Record Review 

Erick Sermon is a hip-hop veteran. Before P. Diddy was Puffy, Sermon was the lisp-talking, producing half of EPMD who pulled gooey bass lines from now-overused samples that were far more remarkable than his sometimes clever one-liners. Or, as the green-eyed bandit rather plainly states (and dates) himself on the Dr. Dre-leaning "Hold Up Dub," from his inoffensively formulaic React, "I'm cold lampin'/The champion when it come to samplin'."

Sermon professes to need "no gimmicks," but the new disc clearly reacts to last year's career-resurrecting radio smash "Music" and its Marvin Gaye-sung hook. Still, the choruses here are less compelling. The breezy "Don't Give Up" saps the character from the classic Odyssey track, "Inside Out," by making it an Oprah-ready self-help anthem. Second single "Love Iz" sullies Al Green's sultry staple, "Love & Happiness," with insipid rhymes: "Whoever killed Pac and Smalls, they're lame/Erick Sermon, learn my name."

On the bright side, React's first single and title track, produced by Just Blaze, manages to be lively, bouncing with inspired blasts from Sermon's Def Squad compatriot Redman (too bad his antics don't pepper more of Sermon's chunky grooves). It's good enough to forgive how the track, with its Hindi-language chorus, is completely derivative of Truth Hurts' hit, "Addictive."

React might've been more interesting if Sermon had riffed on that tabloid-selling, never-explained "accident," which may have involved a car accident or a fall from a third-story window. Such introspection might show there's more to E-Double than a pleasant but superficial 16-verse party.

Erick Sermon plays the Cotton Club Thurs., Dec. 26.


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