E-40: Deep Water
Earl breaks down how radio stifled his national popularity, and gave birth to "Captain Save A Hoe," as he speaks about independent freedom, why mixtapes aren't his steez, and Mac Mall's talent.
The cliche says that age ain't nothing but a number. But if Hip Hop has taught us anything it's that the cliche isn't usually a truth. Aging in the genre is usually a violent and awkward process and all of us are susceptible to its effects. All of us, it would seem, except for E-40. For nearly 25 years the Vallejo legend has remained Rap's foremost architect of slanguage and slaps.
Where most veterans slow as they age, 40's only picked up the pace. Last February he released two separate albums - Revenue Retrievin' The Day Shift and Revenue Retrievin' The Night Shift. Now he's back with the third and fourth installments - Graveyard Shift and Overtime Shift - set to drop at the end of the month. DX sat down with 40 Water to chop it up about his independent legacy, the art of hitmaking and the Bay Area water supply.
HipHopDX: What made you want to come out with another double disc so quickly?
E-40: If it ain't broke don't fix it. [Laughs]
HipHopDX: Have you been particularly productive recently or is it that you've always recorded a ton of music and just now have the ability to release it?
E-40: It's a productive period, but at the same time I always have been productive. Now I have the opportunity to release as many albums as I want in a year because I'm independent. I always wanted to do this. I wanted to do two or three albums in a year when I was on a major label. I got so much good music and at the end of the day I don't like throwing away nothing. I just feel everything I do is great. So it's a perfect opportunity right now. This is more income and it's a better way to get everything that I want to say out there. I'm just building up the catalog, man. A brand new catalog.
DX: Are you at all worried that you might overwhelm folks?
E-40: I'm really not. That's the furthest from my mind. Things get old quick nowadays, time flies quicker than it used to. People's patience is not there like that. They get tired of something real quick. That's why I'ma keep hitting them in the face nonstop. All gas, no brake-pads. There really ain't enough hours in the day to get what I need done.
DX: Are there thematic differences to the albums? How do you decide which songs are for the Graveyard Shift and which are for the Overtime Shift?
E-40: Me and Droop-E and the rest of the Sick Wid It [Records] camp, we analyze it, we listen to the songs and just say "You know what? this feel like the graveyard shift." We just all take a vote and that's how we put 'em in order.
DX: Who else are you working with on the album?
E-40: I got tracks with the whole Sick Wid It camp - Laroo, the DB'z, Turf Talk, Droop-E, B-Bop, Cheapskate, we could go on and on and on forever. Cousin Fik. Pretty much my whole camp. It's just a whole bunch of people. You gotta realize, it's 20 songs on each album. I also got Devin The Dude, I got a track with me, Bun B and Slim Thug. I got T-Pain. T-Pain produced a track for me that you would never know is T-Pain. It's on some west coast shit. It don't sound nothing like a T-Pain track that you've ever heard and the hook don't sound like a T-Pain hook. It's just on some other shit. It's to the streets, it's nothing commercial like you would think. We didn't even aim it for the radio on this. This is just a slap.
DX: Now when you were doing records like "U And Dat" was that something you were cool with or was the label pushing you to do that?
E-40: Naw that was something I really wanted. That was a slap! That was the biggest record I've had in my career. The grittiest, grimiest niggas fuck with that record. Smell me? All the bitches fuck with it 'cause all the niggas fuck with it and all the niggas fuck with it 'cause all the bitches fuck with it. But that was one of them situations where you got the best of both worlds right there. We had that all planned out. As soon as Lil Jon came with the beat we was like, "We need to get someone to sing on this thing." My boy Al Kapone was like, "You probably should get T-Pain on this. He ain't oversaturated, he's new, he's talented, he can sing, he can produce, he can do all that shit." So my boy Maurice Garland, him and Deshawn Kennedy were both in the studio and they was like "We got a line on that boy T-Pain." And it just so happened that T-Pain wasn't even living in Atlanta when we did this particular track, we were up at Stankonia Studio. And I'm up there recording the album and it just so happened that T-Pain was in town. So Boo over at Def Jam, Akon's brother, brought T-Pain to the studio within the next hour or two. And it was a hit record. I [was never] forced to do something when I was on a major. The only song I ever went way out to do was the "Wake It Up" track. I was trying to make a hit single because I was following up "Snap Ya Fingas," "Tell Me When To Go" and "U And Dat." And that was a hit record, but my fanbase didn't want to hear that type of track from me. Some of them liked it, some of them was like "nah, this ain't the 40 I grew up on." But I evolve.
Now I ain't even tripping on radio. If I get it, I get it. Like my last song "Bitch." Me and [Too] Short wasn't expecting it to go to radio or nothing. We just made it 'cause it was a [Revenue Retrievin': Day Shift] album cut. And that's how we used to go in the studio and make songs, period, back in the day. When I came with "Captain Save-A-Hoe" [on The Mail Man], I wasn't designing that for the radio, I just wanted to make hood anthems. It just so happened that everybody loved that and the radio came to me. All the deejays were like "Man, you ain't got no clean version of that?" and I was like "Naw, but I can make one!" So that's where I'm at right now. Fuck it. My music has it's own legs a lot of the time. I had an underground song called "Sliding Down The Pole" [from Ball Street Journal that was] big record on the west coast and radio just started fucking with it. So basically I just make music like we used to. We go in there and just make good music. I mean I'll send some songs out to the radio, but I'm not trying to make a big smash hit or something. I put that in God's hands. I'm just doing E-40, the one that everybody grew up with and loved. That's where I'm at. I got "Mr. Flamboyant Pt. 2" on my album. I took it back on the roots thing.
I definitely had to put new school music in there too, which I love to do. All I do is take an up-tempo track and put game behind my rap. I spit that shit over them up-tempos. It ain't like no goofy ass [Pop song], I'm saying some shit. I don't speak square language. Me and squares and the game goofy motherfuckers and the don't-knows and the motherfuckers that ain't never been in the life or even hit a block or been on no corners or been in any type of sticky situation or nothing they ain't gonna never understand me. They squares. I don't speak their language. That's why they don't know what I be talking about. But the real motherfuckers, they know what's happening. I speak for the inner-city. So I gave 'em a little bit of this and a little bit of that on this one. And I'm always in the trunk. This is gonna be something ridiculous in the trunk. I'm talking about ridiculous, uncalled for slap. I gotta keep it one hundred. I'm talking about probably more slap than you've heard in years. I got a couple of them that's really gonna fuck that trunk up. They're probably gonna put a dent in everybody's trunk. If they got some woofers in that motherfucker? The sound itself might start putting dents in the trunk. That's how hard it hits. Certain tracks on my album hurt the trunk. You gotta adjust that level.
DX: Well back to what you were saying about making records for the radio, it seems like the Bay always has a self sustaining audience, with or without radio hits.
E-40: You right, we got our own thing. But don't get it twisted - we would appreciate radio play, we love radio play. It's just that out here on the west coast it's not a lot of urban stations. I had a big record, the "Bitch" record, I had to clean it up and call it "Trick." That took off on its own and got play on Power 106 and KMEL. It should've been played all over the nation to be honest with. Because I'ma be real, it's a lot of set trippin'-ass deejays out there, program directors is closed-minded and they be set trippin'. Like "Aw, that's a west coast nigga, fuck him!" Besides my nigga Snoop [Dogg], besides [Dr.] Dre, what west coast motherfuckers do you know that get radio play outside of the west coast?
DX: Nobody really.
E-40: But the on the west coast, we buy and support east coast motherfuckers' music. We buy Midwest, the south. We support everybody. But when it come to us it's all "Oh, those west coast niggas..." And we the most gamed-up individuals ever. Especially us Bay boys. We full of game, we trendsetters. Everything that motherfuckers is just now talking about subject matter and word play-wise we already been did there and done that. We the best that ever did that shit. And it ain't no motherfucking-body that can tell us different. Because real motherfuckers outside of us fuck with us. Motherfuckers in the Midwest, in the South. It's niggas on the east coast that's gamed up that's been in the pen with real west coast niggas and vice versa. It's a lot of woke motherfuckers out there, but it's [also] a lot of game goofy, square-ass, mark-ass niggas out there that just don't adapt and can't comprehend to real niggas conversation.
DX: I'm on the east coast and a lot of times when I talk to people out here, it seems like they haven't even heard much of your music, they just have a certain idea about it.
E-40: One thing about me, I don't expect for a nigga to catch onto me right away. It's some people that catch on to my shit right away then there's some people that it might take them a few years to catch on. My shit is unorthodox and it's different from all. It's only one of me. And I'm tripping off how a lot of people are into motherfuckers that sound alike. The same flow. So I'm not Hip Hop if I don't sound like everybody else? I got my own shit. But they automatically like, "Aw, he wack!" And they [only] hear songs that's on the radio. Like I got a song ["Go Girl"] - it ain't even my song - it's my dude Baby Bash's record. It's a big record out here on the west coast and they've been playing it on MTV Jams. That's a party slap right there. That's for the bitches, that's for the clubs. But they don't know that I spit that soil shit, that hood shit. You gotta buy my albums and all that shit. They're not gonna play my super hood shit on the radio like that. But they have played some of the bigger east coast artists' hood shit on the radio. I give them clean versions to my hood anthems and everything. "That's too much, that's too hard, woo woo."
I'm from a small ass city called Vallejo, California. If you blink you might miss it. But it's got some of the most talented motherfuckers ever to even do Hip Hop. We always have been looked over. I'm not pissin' a bitch, I'm not griping, I'm just telling the truth. We know what we brought to the table. We the motherfuckers that started this independent shit. My nigga Master P, my nigga Bryan Williams [also known as] Baby. They know my blueprint, they know who is the motherfucker that pioneered this independent shit. They took a page out the book, did a very good job and they pay homage. Especially Cash Money [Records]. You could go to Baby right now and he gon' tell you, "I been fuckin' with 40." It's just better opportunities and them dudes is real hustlers. They broke from the streets and they did they thang. I don't have no gripes or complaints about real motherfuckers like that. My whole thing is I like to pay homage to motherfuckers that was before me. I pay homage to [DJ] Kool Herc, I appreciate people like Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel and them. If it wasn't for them... They probably didn't get paid nowhere near what hip hop [makes] today. But they actually had to go through it for us to learn and to figure things out. If it wasn't for them it wouldn't be us!
It's fucked up because a lot of shit is not documented. The Internet came around really strong in what, like '99? So a lot of history got erased from 12, 14 years before that. If it wasn't for the O.G.'s that really got their memories and really talk about that shit in the game, these youngsters wouldn't know nothing about it. That's the thing about it. I always have fucked with young rappers. I always have showed love, especially when I see that they've got hustle in their blood. I'm just playing my position as an O.G. and an ambassador. But you get some youngsters that really think that they know everything off the top. That they're just gonna be around forever. They have no idea how hard this is. But then you get a lot of solid youngsters that really like to ask questions like "O.G. 40, can you really try to give me some game on this? Which direction do you think I should take?" And I give it to 'em. But you've got some that don't pay homage to the history books or none of that, bruh. To be honest I blame that on a lot of O.G.s that didn't sit these cats down and wake their game up.
DX: Who are some of the new rappers that you listen to?
E-40: I like Kendrick Lamar. It ain't because he's blowing up or nothing. I liked him as soon as I heard his shit. That's one of the youngsters that likes to asks me questions and I give him game. He's on some real time. He up under some real niggas and he a solid dude. I like a rapper up out the Bay Area called DB The General. I'ma put my son in there, Droop-E because it ain't like he leaning on my shoulder about his fame and fortune. He work hard. He's the executive producer of my [recent albums]. The boy been rapping ever since he was three years old. When he was six he was on a platinum album, [my 1995 album] In A Major Way, he spit an eight-measure bar. He been in it, he was born in it and the boy got his own lane. That's what I like about him. When he put that Sade sample out in the "I'm Loaded" video? I gotta give it to him because he got his own shit. He don't sound like me or none of that. Other rappers of course [are] on my label - Cousin Fik, Laroo, Turf Talk. We could go on. We got heat over here. There's plenty others but I barely have time to listen to myself.
DX: I can imagine, when you're putting out 80 songs a year.
E-40: Exactly, 80 songs that's documented. No disrespect to anybody that's doing mixtapes but these are documented, these are soundscanned with a barcode and they're in the history books. I get paid on every last one of them. Including the bonus tracks, that's well over 80 songs per year. So at 11 songs per album that's eight albums in one year. Real albums, all brand new fresh songs. No recycled shit, no remixed shit. None of that.
DX: Is that why you've stayed away from doing mixtapes in your career?
E-40: It's a documentation issue with me. I'm not mad at those who do mixtapes. I'll probably do one [one day]. I'm not saying I'm never gonna do one. I'm not mad at those that do 'em, it's a new way of Rap hustling. But I'm just saying that I choose to not do them. I choose to put out a real album and I don't waste no time. The grit don't quit.
DX: Sometimes mixtapes just disappear too. There are tapes from a few years ago that I can't find anywhere.
E-40: Exactly. My shit is documentate-ed. It's like a pension plan for the future. I'm building up my catalog.
DX: Are you still planning on doing an album with Too Short?
E-40: Yeah we on that right now. The name of the album is called The History Channel.
DX: How's that coming along?
E-40: It's banging. Everything we do. I'ma keep it one thousand. We got that chemistry.
DX: Where do you think the Hyphy movement went wrong?
E-40: You know, it's too many chiefs and not enough indians out here in the Bay. We're from the area that they made up the word playa-hater at. When you hear somebody saying "He a hater," it all originated from a person being a playa hater. That's our word that we made about ourselves. Motherfuckers do be playa-hating out here. So the movement crashed real quick but at the same time the talent is still here. I'm not gonna denounce Hyphy. Everything we were saying was really the shit that was going on. We wasn't making shit up. Motherfuckers was jumping on top of cars and turning donuts, smoking up the block, sideshows. Niggas with dreads, bitches wildin' out, motherfuckers talking loud, the whole shit. The only thing is it got too repetitive and people started making it look like it was goofy. If you go back and look at the "Tell Me When To Go" video, you'll see it was all hood shit and it was really shit that was going on. It was ghetto activities. They tried to say some people made it look goofy, I know I wasn't one of them. But at the same time it wasn't really nothing goofy about the real Hyphy. Hyphy really is the loud talking, crazy, wild motherfucker. Like "That nigga Hyphy, you might want to leave the nigga alone. He a couple tacos short of a combination."
DX: It seems like the sound of the Bay has moved back to a slower, more lyrically focused sound with guys like The Jacka and Husulah.
E-40: Hyphy was really never no sound. It's like it was sound but it wasn't. Motherfuckers was going stupid off the Ying Yang Twins and shit like that. Even on the song "I'm Sprung" by T-Pain, motherfuckers would go dumb. It can be slow-tempo and everything, it's about how you feel. One thing about the Bay you've got your conscious rappers, you've got your Hieroglyphics, you've got they kinda style of Rap. And all them dudes ain't no suckas, they're real motherfuckers. But they chose to do a different type of Rap than the Gangsta Rap that some of us was doing. Me personally? I do it all. But we had different kinda shit in the Bay from the beginning. You got your Gospel rappers, you got niggas that just talk about pimpin', you got your D-boy rappers, you got your shoot-'em-up bang-bang rappers, then you got the rappers that do it all.
DX: So what do you think are some classic Bay Area records that people might be up on?
E-40: Shit, I'm sure they up on us, because you gotta realize the south really fucked with us and the midwest. But I can name [some of] them right now: Too Short's Born To Mack, The Click's Down & Dirty, RBL Posse's Lesson To Be Learned, Richie Rich & 415['s 41Fivin], B-Legit Tryna Get A Buck, Game Related by The Click, E-40's In A Major Way, E-40's The Element of Surprise, Mac Mall's Illegal Business, Coughnut & IMP, shit I know I'm forgetting hella people. Oh! Dangerous Dame! [The Jumpin' EP with] a song called "My Name is Daaaame." Did I say [the] Spice 1 [with] "187 Proof" and "Welcome To The Ghetto"? That's gotta go in there. Celly Cell Killa Kali and Mac Dre, before Hyphy, Young Black Brotha.
DX: Why do you think so much Bay talent was centralized in Vallejo in particular?
E-40: Man, come on man. It's something in that water! It's so much talent out there. From the Crest you've got Mac Dre, you've got Mac Mall, which is a very known name. People don't realize how big Mac Mall's name is. When I'm in the South and Midwest they're like "What ever happened to Mac Mall?" He had some great records. That's my blood cousin. When I see him I give him a hug and say "What up, cuz?" But who else? You got N 2 Deep. That's a platinum-selling group.
DX: Are they still making music?
E-40: Yeah! A lot of people are still making music nowadays. But if you ain't on BET or MTV people think you're not around no more. So therefore you gotta work the social networks, you gotta work the internet and put them visuals out. Shoot them viznideos. Videos don't cost as much as they used to, nowhere near.
DX: I noticed you did a ton of videos for the last albums.
E-40: And I got 'em in the can right now. You finna start seeing some shit next week. You're gonna start seeing a video pop up every week. Because I know what it takes when you're not commercianally exposed. If you ain't on 106 & Park there ain't too many outlets on BET that you can be seen on no more.
DX: But now Worldstar and the like have stepped in.
E-40: Yeah. But everybody ain't on computers. Worldstar's the biggest outlet right now. We fuck with them. Shit we need that. We need those kinda websites. We need WeDaWest, we need HIpHopDX and ThisIs50. We need all that shit.
It's going back to where it was in the '90s where it's a bunch of independently-owned media outlets distributing this stuff.
Man, I try to tell these cats on a major that got a name for themselves - when they get out of they contract all they gotta do is go get them a distribution deal. They've got a name, so they've got the track record to sell record. I try to tell 'em. Don't be lazy. You have to do it yourself... but you don't. Because all you do is hire you a team. And the money you make in the record sales is gonna be triple what you making as a regular artist on a major. Trust that.
DX: Yeah it's crazy that despite all the groundwork that you and Cash Money and all those guys laid I still hear new rappers all the time talking about "when I get signed to a major..."
E-40: Why? You caught up in a deal and a lot of times they'll water your ass down. They gonna be chasing a single and water it down. They want to hear a single before they actually start investing their money in you. They'll sign you but while you working on your album the A&R's coming in there like "we got one!" Now it could be good if you got a single that caters to the hood and it got crossover appeal, that's the blessing. But that's like one of them ones when you hit the lottery. That shit don't happen all the time. A hit don't just happen. A hit comes out of nowhere, like a real contractual hit. You can't force that shit. It's gotta come natural like an afro.