Erick Sermon is living up to his "Green Eyed Bandit" nickname. Having just moved his Def Squad imprint from DreamWorks to Clive Davis' J Records, Sermon has a boatload of money in his sights.
"The J Records deal is dope," E-Double said Monday. "Just what [Clive Davis] has done at Arista and the stars he's made, he's a genius. He knows what records should be, what artists should look and sound like. Clive Davis is music."
It's "Music" that has Sermon, who's been staying busy producing other artists, going through rejuvenation on the mic. Using a sample of Marvin Gaye's vocals, the song has endeared itself to the public because of its thematic break from the monotony of hip-hop song content, which lately boils down to icy wrists and necks, Bentleys, and how chicken heads flock to MCs. It's just the story of a man and his true love — music — and how it has inspired him.
"Marvin used it as a third person when he was singing about music," Sermon said. "Just how it influences and affects our lives as people. I wanted to be able to show that. I have a line in the record that says 'Have black and white vibe in one room with no confrontation/ And they party all night because of the sensation of the music.' "
"Music" came together when Sermon received an import version of his favorite album, Marvin Gaye's Midnight Love, as a gift from a friend. As a bonus, the LP included studio outtakes of the singer, and Sermon decided to make a song using the vocals. He started production on the track with the intent of just having something to play around the house — he was not looking to make a hit record.
"I went down in my basement and just started looping a couple of words he was saying," Sermon said. "It took me about 20 minutes to program a beat to it. Once I got the concept and a rhyme, which was like an hour-and-a-half process, I was calling [my friend] on the phone telling her to check it out."
Sermon then played the song for one of his business partners, and in turn, his partner started to distribute it at the Impact music convention earlier this year, where radio station programmers dubbed "Music" a future hit and wanted to add it to their playlists.
Things happened so quickly that Sermon was caught with his pants down — he had yet to clear the sample. With the help of his friend, legendary hip-hop DJ Eric B., Sermon set up a meeting with Gaye's family and was given the OK to put out the song ... for a small fee.
"Marvin's ex-wife, Marvin III and his other son heard it and they were like 'You gave my pops some justice and it sounds good.' So they came at us with a real high number and I was prepared to pay that. We ended up paying $200,000 for the clearance and it was worth it."
Sermon has devised a song that the thugs in the clubs can dance to, and at the same time your grandmother would want to sing along to. He said that now that he has the attention of a diverse congregation of listeners, he plans to address everyone with his third solo album, The Sermon, scheduled to drop in August.
One of the points he plans to preach is bringing an end to the discord in the hip-hop community.
"Biggie Smalls is dead," he griped. "Tupac is dead over a rhyme, beefing back and forth because of lyrics. With a record like ['Music'] it shows that it ain't about that. Have a good time, it just makes you feel good."
He plans on making people feel even better when he releases a new version of "Music," this time with more guest vocals.
"We got a remix going on with Dr. Dre and Jay-Z that will be happening around," he said. "I don't know when we are going to drop that though, because the [original version] is still heating up. Hopefully when we start dying down a little bit, we will drop that. I'm going to use the same beat. The beat was already hot so don't change it if it ain't broken."
Another visitor coming to work with E-Double is Debbie Harry, who'll perform on an updated version of Blondie's "One Way or Another."
"It's hard though," Sermon said of the record. "Don't picture what you think it might be. It's hard, it's hip-hop."
R&B King R. Kelly will sing on a song about hardship, while veterans Scarface and LL Cool J join in on "Do Re Mi," where each vet boasts about his longevity in song-making. Foxy Brown has also collaborated with Sermon for the album, as have Def Squad members Keith Murray and Redman.
Sermon, who produced 10 tracks on the current Redman album, said that in addition to working on a new Keith Murray album, the Def Squad are planning their second LP as a collective, titled Tsunami, to be released next year. Also on his plate is a return to the foundation that made him a rap legend — Sermon has already recorded seven songs with Parrish Smith for a new EPMD album. They plan to call the new effort, their seventh, We Mean Business.
"We do mean business this time," Sermon said. "Before we really weren't into ourselves because of what was going on." (During the recording of its last album, the duo was coming to the end of its relationship with longtime label Def Jam). "This time we really know what time it is. I just did two shows in Portland and San Francisco and I brought Parish with me and it was like off the meter. The type of love that is happening right now is just incredible. I just appreciate all this."
You could say it's music to his ears.