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I’ve had the opportunity to write about my personal introduction to the legendary rap group EPMD and described their impact to hip-hop’s Golden Era as being somewhat enigmatic. Or at least that was the impression of an adolescent watching the older kids and young adults become captivated by songs like “Crossover.” Along with the rest of EPMD’s discography at that time, Business Never Personal (1992) was a must-have in West Baltimore but was nearly unobtainable for me because it wasn’t in daytime radio rotation.
That was the enigma. I couldn’t comprehend how the songs all the older kids and young adults had memorized were so far from my adolescent grasp. Everything about the duo was monumental circa 1992, and it seemed like the breakup, which nearly spawned an unprecedented crisis among hardcore hip-hop fans is what finally gave the group their just radio and television coverage.
Erick Sermon would ascend even higher than EPMD’s popularity, to become a high-profile personality in the rap world, establishing himself as a viable solo artist with his 1993 debut No Pressure. His talent would become an industry commodity as E expanded as a top-requested super-producer for both rap and R&B artists, while mentoring top-tier emcees. The Green-Eyed Bandit would even go on to capture a coveted GRAMMY award to accentuate his trophy case.
Sermon’s resume is impressive to say the least, that’s why his rhymes like “everything I touch is gold, since 18 years old” may be braggadocio for the average emcee, but it’s actually a verifiable claim for this true rap legend. This has become a constant with Sermon’s solo career—merely stating the facts of his accomplishments with the ease of a modern battle rapper explaining how big their newest gun is.
His 2019 return with the LP Vernia sticks to Sermon’s meat and potatoes, which has helped him assemble one of hip-hop’s most acclaimed catalogs. The acquisition of fellow legends Raekwon and N.O.R.E for the album’s first release “My Style” further proves E-Dub’s indelible status among rap’s elite. The song enlists two veterans along with producer Boogeyman to create a soulful soundtrack during a time when hip-hop is exploring genre-blending music, including country crossovers. “My Style” is more hip-hop traditional with the Lea Roberts “Laughter in the Rain” sample, and reminds listeners of simpler times as a loop of Raekwon's voice, presumably describing how the vibe of the track is reminiscent of a meal consisting of cajun tilapia with collard green soup, echoes repeatedly for the song's chorus. Sermon’s vintage bars come as smooth as homemade sweet tea with the soulful course when he adds “Green-Eyed Bandit, I’m known like Amazon / Worldwide, that’s money when the camera’s on / I’m home wearing Timbs wit pajamas on / everybody gets quiet when the hammers drawn.”
“Tha Game” co-produced by E-Dub and Mic Cheks is another notable veterans reunion which features two of rap’s most highly revered lyricists, AZ and Styles P. The Ghost (Styles) and The Visualizer (AZ) are as great as expected, but the Sermon verse which includes the clever lines “Hold up, wait a minute / Erick Sermon putting on a clinic / spitting the authentic / liking the way I pen it / my team is hittin’, like we won the pennant, ball game” elevates his status in the age old debate of best rapping producers.
Vernia is an all-out star-studded event, which travels nearly the entire country to summon a who’s who of big names, past and present. “May Sound Crazy” produced by the L.A. legend DJ Battle Cat, also reunites Sermon with the Bay Area icon Too $hort and Rap-a-Lot alumni Devin the Dude for a late night “Freaky Tales” reboot.
“Zion” rallies the unexpected pairing of Sermon, Xzibit, David Banner, and Shaquille O’Neal produced by Erick’s long-time collaborator Ty Fyffe. The unorthodoxy alone makes the song interesting, sort of like how the cover of a Marvel comic book featuring a host of big-name heroes makes you want to see the outcome of the conflicting styles attempting to work in unison.
E’s award tour sees an anti-climactic return to the Big Apple where he joins forces with Nature and Keith Murray for “Stay Real Part 2,” but regains its firepower during the southern layover. The ode to southern women “That Girl” features one of the hottest in the game, Big K.R.I.T., and R&B workhorse Ricco Barrino over a track that captures Sermon’s ability to master regional soundscapes and captivate multiple age demographics.
As exciting as Vernia’s guestlist may be, some of the album’s brightest moments come when the E stands alone, or at least assumes full emcee responsibility. The Rockwilder produced “300 E” featuring the refreshing vocals of up-and-coming songstress Kami Marsden is an entertaining autobiography of EPMD’s glory days and “Cabinet” is one of the most creative concepts in recent years perfectly executed over E’s own top-notch production.
The title track “Vernia” ends the LP on an introspective note as Sermon pays homage to his family’s matriarch. With a well-delivered assist from Apathy, E delves deeper than most tribute songs and explains how the strength of one woman laid the foundation of a tight-knit family, which inspired one of the most acclaimed careers of the modern music industry.
Vernia has all the makings of an E-Dub masterpiece, and quickly shakes off the ring-rust that emerges in a few instances. At its best, it presents songs that contend with some of the most treasured of E’s prestigious solo catalog. Vernia entertains for the majority of its 44-minute duration, enough to warrant adding it to your daily rotation, an act that surely won’t be lost on the intrigued 2019 adolescent hip-hop head who observes its enigmatic power to captivate its older and wiser listeners.
Notable Tracks: "Cabinet" | “My Style” | "Tha Game" | “That Girl”