Label: Sick Wid It/Geffen/Warner Bros.
Saving grace: "Earl"
Clunker: "Break Ya Ankles"There are a scant few rappers who can get to E-40's age and not only remain creatively vital, but relevant as well. Scarface, although he hasn't released a record in a couple of years. Jay Z, certainly. Some might argue Nas as well. But E-40 has one thing on all three: He's also been prolific as hell. In the past five years, he's released ten albums, with three more due out by the end of this year. It's a little bizarre, but the record that kicked off this reign was the disappointing Ball Street Journal album.

What was really missing from Ball Street Journal was musical vision. E-40 had been given a second pop culture life just two years previous, with the crossover success of his My Ghetto Report Card album. Ball Street Journal had a few standout moments—"The Recipe" featured a peak-era Gucci Mane verse, and "Earl" was an ominous monster. But tracks like "I'm On One" didn't elaborate much on the Rick Rock-led hyphy sound that had been running through the Bay's veins for years at that point. "The Ambassador," meanwhile, was a flip of the same Digable Planets-sampling trick that inspired 2006's "Yay Area."

Worst of all was "Break Ya Ankles," a Lil Jon-produced track that attempted to capitalize on the success of the similar-sounding 2006 hit "U & Dat," which had been E-40's highest-charting song. Even when "U & Dat" broke through, Jon's production style was already starting to sour on the pop charts; by 2008 it was positively moribund.

Ball Street Journal wasn't unsuccessful, selling 450,000 copies. But from a creative point of view, it suffers in comparison to the flurry of records that emerged in its wake, so dense with music that they seemed to develop their own gravity. —David Drake