Erick Sermon stands as one of the most exciting Hip Hop producers in the game. He's worked with just about everyone: 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Ludacris, Shaq! He's done a lot over the years in bringing the Funk to all of those devoid of it. In 1995 he was still going through his first post-EPMD stint. At the time he and PMD were beefing and E-Double put out his second solo album, "Double or Nothing". Here he comes with the aim of showing how his beats and raps are of a similar standard and that he's always going to be able to out-compete his former partner in rhyme.
Erick Sermon's first solo effort was far from as impressive, compared what he'd produced as part of EPMD. Expectations weren't particularly high for this one. It seems as though this was suitable as the results of this album aren't really anything all that special. He's done well to grow out of the Golden Age period (when others from that time such as Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick and others had lost it) but what you get from this album isn't really anything all that new. Let's dig a little further into it.
On "Focus" he reminds East Coasters what it is to be from there. He's quick to ground himself and get back to his Long Island roots when he, himself, had been caught up in the moment when suddenly all rappers were into Gangsta Rap because of what the West Coast had bred. It's interesting to see it, and it shows that he's taken note. Here he's back on track to come with more of that jovial stuff that people know him best for. You can be hard and be from New York, but you don't have to pretend the lifestyle is there same there as in South Central LA.
Here E relies a lot on aid from the other members of Def Squad - Redman and Keith Murray. It's expected that he does this as it's a bit of a task to do the lion's share of the beats as well as all the MCing, but they really do appear to add to the album. Early on Red lends a helping hand to "Freak Out" and initiates this. From that point it's easier for the rest of the features to come through. The animated duo which join Erick create the most fire as they back him up on "Open Fire", but are just as valued in other places here. As ever, Erick Sermon's approach on the microphone is to draw listeners in through the familiarity of well-known lines. He mentions bars from hits of the day as well as Rock classics. As sampling was much more costly by this time, this became a replacement for extensive use of this musical technique.
Where much of Erick Sermon's older tracks (with EPMD) used to be known for their use of authentic Funk grooves, it seems as though he's given-in to the pressure of contemporary trends here. Much of what's found here is based on thick percussion (as on "Move On" and "Set it Off" and "Welcome"). The Funk's still kept alive through the Zapp-like slapping beats, but it's not quite as impressive as his older things. It seemed as though it was a bit restricted here and holding him back led to the album coming across as though it wasn't quite as strong as it could have been. Truly, we could have gone without much of "Double of Nothing" as it didn't really seem to have much of significance in the grand scheme of things.
Erick Sermon brings the fun back into the music with something like "In the Heat", but still seems as though he just wants to be known for much more general Hip Hop for that time. He was really a very different artist before he went solo, but it seemed as though he just blended in with many of the other East Coasters until he does spacey tunes like "Tell 'Em". This album seems to be lacking something to really blow listeners away and with Redman, Sermon and Rockwilder on the beats here, it's strange that this never happened. If there was a clear stand-out track here then it might make this one a definitely must-have, but without it, the release is nothing more than a general throw-together from him.
In conclusion, Erick Sermon's second album may not be a Hip Hop must-have, but it's still an underrated one. No one really took notice of him again until EPMD reformed and then he dropped the Def Squad album and this seems to be the start of that. The record has lots of good tunes but nothing that's gonna force you to make sure that you're up-to-date with what he was to drop afterwards.
2. "Bomdigi" **Four Stars**
3. "Freak Out" (feat. Redman) **Five Stars**
4. "In the Heat" **Four Stars**
5. "Tell 'Em" (feat. Keith Murray and Roz) **Four Stars**
6. "In the Studio" (Skit)
7. "Boy Meets World" **Four Stars**
8. "Welcome" (feat. Keith Murray and Aaron Hall) **Four Stars**
9. "Live in the Backyard" (Skit)
10. "Set It Off" (feat. Keith Murray) **Four Stars**
11. "Focus" **Four Stars**
12. "Move On" (feat. Passion and Redman) **Four Stars**
13. "Smooth Thought" (Skit)
14. "Do Your Thing" **Three Stars**
15. "Man Above" **Four Stars**
16. "The Message" (Skit)
17. "Open Fire" (feat. Redman and Keith Murray) **Four Stars**
Disc #1 Tracklisting
3 Freak Out
4 In The Heat
5 Tell 'em
6 In The Studio
7 Boy Meets World
9 Live In The Backyard
10 Set It Off
12 Move On
13 Smooth Thought
14 Do Your Thing
15 Man Above
17 Open Fire