Automatic (ft. Fabolous)
According to KRS-One there are nine elements of hip hop: besides the essential four, MCing, DJing, Graffiti and B-Boying (break dancing), and the commonly accepted fifth, Beatboxing, The Teacha added street fashion, street knowledge, street entrepreneurialism and street language. And nobody better exemplifies that last element than Vallejo, CA rapper E-40. Earl Stevens is the linguistic ambassador of hip hop, the Bay Area legend the average listener has never heard of, responsible for a million white kids saying “Fo Shizzle” and “Fo Sheezy” and feeling “Hella” good so they can keep on dancing. Off his tongue hip hop slang is elevated to an art form.
A couple years ago E-40 helped out an unknown rapper/producer named Lil’ Jon by throwing him on a posse cut on his insta-classic album Grit N Grind
, but sometime between then and now a song with Usher plus a series of skits on Chappelle’s Show equaled massive success for Lil’ Jon and now he’s returning the favor by signing E-40 to his Warner Brothers imprint label and executive producing his newest record, My Ghetto Report Card
At first it’s a little disconcerting; E-40 has always flirted with the fringes of the mainstream, but has been running his own independent label Sick Wid It
for over a decade, so it’s strange to hear him shouting out Warner Brothers on “Yay Area”, the opening track on his latest album. But I’ve never been one of these people to cry sell out when an artist I like makes the move to a major, so I’m not going to hate on E-40 for trying to get that scrilla. (After all, he invented that word too.) But I will say that although My Ghetto Report Card
is good, for sure the best hip hop record of the year so far, nothing on it comes close to touching Grit N Grind
. Especially that record’s shoulda-been hit single, “Automatic”.
Aside from his patented slangcabulary, E-40 is also famous for a ridiculously complicated tongue twisiting flow, and even though on “Automatic” he assured us he was going to slow down his spit so us squares could understand it, he still possesses one of the most unique voices in hip hop. Riding a bouncing future-funk Rick Rock beat with a cleverly interpolated nod to the Jacksons’ “Dancing Machine”, E-40 and young underrated pretty boy Fabolous put on a rhyming clinic. 40 manages to sound intelligent, funny and menacing all at the same time, dropping clever lines and hilarious slang with ease and, unlike a lot of underground rappers, with an uncanny skill for crafting hooks. And Fabolous shines bright enough that the impression you might have had of him from his R&B-hooked hip pop singles should be totally wiped clean. He’s still not saying much, but listen to the way
he says it. “I'm gettin' ticked off again/Ya'll must like ridin' in long black caddy's that they stick coffins in/The Click often been/Blowin' sticky that come in the same jars that they stick coffee in/I got chicks offerin'/But I play hard to get unless they suck me 'til my dick soft again.”
How many MCs could flow so casually in a rhyme scheme that complex and still manage to be funny?
And if I had to find a complaint with E-40’s latest record, it would be just that: it’s not very funny. All the other elements that I love about E-40 are present: the production is top-notch (and forget Lil Jon, it’s longtime producer Rick Rock that laces the album with its best beats), the flow is impeccable, the hooks are catchy and there’s plenty of new slang for the rest of the world to try to catch up with. But my favorite thing about E-40 has always been that, while working with traditional gangsta rap themes of drugs, sex and money, he always managed to infuse songs with a distinct sense of humor.
In his latest (and most successful, My Ghetto Report Card
debuted at Number 3 on the Billboard chart) bid for mainstream appreciation, E-40 seems content in riding the newfound interest in the Bay Area hyphy
movement he helped pioneer, and the pure fun and wit of tracks like “Automatic” gets left by the wayside. But E-40’s tenth full length album is still an impressive effort, and after you buy Grit N Grind
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend My Ghetto Report Card
. To borrow another, albeit since discarded, phrase originated by E-40: “It’s all good.”
to buy Grit N Grind