Second impressions: E-40 survives the demise of hyphy




NOTE: This show has been moved up from Thursday ... to TONIGHT!

E-40 with Tech N9ne, Glasses Malone, Stranger Haze

8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 26

Firestone Live, 407-872-0066

$25 (purchase tickets here)

Charlie Hustle. Forty-Water. Forty-Fonzerelli. E-Fizzle. E-Bonics. E-Pheezy. The Ballatician. Ambassador of the Bay. Forty Belafonte. Earl Stevenson. A man of many monikers, there's only one E-40.

"My voice might be a little horse from all these shows, but you do know you're talking to E-40," says Bay Area rapper without irony. "I don't put nothing extra on my vocals; how I rap is how I talk. My voice pokes out like a turd in a punchbowl."

Quick to slip into different voices or switch cadences several times in a single verse, it's not only E-40's voice that pokes out but the manner in which he delivers words. His enunciation is his accent. His accent is a trip. E-40's syllables bubble like a hot pot of water and the soup he's boiling features an ingredient list of his own invention (E-40's Dictionary Book of Slang has been rumored and legitimately anticipated for years). After 22 years in the game, his occasionally absurd singularity is instantly familiar on record and on the phone, but it certainly isn't universally acclaimed. It's hard to find anything written on the man that doesn't include a disclaimer such as, "Whether E-40 is your flavor or not ... " and one out of three rap nerds will have an entire diatribe as to why the man's music is wack. Still, his innovation is rarely questioned.

"To be honest with you, my biggest fans to date thought I was wack when they first heard me," says E-40. "They didn't understand me. They might get something [out of my music] the third or fourth time and by the fifth or sixth time, [they're] hooked."

Once (or perhaps more appropriately, if) E-40 hooks a fan, his voice acts as an instrument and turns tired hip-hop territory into high-speed scene-stealers. "Money under the mattress money drug abuse loot / Dirty fingernail smell, booger, sugar, goop," he booms on "On Oil (Turned Up)," each O and double-O sound bottoming out like a keyboard bass underwater, almost at a frequency just outside of human hearing. The absence of vowel sounds makes his consonants pop with a bizarre confidence that recalls a less urgent, more lackadaisical RZA, but few others. That lack of instancy is a West Coast thing, and E-40 could only have stemmed from the Bay Area.

In 2006, MTV and numerous trend-humpers wondered aloud if Oakland's hyphy movement would spread outside of Northern California, but that one-hour "My Block: The Bay" special was perhaps the high point of its national recognition. And as "Ambassador of the Bay," a man whose "Tell Me When To Go" was the furthest reaching hyphy document (complete with instructions and a glossary), E-40 isn't shy about answering questions about the perceived disappointment.

"Sometimes the truth hurts, but the truth also provides information for people who need to know," says E-40. "Have you ever heard of the word player-hater? The Bay Area invented that."

Of course, more than just its home base for naysayers kept hyphy – known for its uptempo, bass-heavy beats and frenetic dances – from sweeping the nation. Perhaps even more visible than the movement's music was the physical act of "ghostriding the whip," now better known for its YouTube-ready failures than its initial message of cool. And nothing is less cool than anything with Failblog potential. Like E-40, the culture is so specific that its path from fad to chart dominance was innately paved with speed bumps.

"Everyone wanted to claim [hyphy], but it was the streets of Oakland that made it up – not a particularly rapper," says E-40. "Keak da Sneak may have said it first in a verse that I know of, but as far as the ghetto activities and dances, that was just the streets. The big stunner shades might have gone out just like anything else, but ghetto games [are] still going on. Uptempo beats have been in hip-hop since the beginning, so it wasn't like hyphy was new. It was just a name put to it and its certain ghetto games."

Maybe contemporary trends are too fickle, too divided, too niche, or just plain online too much, but E-40 is proud to exist before, during and after just one of the many movements he's seen come and go over the span of his double-digit discography. Revenue Retrievin: Day Shift and Revenue Retrievin: Night Shift, the latest additions to his catalog, dropped earlier this year on the same late March day and were his first solo releases away from major labels Jive or Warner Bros. in 15 years. Two more Revenue Retrievin volumes – Overtime Shift and Graveyard Shift – are scheduled for the second week in February 2011, and like the series' title suggests, E-40 isn't about to be late on his timecard.

"When I went to Warner Bros., I had success with 'Tell Me When to Go' and 'U and Dat Booty,' and I did that in the studio not even tripping. It just happened. Then my next record, The Ball Street Journal, Warner Bros. wanted the same success, and I went in there trying to do something commercial. All I got out of that was [a] lost interest [from] my fan base."

It may be a hip-hop cliche to shout about the return to roots once independence rears her pretty head, but one of its more interesting benefactors has been E-40's producer son, Droop-E. While Us Weekly salivates over the potential of Jayoncé's firstborn and Will Smith's invasion of offspring, Droop-E's grown-man contribution to his father's music is palpable.

"It's like he's been here before," says E-40 of the son that arrived the same year as his debut album. "He knows how to do rap from the '80s, '90s mob music, today's style and we have some of the best chemistry. It's a beautiful thing; it don't get no better. That's not just my son, that's my best friend on earth besides my wife, his mama."

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