Earlier this week E-40 simultaneously dropped his fifteenth and sixteenth solo studio albums, Revenue Retrievin’: Overtime Shift and Revenue Retrievin’: Graveyard Shift. He’s been rapping for almost a quarter century, and has seen the game change from selling cassettes out the back of his car to selling mp3s on iTunes. He’s gone from the Hillside of Vallejo, CA, to more comfortable surroundings, but to hear him talk today you’d swear he was still hustling. Well, it’s cause he always is.
Whether it’s a new slap, a new artist (probably a family member), a new drink recipe, or a new piece of slang, E-40 always has something tucked in his ballcap. The Ambassador of the Bay’s future remains bright, but today we’re concerned with his past. So sit back, all you squares and don’t-knows, and make sure you don’t listen too slow: the boy 40 Water is about to tie your shoes, and lace you with some game, by breaking down his 25 most essential tracks.
As told to Willy Staley (@bushwickwill).
E-40 “Mr. Flamboyant” (1990)
Produced by: The Click
E-40: “How the song came about was, first of all [flamboyant] was a word that we always used to say in the neighborhood and around Vallejo, and throughout the Bay. You know...flamboyant means somebody that's flashy, love to showboat, ya understand? Lightweight arrogant, but at the same time—ya understand me?—solid. And I was messing around at a studio out there in Fairfield, California, with my patna by the name of Bobby Ford. And he had a few sounds on his keyboard, at the time, and I went in there and I said, 'You know what, let me play around on these keyboards.' And I came up with the bassline, and then he had a couple of samples in there, and i threw them in there, and came up with the beat. I did the beat, he engineered it for me.
“But you know the style that I used on it, I wanted to do one of the most ignorantest styles of all time, and I did that. That was 22 years ago. Basically, that's how it came about, man. I did that start, stop-and-go, Snoop-type delivery flow. And then I went to add in the little parts at the beginning and at the end—mainly at the beginning...I used to always go to the Goodwill, and give away clothes when I got older, cause I always used to get clothes from the Goodwill and the Salvation Army. So I'd go there and I'd see old records. I'd see some shit from the 1920s. I took the beginning of it and put it at the beginning. you know what i mean?
“I'm gonna be honest with you. When we first did Most Valuable Players [Ed.—his group before The Click], we was in that mode where we were from a small town called Vallejo. We felt like, Radio is the only way to do it. And we found out the hard way. We pressed up 4,000 vinyls, and we really didn't put our heart and soul, we didn't put our street knowledge in it. We were trying to make radio songs and whatnot and make it off top. But we said, We gon' change our name to The Click, cause we one big family, and we gon’ give ‘em all our street knowledge and give ‘em the game the real way. And after that it was over. We never looked back from there. You gotta realize Most Valuable Players was made in 1987, and it came out in ‘88. See what I'm saying. Flamboyant was 1989, 90.”
E-40 “Carlos Rossi” (1992)
Produced by: Studio Ton
E-40: "My momma was working very hard, doing three jobs...she just worked her butt off, man. On the weekends she started to play this song called 'Living for the Weekend.' She'd sit down and reminisce. She was a single parent, even though my daddy never left our life...and her stress reliever was always drinking wine. She would have [Carlo Rossi] Rhine, she didn't have the Burgundy. She would have the Rhine and as I got older, she would drink that and relax her mind and live for the weekend. So that's how that came about.
“On one of my songs on Down and Dirty, the album with The Click, was a song called “Let's Get Drunk.” And I have a line where I say, "Perkin' off some of that top of the line wine, Carlos Rossi." So I told Studio Ton, take that part and sample that. Take my voice and let's sample it and slow it down—and this is before Screw music was out. DJ Screw and them, they used to listen to me, in Houston. And this is 1992, and you gotta remember, it was screwed. It was like [in slowed and throwed voice] "tooop off the lliiine winnne carlos rossi"—see what I'm saying! It was slowed up. So what happened was, we took that and turned it into a song, like painted a picture. Me, B-Legit, and Studio Ton took that beat and made the slap. And there it is: classic music.”
#23. E-40 “Bring the Yellow Tape” (1993)
Produced by: Studio Ton
E-40: "I say, 'Studio Ton, gimme one of those sinister mob, something just like a movie theme, like I'm telling a story.' Back then, storytelling was really in effect. That’s what it was about and when you paint a picture it's always classic music—and that's why I went back to telling my stories. For a long time people stopped wanting to hear stories, but I'm like, Fuck it I'm gon' let my nuts hang over my shoulder and start telling stories. And that's what I've been doing lately.
“So basically 'Bring the Yellow Tape' was a way of saying something went down on the block and the streets is blocked off. Yellow tape, they got the white chalk, the body outline, all that, you know it's a crime scene. I was just imagining that, and I turned it into a story, like this is how it really go down though. My lyrics complimented the music and the music complimented my lyrics. I got a great imagination, and I pay close attention to my surroundings and I'm very observant. When I was young I was a student of the game.”
E-40 “Practice Lookin’ Hard” (1993)
E-40 f/ The Click “Captain Save A Hoe” (1994)
E-40 f/ B-Legit & Mac Shawn “Sideways” (1995)
Produced by: Funk Daddy
E-40: “That all came together with my patna Funk Daddy in Seattle. One thing about the producers I work with, the majority of them, they let me put my two cents in. Cause I'm more of a composer. I'm not a full-fledged producer, but I can be one if I want to really spend my time on straight being a producer. I found out the bassline that I wanted him to do and he came with the drum pattern. We just both collabed on there, but he did the job. Sideways, it's like driving fast—like, the car is souped up and you just showcasing. You just getting it sideways, you know what I mean? Smoking up the block, bending corners, stepping up in the hood.”
E-40 “Da Bumble” (1995)
Produced by: Sam Bostic
E-40: “I call that ‘Mobbed Out Playa Type Metaphors and Punchlines.’ Today, a lot of rappers, all they do is just metaphors and punchlines. It really don't be no storytelling or messages. That was my version back in 1995 of metaphors and punchlines, that slick-talk. I put some real game behind it, talking ghetto slang and shit. That was something real motherfuckers can relate to, that really was going down in the hood—just raw shit. I was kinda like, ‘Fuck this don't need no hook. Lemme just gas it all the way through.’ I didn't trip off no hook or nothing. The beat was blapping and I just called it ‘Da Bumble.’
“I called it that because it was trunk-rocking. Sam Bostic produced the track, but I came to him and said, ‘Sam, I want you, with this song right here, to flip ‘187 Proof’ by Spice 1 and turn it into your song, your own way.’ And he did. The beat came out so hard man, you could just go in there and smoke the fuck out of the microphone.”
E-40 f/ Suga-T “Sprinkle Me” (1995)
#17. E-40 f/ 2Pac, Spice 1, & Mac Mall “Dusted ‘N’ Disgusted” (1995)
E-40 f/ Levitti “1 Luv” (1995)
The Click “Hurricane” (1995)
E-40 “Record Haters” (1996)
Produced by: Rick Rock
E-40: “I was actually watching Rap City on BET and Joe Clair—I named him Joe Cleezy—was the host and he was interviewing Rasheed Wallace. And he was like, ‘What you think about hip-hop, Rasheed? You got Wu-Tang, Redman, and Nas.’ I forget the other names he mentioned. He named a few East Coast rappers. And Joe was like, ‘You got them over here on the East Coast, and on the West Coast you got E-40, and in the South you got Goodie Mob.’ So Rasheed Wallace was like, ‘I don't fool with the E-40s and the Goodie Mobs, it's strictly Wu-Tang on mine.’
“Wu-Tang is good people. I ain’t never had anything against none of the people who he named. It was just that, he dissed us. So I said fuck that. I'm sitting up here watching it myself. This ain't no 'he say, she say' shit. It's not like I had somebody call and say like, ‘40! Rasheed Wallace just clowned you on TV.’ Nah, I sat up there and was watching! Like, 'This motherfucker clownin’ on the boss!?' I said, ‘I'm finna get on his helmet!’ [Laughs.]. I felt like the motherfucker was a hater so I called it ‘Record Haters.’
“The way AZ got in it, it really wasn't his fault. I blame the magazine 4080. They had said some shit in there that made it seem like AZ was trying to clown me. But he wasn't, I came to find out. Actually I'd like to kind of apologize. It was the magazine which is not in print anymore. Journalists and magazines can be messy.
"But I want to let everybody know that years ago me and Rasheed Wallace squashed our little situation. He came to me and apologized. We were in Portland doing a big show with like 10,000 people for a radio station out there. Rasheed was hosting and backstage he was like, ‘Man, 40 I always wanted to tell you, I just want to apologize brother. I'm a man and I respect the hustle and everything you brought to hip hop. I was immature back then.’ Man, I shook his hand.
"We got up on stage and shook hands and squashed that little shit right there. So I ain't got nothing against him. Matter of fact, I’m a fan of him with his basketball. Back then I said, ‘Stick to basketball. Lemme do what I do as a rapper, you do what you do.' I don't have no problem with him in my heart at all. He said what he said, but he was a man and apologized. I respect him for that."
E-40 f/ Too $hort & K-Ci “Rapper's Ball” (1996)
E-40 f/ Otis & Shug “Hope I Don't Go Back” (1998)
E-40 f/ Too $hort & K-Ci & JoJo “From the Ground Up” (1998)
E-40 f/ Otis & Shug & Too $hort “Earl, That's Yo' Life” (1999)
E-40 “Big Ballin’ With My Homies” (1999)
E-40 “L.I.Q.” (1999)
Produced by: Bosko
E-40: “That's lightweight mob music, but that's funk music too. Like Zapp and George Clinton and that kind of slap. So I had the boy Bosko do this one right here like this. He took this piece out of that song. Well, actually he didn't do none of that cause he played all that over and made it original. Like you know how you listen to a song and say, ‘Man I wanna take this beat, so I’m gonna revamp it in my own way where I ain't gotta pay nothing?’ It ain't got nothing to do with nothing and it sounds different and it's just called revamping. And that's what he did. You know you can just take a couple bits and pieces. Producers do it all the time. You take a certain melody, cut it short, or make it longer or whatever. So that's how that came about.
“Bosko was the king of the talkbox in that day. Now you've got your—what you call that?—AutoTune and what they call that other thing? Vocoder. Well Bosko used the talkbox. Like, he used the shit that Roger Troutman used back in the day. He just killed that shit. It was one of them slaps. And I just went in there and you know—that's a hood motherfucker's everyday thing to get up and hit the liquor store, ya understand me? [Laughs.] That's how we do it. A lot of times I try to speak for the shit I went through, or the shit other people went through. So hitting that liquor store is like the everyday routine for a hood motherfucker. Whether he going in there to get some Swishers and a pack of Zags or whether he going to get some liquor. [Laughs.]”
E-40 “Loyalty and Betrayal” (2000)
Produced by: Rick Rock
E-40: “That's one of my favorite songs ever. Rick Rock did the beat and at the time I said, ‘I want people to listen to the beginning of the song, you gotta remember how many years ago this was.’ This was 2000. Right when the beat came on I said, ‘Tell me when,’ and Rick Rock says, ‘Go!’ [Laughs.]
“The reason it's named ‘Loyalty and Betrayal’ is because some people really will be loyal to you and loyalty really goes a long way. A lot of dynasties, camps, and teams break-up. They go their separate ways and fall out because it's always someone who wants to get in there and do something crooked and be unloyal. Instead of playing his position, he wanna get greedy, let the devil get in him, and turn him Judas. He become a shady motherfucker cause he feel like he should be the number one guy.
“Everybody wanna be the Iron Chef and don't nobody wanna wash dishes, work in the pantry, or mop the floor. Everybody want it right then and there. Everybody want that number one spot. So that's why I say it in ‘Loyalty and Betrayal’ cause that's how it is. Some people gone be loyal, and some people gone betray you. And so I just covered all parts of the game in that song.”
E-40 f/ Nate Dogg “Nah, Nah” (2000)
E-40 f/ Fabolous “Automatic” (2002)
E-40 f/ Turf Talk & Doonie “Gasoline” (2003)
Produced by: Rick Rock
E-40: “That was the song that the hood cats used to go dumb to and get real hyphy on without anyone saying anything about hyphy. I’ve been on uptempo beats for years. Rick Rock came with that beat and I was like, ‘Let's call this ‘Gasoline’ cause that's what I’m gone spit, gasoline.’
“It's before motherfuckers was saying ‘gas.’ Like, ‘Man that nigga gassin!’ So that's what it was about, me just gassing the track, spitting that gasoline. And that's all I did was gas it. It was raw shit, like shit you can really paint a picture about. And that's how that unfolded.
“That boy [Turf Talk] is my favorite rapper in the world. He's the rawest rapper on the planet. I’m just keeping it 1000. He's my favorite rapper in he world and his voice fit the hook. He came with the hook, I came with the title. And it came out to be one of them ones. He was younger, and shit, even better now.”