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Beats Per Millennium - E-40: The Ball Street Journal

E-40: The Ball Street Journal

Few aging rappers have experienced the late-career resurgence that E-40 was blessed with in 2006. His previous top-seller, In a Major Way, went gold in under a year in 1995 and had reached platinum status by 2002. My Ghetto Report Card went gold in the five months following its release. But in 1995, the highest-selling record was Hootie and the Blowfish’s Cracked Rear View, which sold 11 million copies in its first year. In 2006, the biggest seller was the soundtrack to High School Musical, clocking in closer to 4 million. Hell, the Jerky Boys went platinum twice in 1995, which tells you how far record sales have come since then. Conclusion? America has bad taste, and E-40’s biggest hit didn’t come until he was actually 40.

But two factors contributed to the buzz surrounding My Ghetto Report Card. The first was the success of the terminally catchy “U and Dat,” which has the distinction of being the first-ever single by a rapper to feature T-Pain. Teddy had hit success with “I’m N Luv (With A Stripper)” and “I’m Sprung,” but “U and Dat” was his first step on the road to appearing on everyone’s albums. The second contributing factor was the fantastic “Tell Me When To Go,” which became a YouTube sensation when white suburban kids caught onto the trend of ghost-riding the whip. Suddenly, bitter hip hop fans everywhere could exercise some easy schadenfreudian catharsis as dopey-looking white guys got their cars stolen, totaled, or made into the instruments of their own paralysis/demise. It was as if every bit of hip hop culture co-opted by suburban teenagers was being avenged in every clip, and more often than not “Tell Me When To Go” was the soundtrack. I’m convinced that ghost riding is a rebellion of the proletariat, a sneaky way for hyphy culture to destroy the assets of the bourgeoisie by pointlessly injuring their children and destroying the resale value of their cars. E-40 was a hero of the revolution.

Not many rappers get the chance to introduce themselves to the world when they’re as old as E-40 is. Hell, Lil Wayne is 26 and already has 6 studio albums out. That right there tells you what a young man’s profession hip hop is. When any other rapper rails against ringtone rap and recalls the old days, they’re generally a shadow of their former selves. Nas said hip hop was dead, but he sure as hell peaked with Illmatic. The thesis of the album can be found on the track “Tell It Like It Is,” a sharply satiric attack on T-Pain and those like him.

Just kidding!

E-40 explains: “Man, I got my own dreams, everyone wants me to finance theirs. You know who I like? I like that boy 40, 20 years in the game and he consistent. Not all of them, but a lot of these new dudes is ringtone rappers, man. Fools have just one album out and act like they just it.”

Most of the track is just musing on friends and enemies, about lessons learned, and yes, a state of the union for hip hop. About leaving one car-length in front of him in case someone pulls a gun, but also about how the way to keep friends is returning phone calls. But fuck it, man, it’s nice. He got famous after he got mature, he’s not burnt out, and he’s just acting like the old wise MC of the mainstream. He’s not even crotchety. Usually this kind of thing smacks of envy, but E-40’s flow is so tight on this album that it’s not even a concern. That, and in the dead of winter, when no one’s writing anything that’s meant to be pumped up real loud and blared out car windows, hyphy is real refreshing.

Any rapper who had a bit of sense about them can only pray they’re as good as E-40 is when they’re 20 years into their career. His flow gets better every album and he even manages to make stale material sound fresh – take “The Recipe,” which sounds like a dad giving his kid advice – when the kid announced his intention to start selling crack for a living. “They aint calling it snitching no more / They calling it telling the truth / They say you better get down first before they decide to get down on you / Mixing it up / Shake & bake / Its 2008, they got more data than ’88.” Or “Earl,” where E-40 hops on the bandwagon of rappers embracing their terribly dorky given names (Pusha T and Malice from Clipse are Terrence and Gene, respectively. Pimp C and Bun B from UGK are Chad and Bernie. What the hell is wrong with rappers’ mothers?) But he rattles off why, in his words, “It’s spooky out here in the Yay.” – “Some of them parents on drugs / Some of them never been loved / Some of them want to be thugs / Some of them just need a hug.”

Every big successful album this year has some underlying mantra that can explain its success. Kanye channeled Phil Collins for an album inspired by tragedy, T.I. mused on going to jail for however long, and Lil Wayne took the road toward becoming the David Bowie of hip hop. All three albums were flawed but fascinating. E-40 takes a route that most rappers don’t – practice makes perfect. There’s nothing on the level of “Tell Me When To Go” or “U and Dat” and the album is crammed until the CD can’t fit anything else. But surprisingly, it doesn’t get tedious, as E-40 has a different topic nearly every song, and ends poignantly, with “Pray For Me.” So the underlying mantra of The Ball Street Journal is “practice makes perfect.” E-40 is one of the best elder statesmen that hip hop has, and he’s in top form.

Posted by Joe Kaiser at Dec 14, 2008 03:50 AM