Review Summary: Def Squad's Redman and Keith Murray are great MC's, while Erick Sermon drops some ill beats. Too bad skits also run rampant.
From earlier appearances, it would be easy to see that Def Squad have huge amounts of chemistry. Half of EPMD (Erick Sermon), the 90s Funniest MC (Redman), and that guy with an anger problem (Keith Murray) all combine together to form Def Squad, and it would also be easy to see how an album like El Nino
would rule. Fortunately, El Nino
meets most listeners expectations, albeit in a fashion that seems a bit workman-like.
With production split between Redman for skits and Erick Sermon for regular songs, El Nino
grooves mostly because of its evenness. Erick Sermon’s beats have this sort of chill, laid back feel, laying down chunky bass loops and clomping drums, often aided with samples of older hip hop of influence to Erick Sermon. “Full Cooperation” displays a little bit of energy, if only to give a little boost for microphone gorillas Redman and Keith Murray. “Rhymin With Biz” swipes the same sample that the original swiped (James Brown’s “The Payback”), and Redman, Biz Markie, and Keith Murray just jell over it with mic skills. Over the course of the record, some may say that Erick Sermon’s production style is direly predictable and stale, but he’s truly a genius of keeping the beats in a truly minimalist fashion, providing the rhythm and nothing more.
Although the production chops of Erick Sermon serve the record to jell and chill (other than the oddly paced, haunting “Ya’ll Niggas Ain’t Ready”), Redman’s incessant skits constantly interrupt, making the record sort of choppy and almost unlistenable as a whole. It’s the same stuff that runs rampant on Red’s own records, the same chicken head ridiculousness that makes it hard to listen to an entire Redman album without wanting to chuck out the window. Unlike the complete humorousness of Redman records, which somehow allow these skits to work in a very weird sense, on this record mixed with Erick Sermon and Keith Murray, these skits just come out as unrelated junk.
At the same time, that makes it sound like Def Squad has no chemistry, which is not true. Erick Sermon plays the weak link of the group, dropping some occasional lyrical gems, but mostly lacking the lyrical or flow zazz to keep up with his Def Squad team mates. Redman, of course, plays the kingpin, dropping humorous pop culture rhymes through his grizzled and boasting gorilla-over-bananas ape shi
t delivery. The major surprise of the group, though, is the MCing ability of Keith Murray. Keith Murray’s rage-infused bark of a delivery packs a serious punch at some moments, and his internal rhymes, odd rhyme structures, and sheer entertainment value brought by his threats make him the most improved player of the team.
As a record, El Nino
’s chillness is what makes it work. The chemistry between the three MC’s is ace, as the record sounds like three MC’s freestyling over some groovy beats, hailing their past while dropping hilarious boasts and talking about how nice they are with the words. Other than the occasional embarrassment that comes from a bit too much experimentation (“Ya’ll Niggas Ain’t ready”) or way too much hailing to their past (“Def Squad Delite” = Def Squad’s “Rapper’s Delight”), El Nino
is an excellent addition to anyone’s rap collection. To hear Redman and Keith Murray at their height as MC’s, or maybe to hear Erick Sermon drop some nice beats, El Nino
would be a good choice.