Without a doubt, E-40 is a hip-hop legend. After grinding on the Bay Area’s independent scene in the early 90s, the Vallejo, CA native broke through to the majors in the mid-90s with his album In A Major Way, thanks to singles like “1-Luv” and “Sprinkle Me.” Since then, he’s been steadily releasing albums and burning up the charts with songs like 2006’s nationwide hit “Tell Me When To Go.”
E-40’s latest releases are the two albums, Revenue Retrievin: Day Shift, and Revenue Retrievin: Night Shift which are in stores now.
I was fortunate enough to get a few moments on the phone with E-40, aka 40 Water, aka Charlie Hustle, aka Earl Stevens. We talked about his return to being an independent artist and the state of hip-hop on the West Coast.
How did the two-album concept come about?
All I do is stay in the studio. I probably got another 60 songs that I didn’t put on the album, you know what i mean? All I do is record and make music, so I had extra material, and I was like, you know what? I’m gonna take this one album budget and turn it into two.
How many songs are on both albums?
19 on each album, and two iTunes bonus tracks.
And you still have 60 songs left over? You’ve been putting in work!
Yeah man, that’s… that’s just life!
Whose featured on the album?
We got Gucci Mane, Snoop, Jazze Pha, the whole Sic Wid It camp, Mack Shine 100, B-Legit, Cousin Fik, my son Droop-E, he rapped on there and produced the majority of the album, Stressmatic from the Federation. It’s a ton of them, man!
How long did it take to record both albums?
It took a year. Right now, I’m recording again!
Did you have any reservations about releasing two albums especially in this period of declining sales across the board in the music industry?
I did it because I don’t have a middle man anymore. And when I say “middle man,” I’m not signed to no major label where you got all sorts of hands into something. I’m direct. I’m signed to my son’s label, Heavy On The Grind Entertainment, and that’s directly through EMI distribution. We workin’ the record. All the promotions and everything that people are seeing, that’s us doing it. That’s our team doing that.
That’s what’s up! So basically it’s like you’ve come full circle. It’s almost like you’re selling tapes out the trunk of your car again.
Exactly! My new thing is we’re like “F***k double platinum!” We’re trying to go double profit! I’m not looking for no kind of big first week sales, i don’t know what it’s gonna do, but I know we’re making a lot of noise and a lot of people is gonna love this music. That’s what I do know, and that’s the important thing. It’s gonna be a grind. We’re not gonna just be like “it’s over!” after the first week, like everybody thinks it is. You gotta stay grinding your record out. It’s back to the old days when you work your record for two years. We got a lot of material to work with.
The game has changed a lot with how music is being released and promoted, and there’s this whole new crop of emcees popping up on the internet. How do you feel about the way these new emcees are gonna have to grind with this new method. Is it a good thing that the internet has leveled the playing field, and made it easier for people to get their music heard?
I think the internet is right on time. I think it’s very important. It’s reaching out to millions of people. Even the most slimiest and grimiest hood cats out got iPhones and Smartphones so they’re able to view everything on the internet, so they’re well in tuned to what’s going on. You see what I’m saying? I think that the power of the internet is it! It’s exposure. Social networks like Twitter, Myspace, and all that s**t, all that works to our advantage. The only thing is that you get the wrong thing on there, it’s everywhere and it’s never erased. It can be misinformation, and somebody got it all f****d up, and even though it’s not true and you go back and clear it up, it’s still there forever in the back of people’s minds.
But for these new emcees, they’re doing what they gotta do , but at the same time, it’s f****d up for some of them because they can’t be who they really want to be. They gotta be something else to keep up with what’s going on ,and they know in their heart they can’t go and get really creative and go deep with it and do some crazy s**t, because people’s attention spans are real short now. People, a lot of times, don’t like what’s different. When it’s something different out there, the majority of people will be like “aww, that’s wack!” but if it’s regular, plain or a straight through flow, it’s easier for them to adapt to, because everyone likes the normal. They like normal s**t. So some of these rappers are scared to go outside the box and do some different s**t, and that’s one thing I gotta pat myself on the back for. I rolled the dice and some people loved it and some people hate me. But the majority? They love me.
That’s one of the things I’ve always loved about west coast hip-hop in general. The west has always had a very distinct identity. You put on a Too $hort record, an E-40 record, a Spice-1 record, and you know where you guys are from. It feels like there’s an identity crisis happening in other areas of the country, especially New York. I can barely tell the difference between a NYC emcee’s new record versus from somebody from Atlanta.
Would you say the West has isolated themselves from the rest of the country?
Right now, the west coast – this is the thing that’s against us – we got some raw a** emcees young and older. We got a lot of talent out here, but we lost our sound. That’s why I went back to doing what I do. We got real hood m**********s making songs we shouldn’t have to be making, but it had to be done to adjust to today’s time. Then every time we do a record that we really feel from the soul, it’s like we know it’s [a hit], but guess what the mainstream people tell us? They tell us “that’s too regional!” But when someone from the south does a song and it’s talking about just they city, they’re like “yeah, that’s that sh*t! that’s nationwide!” That’s f****d up! It’s a crazy situation. No disrespect to the South. They’ve been doing what they do for years, man. They’ve been at it with the 808 [drum machines], from the time it was introduced to the world from Marvin’s “Sexual Healing” (laughs), they have never let it go and that’s they’re thing. We lost that! Battlecat had those heavy bass lines —
And that hand clap!
Man, I love Battlecat’s sound! I love FUNK! That’s the music I grew up on. I love putting that in my records. We got it bad out here. I’ma keep it 1000. I don’t blame this on one particular person, because I don’t know who to point the finger at. I can’t blame it on the DJ’s, because the DJ’s are only told to play certain things. I can’t blame them all. But I can say this, we don’t have no urban radio stations on the west coast anymore. The only one that’s close to being near an urban station is KMEL, and they show as much support as they can, but at the same time, that’s it! You go to the midwest, the south, New York — whole bunch of urban stations, and they’re playing local talent, they’re playing everything that’s hood so you can be youreself. Out here, in order to get airplay, it’s almost like you gotta do some old super uptempo pop kinda song. Something real poppish. No disrespect to it, but it’s crazy.
You gotta do what’s true to you!
Exactly. So that’s what I’m doing on this new album, Revenue Retrievin. Anything on the new records that sounds like some radio s**t, is on some hood s**t. That’s how you gotta approach it. Like if you’re doing a song about a broad or something, you gotta go in there and get real raunchy with it and gritty. That’s the only way to make them know you ain’t no sell out. You can’t cupcake too hard!
For years, you only collaborated with other west coast acts. Then about ten years ago you started reaching out more, but I actually appreciated that you guys kept everything in-house. How do you think that helped the scene on the west coast?
Well this is the coast I was born and raised on, so it was only right that we networked with each other. I will say this: I got a southern background. I f****d around with a lot of rappers out there. We did great music. For instance, a lot of people don’t know that I was the first rapper that ever did a song with Cash Money, Baby and them, from outside of their camp, and it went on one of their albums. It was called “Baller Blockin.” I had them on my album in 1998! Everybody! Lil Wayne, Baby, BG, Turk, you know what I mean? Juvie. We had a song called “Look At Me.” Before that, my folks was Rap-A-Lot. Little J, Scarface. We’d be up in Houston out there with UGK, Ricky Mean Green, that whole Houston scene. In ’93 I’m with Greg Street when he was with K104 in Dallas. I did a customized drop for him and named all the hoods and cities in the surrounding area of Dallas. I did it to a song called “Federal Instrumental” and he broke my record “Captain Save A Ho” for me. So my background comes from the south. We had some hits out there. I worked with 8-Ball & MJG, but I can go on all day…
Who do you want to work with that you haven’t worked with yet, new or old?
Phillip Bailey (from Earth Wind & Fire), but I have worked with him. Well I worked with him through using a sample! (laughs) I re-did a few of his songs with Earth Wind & Fire. I’d like to work with, even though he’s my friend to this day, but we never did a record, and that’s my dude Scarface.
Why haven’t you ever worked with Scarface?
We hung out at the studio, but we never did a record. I don’t know how we never did it, because we always knew it was gonna be there, but for some reason it just hasn’t happened.
That should make the next record!
Definitely! Without a doubt! Gotta make it unfold. Who else do I wanna work with? Oh! Missy! I think we’re both some creative people.
That’d be crazy!
Right!? We’re some characters! Dr. Dre too! I would like to work with Dr. Dre. We never got around to it. For a long time, I just thought he didn’t f**k with me, but I’m not around him much. I’m in the Bay, but i’m not in LA. That’s like a 6 hour drive, give or take with a traffic, and an hour flight. Out of sight, out of mind. I talked to him recently, and he’s a good dude. I believe that one day it’s gonna happen. He’s definitely one of the greats.
You mentioned earlier that you were working with some new cats out of the Bay Area. Who are five people we should be keeping an eye out for?
I would say Turf Talk, Cousin Fik, and those are my artists. I got groups like the DB’s too, and too many others to name! Then you got Jacka, whose a well known rapper out here. Then there are some youngsters like the whole LiveWire camp. And Messy Marv! That’s just off the top of my head, but there are so many rappers out here, and when they get to interviewing people it’s like “That’s f****d up that he didn’t mention my name!” so I’m just gonna say the whole Sic Wid It camp. There’s plenty more, but I can’t name them all!
Let’s say I’m putting together a hip-hop time capsule, what west coast albums should be included?
Compton’s Most Wanted, DJ Quik Quik Is The Name, E-40 In A Major Way, Ice Cube Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, Too $hort Born To Mack Spice 1 187 Proof, and Richie Rich & The 415.
E-40’s new albums Revenue Retrievin: Day Shift & Revenue Retrievin: Night Shift are in stores now!!