I’ll get straight to the point, because life is short and time is valuable: Erick Sermon’s debut solo album, No Pressure, was a lukewarm mess. With three or four dope songs buried in a slew of mediocrity and trash (Sorry Sway, I know you hate the “T” word, but it is what it is), to call NP a disappointment would be an understatement. Regardless of how poorly the album performed, both commercially and critically, Def Jam would give the Green-eyed Bandit a second chance, as he would return in ’95 with his cleverly titled follow-up, Double Or Nothing.
Erick was pretty much single handily responsible for the dismal production on NP, so this time around he would call on a few helping hands to produce or co-produce about half of Double Or Nothing. The album would produce a couple of singles that made a little noise, and DON would climb to 35 on the Billboard Top 200 and 6 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Charts. More importantly, it received much better reviews from the critics and a warmer reception from E’s fans.
I haven’t listen to Double Or Nothing in a hot minute, so this should be a fun refresher.
Intro (Skit) – Similar to NP, DON begins with E-Double being bombarded by the press, and one reporter is brave enough to tell him to his face that No Pressure was a “brick”, which means “a flop” for you young heads. Erick gracefully brushes the
jerk reporter off with a slight chuckle and keeps things moving, right into the next song…
Bomdigi – This was the lead single from DON. E-Dub hooks up an upbeat backdrop (a co-productiion credit is given to Sugarless aka Ty Fyffe) with a little swing to it that he uses to have some fun, spittin’ freestyles rhymes (his line about being “more doper than Janet Jackson’s stomach” was weird, dope and grammatically incorrect, all at the same time). This wasn’t a great song, but it makes for a cool warm up for the rest of the evening.
Freak Out – Our host invites his Def Squad bredrin, Redman to join him on this duet, as the two take turns spittin’ fairly quality bars. Unfortunately, Rod “KP” Kirkpatrick’s instrumental (with a co-credit going to Erick) sounds like a bunch of unorganized unenjoyable noise.
In The Heat – This may be the dumbest song concept in the history of hip-hop. Erick rhymes from the perspective of his friend, Ooh Wop, who apparently overheard a guy and a girl talking shit about E-Double at a bar one night. Ooh Wop then takes it upon himself to wait for the couple to leave the bar where he confronts them, pistol whips the dude and threatens to strip him, blast him, extort him and…buy him (???) if he ever catches his now woozy victim mentioning E’s name again. Sounds more like what a lover would do to defend your honor than a homeboy. Terrible concept with a horrible ending and a boring beat.
Tell ‘Em – Our host cooks up a simple low-key groove (with some help from KP) and invites Keith Murray and Redman’s sister, Roz to join him on this cipher session. The song title and concept are loosely built around the closing bar from Keith’s impressive verse from “Hostile” that introduced Mr. Murray to the world. E kicks things off with some decent bars, Roz follows with a pretty impressive debut verse, and Keith finally shares the complete verse we first heard him spit pieces of on the “K. Murray Interlude” from Mary J’s classic My Life album, and he doesn’t disappoint. This is a dope record and one of the best cipher joints from ’95.
In The Studio – Erick Sermon’s sister (Kim) gets off a quick verse on this skit. For a minute I thought she was Hurricane G, but nope. She just happens to sound as mediocre as the former.
Boy Meets World – Rockwilder lays a melodically melancholic instrumental (and of course Erick is credited with lending a helping hand) that E-Double uses to boast, briefly get introspective and shouts out Tip and Phife in the song’s opening bars (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check). Speaking of ATCQ, Rockwilder’s instrumental is built around the same Crusaders sample that they used for the “Lyrics To Go (Tumblin’ Dice Remix)”. I could have done without Rockwilder’s random rambling at the end of the song, but that small mishap doesn’t distract from the serene vibes that the chill moody music creates.
Welcome – This was DON‘s second single. Erick drops filler rhymes with no real direction, while Keith hypes up the party with an energetic hook and Guy’s former lead man,
Charlie Wilson Aaron Hall, fills in the gaps (no pun intended) with his gospel-esque vocal tone over a decent Rockwilder instrumental that sounds like it’s swimming underwater. I usually love Aaron’s voice, but it sounds wasted and kind of annoying on this track. That said, this was still a decent record.
Live In The Backyard (Skit) – This was mildly entertaining. E-Dub sings the blues on this skit, and he actually doesn’t sound that bad. Shout out to the late B.B. King.
Set It Off – I’m not feeling this one. And Keith Murray’s closing rant was beyond annoying.
Focus – This instrumental sounds more like the type of East Coast funk that Double Or Nothing would have benefited from. The Green-eyed bandit uses his rough backdrop to rep for New York, and even calls out his own coast for biting the left side: “Only West Coast was kickin’ that shootin’ cops, fuck that bitch shit, now we all on they dick, I represent “The Bridge Is Over”, “Eric B For President”, gettin’ “Raw”, Rockin’ Bells and “Raising Hell””. E-Double sounds rejuvenated and um, focused on this one. This was dope.
Move On – E-Double (with another co-credit going to Sugarless) hooks up a smooth-warm-feel good backdrop, and invites Redman and Passion to jump on this joint with him. Red gets first dibs and completely spazzes out with easily his strongest performance of the evening, while E and Passion are left to work with the microphone fragments that Reggie leaves behind, and they both still turn in solid verses. This is definitely one of my favorites from DON, and it sounds just as great as I remembered it.
Smooth Thought (Skit) – A short hood PSA that has absolutely no replay value.
Do Your Thing – Redman (with a co-credit going to Erick) hooks up an airy mid-tempo backdrop that finds the Green-eyed bandit in party mode and sharing the details of a night out on the town with his crew. The Aaron Hall vocal snippets laced throughout the song sound like they may have been leftovers from “Welcome”, but they sound great placed in this infectious groove.
Man Above – E-Double sets the mellow mood with this laidback jazzish bop with a bass line that’s perfectly thick, much like Ashanti’s golden well-sculpted thighs (yum). Speaking of Ashanti, E uses the dope backdrop to discuss his pursuit of beautiful ladies. Jazze Pha borrows and sings Snoop’s classic “Gin & Juice” line for the hook and it sounds perfect over Erick’s delectable instrumental.
The Message (Skit) – Tone Capone drops in to discuss “a lot of niggas out there that just be talkin’ for nothin'”, which is exactly what he does during this useless fifty second interlude.
Open Fire – Mr. Sermon invites his Def Squad cronies, Keith Murray and Redman, to join him on DON’s grand finale, and it ends up being anything but grand. All three emcees fail to impress with their verses and the barely audible instrumental sounds as dull as your grandma’s fifty year old knife set.
Sometimes a little help from friends can go a long way, and thanks to some of Erick’s buds helping out behind the boards and on the mic, Double Or Nothing ends up being a pretty enjoyable experience. Erick shies away from the hollow funk beats he tried to force down our throats for most of No Pressure and choses to go with a softer, melodic and airy sound for most of DON, with mostly positive results. The ebb and flow of E-Double’s rhymes are apparent throughout DON, as he sounds locked in at certain points (i.e. “Tell ‘Em”, “Boy Meets World”, “Focus” and “Move On”) and like he’s just trying to make it through at other moments (“Bomdigi”, “In The Heat”, “Welcome” and “Open Fire”), while his Def Squad crew are hit and miss as well (speaking of hit and miss, it just dawned on me (no pun intended) that Jamal didn’t make any cameos on DON…hmmm). DON doesn’t have any real cohesion, but instead sounds like a bunch of songs thrown together on one album. Fortunately, most of the songs work and DON fares much better than the debacle that was No Pressure.