Today's a big day for E-40. The Vallejo, California rap legend is dropping his seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth albums simultaneously with The Block Brochure: Welcome to the Soil 1, 2, and 3. After our epic sit down with him last year where he went through the highlights of his catalog, we had 40 Water stop by the Complex offices to talk about why he's dropping so many albums at once. He also shared his thoughts on who's got next in the Bay Area rap scene, and what lessons the 24-year veteran has learned about the rap game.
Interview by Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)
What’s the idea behind dropping three albums in one day?
A lot of people put out mixtapes. They might put out four, five, six mixtapes a year. I’ve got a direct deal through EMI distribution. I’m breaking the rules, but who’s to say that you can’t put out three albums at one time?
I’ve been in the game for 24 years, meaning I’ve had music on the shelves for 24 years—I’ve been rapping since 7th grade when I first heard Sugar Hill Gang. Being in the game that long you get a chance to see all the different eras of hip-hop—from the James Brown samples to the G-Funk era all the way until up to how it is now. I’ve participated in all these eras.
That allows me to put on my showcase and let it be known that I’ve got G-Funk, Mob music which we helped coin, and the hyphy sound, which we call Function Music now. I got all of that on the album because I’m satisfying different generations—old school and new school.
I’m going to sell the three separately. It’s just me commentating and narrating how it is in the ghetto, the soil, the hood, the trap. You don’t have to necessarily get 3 of them all at once. You can get one now and get the other ones a week later. Or you can buy them all in bulk on iTunes and get the six bonus tracks that are only available if you buy in bulk. The six bonus tracks are harder than anything out.
It’s me doing what everybody else don’t. In 2010, I did Revenue Retrievin': Day Shift and Revenue Retrievin': Night Shift. In 2011, I did Revenue Retrievin': Overtime Shift and Revenue Retrievin': Grave Shift. They were all successful; they charted on Billboard and everything. It’s not like they were lost in space. Come Monday, it’ll be seven albums in two years.
Back in the day, you could put out an album with 12 songs and chill for a year or two. But nowadays, if you put out seven albums that’s like 80 songs in two years. How does that change the music?
It doesn’t. That’s the thing; I’m not trying to knock anyone that’s doing mixtapes. They’re doing the same thing, but I’m selling mine and documenting it as real albums. When you’re doing a mixtape it’s a Catch 23—not a Catch 22.
When you do mixtapes, a lot of times your fanbase can say, “We’ve been getting this for free for so many years, his new album is about to drop, we’ve listened to it, and we’re not going to buy it. We’ll download it for free.”
For one, [the artist] lost creativity because he doesn’t have the freedom he had with mixtapes because he has to deal with legal issues like sample clearances and all kinds of shit. Personally, nobody signed me, I signed me. So I don’t have no liason, no middle-man or nothing. I’m directly independent to EMI. I give them a certain percentage and I get the bulk.
And that’s how this thing is. It gives me a chance to display a lot of my shit. There are different ears out there now and I’ve covered all parts of the game. Subject-wise, I’ve got uplifting songs for the females, I’ve got my hustling songs, those songs where you know, “if you took a loss, the next day get back out there and get it.”
I don’t just talk about jewelry and cars and houses and belittling those that don’t have that. I’m a democrat. I speak for the democrats. I speak for the soil.
What lessons have you learned over the years about the rap game?
In 1988, I came out with my first album, wasn’t my solo album, it was a group album. For the first six years of my career I was independent. I got on to a major and did my thing there. I had platinum and gold records and all that.
I had a hit song called “You and that Booty” in 2006 and the following year the company, Warner Bros., wanted a crossover song. But a lot of times big, gigantic hits are hard to come by. Sometimes all your fanbase wants you to do is stay within your envelope and do you because that’s what they love you for.
I tried to go out the box and get some overseas money. I came with a song called “Wake Up” that I really loved and a lot of people loved. Akon did an excellent job [on that song]. But my core fanbase that grew up on me before I signed with majors didn’t want that song. So it didn’t work for me.
That song wasn’t for me. It was probably somebody else’s hit. And that’s what I learned: Just go ahead and be genuine and be you because you’re aiming for your fanbase and they’ll be there forever if you keep feeding them the right material.
Even if [a song like that] seems like it’s successful, the fanbase will be upset with you. You might gain some new fans but you’ll lose some too. You might even gain a whole bunch but a lot of those kind of fans they’re just with you for that particular moment. The ones that started with you from the beginning, they want to hang in there forever with you.
You mentioned the hyphy movement, you said that they’re calling it the “Function Movement” now?
It’s not a movement, it’s just Function Music. The Function is just the club, the shindig, wherever it’s active at. Function is not a new word. I had an artist on my label named Celly Cel who had a song in ’98 called “Function” talking about the same exact thing that we’re talking about right now. Guess who was on that song? E-40. History repeats itself but opportunities don’t, so we’re right back at it.
When you hang around so long, the words you used to say years ago resurface. I’ve hung around this long so I’ve seen it all. We’ve still got our gangsta rap and our mob music that everybody be doing but as far as right now we’re just trying to function.
Let’s be clear about hyphy, because it was a movement. A few years ago it became a national thing. Looking back at it, how do you reflect on that era?
That was the era. A lot of people in high school, junior high, and college, were having a good time. It was the same thing we used to do when we were younger. We used to be out the side window, all out the sunroof, smoking up the block, hitting the gas, breaking and dipping, really just ghetto games. That’s the activities.
As far as the word hyphy, really hyphy is just a wild motherfucker. Like, “That boy hella hyphy, he’s that dude that’ll knock you out with the pistol play.” That’s what it is. But it got over-saturated, people didn’t really know what it actually was. They started rapping and saying stuff that wasn’t supposed to be said and making it like it was some goofy shit. In the hood that shit still exists, motherfuckers still be on top of the cars and all that.
But at the same time people are really scared to say the word nowadays. The music is anything uptempo. The motherfuckers that’s scared to say the word now was the same motherfuckers participating in it when the money was flowing and the sun was shining on The Bay. I’m not denouncing it. Me, Warner Brothers, and Lil’ Jon and the whole wu-wop brought it to national level.
When you hear uptempo beat, people automatically say “That’s the hyphy music.” No its not. Uptempo beats have been around from the beginning of hip-hop. So I don’t like when they put that on there like “Oh that’s just hyphy” like you’re denouncing it. Like, “Aww man that’s a West Coast sound.” That’s why I’m repping the West everywhere I go from here on out. I’m just keepin' it 1,000 with them.
Some of the young artists coming out are reflecting on that too. Drake was shouting out Mac Dre and Kreayshawn told us she was a hyphy kid.
Yeah she was down. She’s doing her thing out here in the Bay and nationally.
Are you a fan of Kreayshawn?
I’m an O.G. so I’m not a fan of a lot of rappers but I respect what they’re doing. I feel like I’ve already said all there is to say so there’s nothing else anyone can teach me, you smell me? I respect everything they’re doing and I love to see poise, pizzazz, test of fortitude, and motivation, and all of the things they’re doing right now.
I love to see characters, people that’s from the streets as well putting the comedy in it. That’s always the best rapper to me. I was watching somebody earlier today and he was spitting the street shit but at the same time it was comedy. He’s a new rapper named Relly. I liked him, I really did. He’s from Brooklyn. He’s got it.
Speaking of young artists, who is impressing in The Bay you right now?
Well my whole label Sick Wid It Records. Another cat is IAmSu, I like how he do his thang. He’s the new kid on the block, he got talent. I like the way he carries himself. He’s humble. A lot the youngsters these days is real humble and I’m glad they’re like that.
A lot of times cats think it’s about rapping about money to get your fans. It ain’t about money all the time, everybody don’t have money. Okay, we’re trying to get it. You think just because you got a lot of money the fans are supposed to buy your record? That ain’t what it’s about.
I will have to go out on a limb and say my son Droop-E—this is no disrespect to all of the artists on my label—he’s got the whole package. He’s got his own sound and he’s a producer as well. Turf Talk is my favorite rapper in the rap game. Period. He’s the rawest and hardest rapper, besides me. [Laughs.]