(Sticking with the West Coast for a little while longer, Leon contributes his thoughts on E-40's sophomore effort, In A Major Way. I know that some of you two felt that E-40 was a name that was mostly missing from these pages, so Leon attempted to correct that oversight. Leave your thoughts for him below.)
As one of Max’s two regular readers, my emotions often run the full gamut when reading his blog. Part of me celebrates Max and his track-by-track reviews full of such wit and acidity. It is refreshing to read reviews of hip hop by a man who so blatantly loves it, whilst not taking himself or the music to seriously. Another part of me, though, is forever frustrated over the gaps that plague his blog. In the following review I will be plugging one of those gaps. I of course do understand that Max is a man with a life outside of this blog, although some of his readers, including me, seem to begrudge him of that. Therefore I felt instead of sitting back and becoming an angry troll, chastising Max through the comments board, I should do something about it, becoming a contributing member of the Hip Hop Isn’t Dead society.
One more note before I begin this review. I wanna see beaucoup comments, not necessarily about my review but just hip hop in general, and not just requests or complaints for Max. Give the poor guy a break.
Anyway, now for the feature presentation, a review of E-40’s magnum opus (in my opinion, anyway) In A Major Way. Earl "E-40" Stevens, a/k/a Charlie Hustle, E-Bonics, 40 Fonzarelli, The Ambassador of the Bay, The Ballistician, Forty Water, and the rest, is, as one of his many aliases claims, the ambassador of the Bay area music scene coming straight out of Vally Joe, Califoolya, you feel me. Along with fellow Oakland veteran Too $hort, E-40 is the definition of prolific, having released twenty-five projects, including two full-length albums and an EP with his familial group The Click, two solo EP’s, two collaborative albums with Too $hort, and seventeen solo albums. Seven of those albums, the Revenue Retrieving series and the Block Brochure series, were released all within a mere two-year period. There must be something in the water down in the Bay: just look at the Bay’s new blood, Lil B, with fifty-three releases (and counting) of various type and quality since 2007.
This level of prolific output, though, means that quality control tends to go out the window. Don’t get me wrong: I would choose listening to a bad E-40 album any day over a lot of the current critically-acclaimed darlings of hip hop, who shit over a beat I’ve heard a million other rappers shit over. Over so many albums and so many tracks, the man is obviously going to run out things to say and great beats to rap over. The thing with E-40, though, is that no matter how boring or unoriginal his subject matter, the way in which he discusses it is so damn flamboyant. In a Major Way (released through his own label, Sick Wid It, through a partnership with Jive Records) does not suffer this fate, though. The beats are classic mobbin' Bay area butters, and Forty Water's rhymes do not disappoint.
Fo shizzle. Whoops. I seem to have given away the ending. Oh well.
Anyway, let’s get on with this review. Maybe I can delve more into E-40's backstory in a future review, if Max will have me back.
Whilst I’m in agreement with Max when it comes to rap album intros and their general redundancy, at least E-40 provides us with something useful: a recipe for something known as Hurricane Ethel, a cocktail he recommends drinking while listening to this album. The recipe is as follows: 151 Bacardi Dark, Bacardi Light, Triple Sec, Grenadine, Pineapple Juice, and an empty container of Arrowhead Water. As I don’t drink alcohol, I would be grateful if someone could make this concoction and tell me how it tastes and whether or not it does improve the listening experience, as E-40 states. (I'm more of a whiskey guy myself, so if someone else could give this a shot, I'd also be interested in knowing how this tastes.)
2. CHIP IN DA PHONE (SKIT)
E-40 decides to dabble in a spot of poetry, spinning a yarn concerning a certain drug dealer who marinates on the corner with a chip in his phone. A second listening of this track is not necessary. For completists only.
3. DA BUMBLE
Stabbing synths and piano keys form the foundation of this track, where Fonzarelli spits game as if he’s on the verge of having an asthma attack. What the song is about and what “Da Bumble” exactly is I could not tell you, but I could listen to Forty read the phone book and still have my head bobbing to the beat. This is by no means a bad song, but it doesn’t feel like it should be the opening track.
4. SIDEWAYS (FEAT. B-LEGIT & MAC SHAWN)
Now this would make a good opening track. Mobbed out via a Zapp-esque bass line, E-40 and his cousin B-Legit advocate some sort of riding of the sideways sort, whatever that means. Mac Shawn of the Funk Mob is on hook duties. He keeps it nice and simple, not interrupting the head-bobbing beat with a lengthy and wordy hook.
After detailing the bowel movement he likes to take in the Mediterranean every morning, the beat kicks in and Forty lays into it with some furious word-bending nonsense. As the title suggests, this track is simply Forty spittin', switching up his flow more times than I could count, and dropping gems like about how his stash is stacked higher than Manute Bol. Forty also lets us know that cash rules everything around him. Does this mean that E-40 listens to the Wu? (Probably. He even shares a birthday with the late Ol' Dirty Bastard, with whom he's recorded a song in the past.)
6. SPRINKLE ME (FEAT. SUGA T)
The release of bodily waste seems to be a recurring theme so far on this album. We’ve heard about how Forty likes to shit in the Mediterranean, and now he opens a track by belching at the listener. Charming. This track features yet another member of Forty’s family, his sister and fellow Click member Suga T. The hook on this track is sang by Forty himself, and while he won’t be recording a R&B album anytime soon, it suits the laid-back funked-out groove that the beat rides. The interaction between brother and sister on this track works really well, which is probably why I am such a massive fan of The Click, which features Forty himself, his sister Suga-T, his brother D-Shot and his cousin B-Legit. Their second album, Game Related, is, in my humble opinion, along with this album, the pinnacle of Forty’s long career. Maybe I’ll review that next?
7. OUTTA BOUNDS (SKIT)
Forty starts this skit singing to himself about how he is going to get some pussy. After a barrage of gunfire, Forty is presumed dead, or at least out of action for a while. As well as getting no pussy anytime soon. No need to listen to this again.
8. DUSTED 'N DISGUSTED (FEAT. 2PAC, SPICE 1, & MAC MALL)
Released as a single, this track features none other than Mr. Tupac Shakur. If you watch the video though, you will notice that he was replaced by Celly Cell, due to his incarceration at the time of filming. Upon first hearing this track, I was expecting big things. I was left underwhelmed though, which was surprising, due to the line-up of three bona-fide Oaktown legends, as well as the Bay's biggest export. Upon a second, third, fourth and fifth listen, the track grew on me as I recognized the genius behind the ever-accumulating beat, one that seems to keep adding layer upon layer of mobbed-out trunk-rattling funk, culminating in a furious verse from 2Pac, who is in full-on Makaveli mode. As for lyrical content, this is the first track on this album where I can recognize some sort of narrative/theme, with each rapper letting us know about various nefarious deals gone wrong, how it is such a cold world, and how you can’t trust anyone, especially a woman. At least according to Pac.
9. 1 LUV (FEAT. LEVITTI)
Do ya’ll remember back in 1995 when Nas accused E-40 of biting, and so E-40 told Nas to come down to the Bay so they could sort their differences out via a dance marathon, à la Sydney Pollack’s Depression-era drama They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? No? Me neither. I guess New York could give a fuck about the Bay, because if it was another East Coast rapper using the same title and subject matter as a well-known classic track, they would get labeled as a biter. A biter is one thing that Forty could never be labeled as, considering he has a flow so original that I pity any rapper who tries to ape it. As for the track itself, I am biased, as this is one my favorite Forty tracks. The Bay's version of Nate Dogg, Levitti, sings the hook nicely, making this song the complete package. The beat rides out while Levitti repeats the title over and over, which I typically hate but so not mind in this instance.
10. SMOKE 'N DRANK (FEAT. LEVITTI)
"Smoke ‘N Drank" finds E-40 really hitting the gas when it comes to spitting. When I listen to an E-40 song, I want to hear what he is saying, because it is often damn funny. However, I admit that I cannot really understand what he says on here. The beat just trundles along underneath this barrage of lyrical ferocity that doesn’t draw any sort of emotional response from me. The only noteworthy thing is Levitti's chorus, which allows the beat to rise like a Funkadelic phoenix from the ashes of Forty’s three verses. I usually skip this song. Actually I don’t skip it, because I have an mp3 player, so I simply leave it off the track list. Oh technology, you’re so cool.
11. DEY AIN'T NO
Sinister synths and the deepest of deep bass lines reign supreme as Forty, once again, switches his flow drastically, from the indecipherable blunted babble of the previous song to a slow and menacing clear cut delivery that still manages to flex around a corner and sucker punch you. Forty drops gems concerning the dope game in the Bay, spittin' solid gold lines such as, “Do so much dirt they got lice”. A sloppily-played piano melody pops up intermittently, adding even more menace to this straight mobbin' track. The hook is sung by someone, unknown both to me and the liner notes, in a fake Jamaican accent, à la Spice Spiggidy 1. It’s not bad, but the silliness of that fake accent detracts slightly from the menacing tone of the track.
12. FED EX (FEAT. SUGA T)
Scratched vocal hooks and squelching bass lines create a pure funk beat that Forty rips a new asshole into. Forty’s lyrical content on this album so far hasn’t strayed too far from what most of today’s trap and coke rap artists talk about. Most of that new shit bores me, but Forty takes it to a different level that no one has yet topped in my opinion. A soulful chorus sang by Suga-T perfectly caps this song off, making it one of the standout tracks on the disc. The only downside, as with most of the songs on this album, is that once Forty stops rapping, the beat just goes on and on while he talks more shit. It’s somewhat pleasant at first, but after a few listens you will find yourself skipping to the next track.
13. H.I. DOUBLE L. (FEAT. CELLY CEL & B-LEGIT)
Horny horns straight out of Parliament-Funkadelic, twinned with hard hitting 808’s, allow Celly Cel, unsung Oaktown veteran, to outperform both Forty and B-Legit, which is not an easy task. However, he is also given more time to spit than both cousins, so maybe he had an album coming out soon and Forty wanted to give him a bit of shine. All in all, a great track, one that should give you the urge to pick up some of Celly Cel’s work, preferably through one of Max’s Amazon links. No need to thank me, Max: just cut me in on the profits.
The chorus on this track is one that I imagine Max would find rather unpleasant. It is annoying, I agree, but the beat and Forty’s rhymes transcend it. The beat goes on for almost two minutes after Forty stops rhyming, and unfortunately so does that annoying female vocalist. I usually find myself skipping those last two minutes, (1) because they are annoying as fuck, and (2) because one of the best tracks on the album follows.
15. ITS ALL BAD (FEAT. LIL E)
Droop E, Forty’s son and, apparently (from what I hear) a decent producer and so-so rapper, makes his second appearance on wax, credited as Lil E. His first appearance was on his father's debut, Federal. The track begins with Forty and Lil E “marinating” and “tripping” on what life is. Damn, that shit's deep, and once the beat kicks in it only gets deeper. Forty touches upon similar subjects that run through this entire album, but isn't glorifying them. He plays the O.G. at 27, lamenting the state of our society, black on black violence, the drug game, domestic violence and police corruption. Then all of a sudden, after asking his father to sprinkle him with some more game, Lil E starts spitting. Now for an 8 year old, his verse wasn't that bad, but having it tacked onto the end of what could have been the best song on the album? I am not feeling that.
Advertisement for Sick Wid It Record's upcoming releases. Not a great way to end an album, but you don’t have to listen to it, so who cares. Also, you have to respect E-40’s hustle.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Working with in-house producers and pioneers of the Mob sound, Sam Bostic, Mike Mosley, Kevin Gardner and Studio Ton, the production on In A Major Way may be low budget, but this is no shortcoming. All of those hi-hats, 808 toms, squelching horns and sporadic trumpets that E-40 flexes so flamboyantly over would sound nowhere near as great if they had been slicked up, smoothed out and polished down. Yes, E-40's lyrical prowess did get better after this album, although of late it has been slipping, and yes, he has had the occasional better beat and a bigger budget, but not since In A Major Way has E-40 grinded (ground?) so hard, creating a solid track-for-track mobbin' Bay Area classic. It’s all good.
BUY OR BURN? As an introduction to the Bay Area scene, In a Major Way is the perfect album to pick up, so pick it up, preferably through one of Max’s Amazon links. You feel me. I’ll expect a cheque in the post, Max.
BEST TRACKS: "Sideways"; "Bootsee"; "It's All Bad"; "H.I. Double L."; "Dey Ain't No"
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts below.)