave of getting balance.
Kanye West once asked, “Why is my shit wack? Because it doesn’t sound like yours?”
I got emcees that are ready to freestyle, rhyme with wordplay, content. All the emcees who rode with me over the years worked hard. That’s why I stay so ill with that mic.
I look forward to a new beginning. Hip Hop is still young. Who’s writing the next chapter after the strip club?