Once upon a time, when Spotify didn’t exist, most of your teenage record collection comprised of tapes recorded off the radio or that someone with the original version had done for you. Even these recorded versions were precious; they couldn’t be easily replaced if lost or chewed up, or you might accidentally record over it if you forgot to do the little trick with sellotape to preserve it.
Erick Sermon aka the Green Eyed Bandit and one third of iconic hip hop group EPMD, made his debut solo album in 1993 and year and a bit later I acquired a copy on tape. A boyfriend gave it to me, and he in turn had absorbed it as if by osmosis (bit ironic, because as I recall he was resitting his biology GCSE that year) from another friend who I seem to remember had an older brother with knowledge of – and crucially, access to – up to date music.
I remember the tape clearly: it was a 90 minute Maxell – the type that Ghostface Killah would later rap about. The handwriting on the label was so unfamiliar to me that I actually thought the album title was ‘N-opressive’ for many many years instead of ‘No Pressure’. It was a long time until I’d first ever see the album cover too.
One track that stood out – for me at any rate, being 15 and it being the 90s – was Safe Sex. After the explosion of AIDS in the 80s and artists raising awareness of HIV on the Red Hot collaborative projects (Red Hot + Cool, featuring acts such as The Pharcyde and Guru, was released in 1994, following earlier incarnations Red Hot + Dance and Red Hot + Country) the message of safe sex was loud and clear.
Everyone from TLC to Just Seventeen was telling girls to make sure they used condoms when they had sex. And here was Erick Sermon reinforcing it for the young men in New York and beyond, packing in contemporary references: “AIDS is real, something to believe and not make believe or fake like hair weaves / a deathwish like Charles Bronson and if you don’t believe me then ask Magic Johnson”.
My favourite tracks though are quintessential 90s east coast hip hop. Stay Real which was released as a single, and the self titled Erick Sermon. Enjoy verses from Ice Cube, Keith Murray and early Redman alongside ‘E-Double’.
Chocker with samples, breaks and littered with soundbites, the relentless delivery – enunciating words like coffee and sword with a delightfully distinctive New York accent – the album is very of the time but despite critical acclaim was never a mainstream success.
For anyone who liked Onyx, Das EFX, LONS and of course EMPD this album would’ve made the tape collection of many 90s hip hop fans but I’ve yet to hear it described as a a classic or a favourite of anyone.
Largely forgotten, by me at any rate, it was a welcome saunter down memory lane and I still remember a large proportion of the lyrics to an album which made up just one square in the musical patchwork which was the 90s.