Synonymous with Bay Area rap, E-40 garnered a regional following, and eventually a national one, with his flamboyant raps, while his entrepreneurial spirit, embodied by his homegrown record label, Sick Wid' It Records, did much to cultivate a flourishing rap scene to the east of San Francisco Bay, in communities such as Oakland and his native Vallejo. Along with Too Short, Spice 1, and Ant Banks, E-40 was among the first Bay Area rappers to sign to a major label, penning a deal with Jive Records in 1994. They'd spent years releasing music independently, going back as far as 1990 when Sick wid' It released Let's Side, a four-track EP by the Click, a group comprised of E-40, his cousin B-Legit, his brother D-Shot, and his sister Suga T. Throughout the '90s and into the early 2000s, E-40 and his Sick wid' It associates released a series of albums on Jive, and though they weren't big sellers nationally, they were well received regionally and proved highly influential, not only on the West Coast but also in the South, thanks in part to Master P, who began his No Limit Records empire in the Bay Area (i.e., Richmond) in the early to mid-'90s before relocating to New Orleans.
E-40's ties to the South became more direct in the mid-2000s, when, upon the expiration of his deal with Jive, he partnered with Atlanta rapper/producer Lil Jon and his BME Recordings label, in association with Warner Bros. The first album to be released as part of this partnership, My Ghetto Report Card (2006), was E-40's most successful in years. Concurrently, the Bay Area rap scene, with its so-called hyphy style, was growing in popularity nationally, and there was no bigger champion of the Bay and its style than E-40, whose innumerable guest features helped foster the scene and whose son, producer Droop-E, had grown to become one of hyphy's foremost practitioners. Born Earl Stevens on November 15, 1967, in Vallejo, California, E-40 made his rap debut in 1990 on Let's Side, the aforementioned four-track EP by the Click. The EP was co-produced by Mike Mosley and Al Eaton.
In 1993 E-40 made his solo album debut, Federal, a nine-track LP/14-track CD produced by Studio Ton and released by Sick Wid' It in association with SMG (Solar Music Group), a regional distributor. Then in 1994, on the strength of the regionally popular independently released single "Captain Save a Hoe" (aka "Captain Save 'Em Thoe") from the six-track Mail Man EP, E-40 signed a recording contract with Jive Records, the home of Bay Area pioneer Too Short since 1987. Jive re-released "Captain Save a Hoe" on 12" and also re-released the Mail Man EP, adding two bonus tracks; all the songs on the EP, including "Captain Save a Hoe," were produced by Studio Ton, except one of the bonus tracks, "Ballin' Out of Control," which was produced by Mike Mosley and Sam Bostic. In 1995 Jive released four E-40 albums: a re-release of Down and Dirty, a 1994 album by the Click; Game Related, a newly recorded album by the Click; a reconfigured version of Federal, his 1993 solo debut; and In a Major Way, a newly recorded album produced by Studio Ton, Mike Mosley/Sam Bostic, and Funk Daddy. Of these numerous releases, In a Major Way proved E-40's breakthrough; featuring a collaboration with fellow Bay Area hardcore rappers 2Pac, Mac Mall, and Spice 1, "Dusted 'n' Disgusted," in addition to several songs that would also become fan favorites ("Da Bumble," "Sideways," "Sprinkle Me," "1-Luv"), the album was very well received regionally and took the rapper's career to a new level of respectability. Beginning with Tha Hall of Game (1996), E-40 released six additional solo albums on Jive -- The Element of Surprise (1998), Charlie Hustle: The Blueprint of a Self-Made Millionaire (1999), Loyalty and Betrayal (2000), Grit & Grind (2002), Breakin News (2003) -- plus one further album by the Click, Money & Muscle (2001). Over the course of these albums, E-40 maintained his regional following and picked up additional fans nationally, yet he never did break into the mainstream. Besides "Captain Save a Hoe," only two of his Jive singles ever charted on the Billboard Hot 100 ("1-Luv," 1995; "Things'll Never Change," 1996), and following his initial burst of popularity from 1994 to 1996, his sales generally declined from one album to the next.
E-40's career isn't well measured by chart hits and album sales, though, for he more or less remained an underground rapper, albeit one with a major-label contract, working almost exclusively with an inner circle of Bay Area rappers and producers. His long list of guest features is representative of his popularity (not to mention his generosity), as practically every regional act sought his presence. A guest feature by E-40 gave an unknown West Coast rapper instant credibility, even if it didn't amount to a national hit. During the late '90s, E-40 also began being featured as a guest on Southern rap albums (for example, appearing on 8ball's Lost, Master P's MP da Last Don, and Scarface's My Homies in 1998 alone). E-40's ties to the South became most clear in 2006, after the expiration of his contract with Jive, when he partnered with Lil Jon and his BME Recordings label for My Ghetto Report Card, released in association with Warner Bros. The album -- featuring production from Lil Jon as well as Bay Area beat makers Droop-E, Rick Rock, Studio Ton, and Bosko -- was E-40's most successful in years, arguably since Tha Hall of Game (1996) or even In a Major Way (1995), and it marked his return to the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time in a decade, with a pair of impressively charting singles: "Tell Me When to Go," featuring Keak da Sneak (number 35), and "U and Dat," featuring T-Pain (number 13). His 2008 effort The Ball Street Journal featured the Lil Jon production “Break Ya Ankles" as its lead single, followed by the Akon feature “Wake It Up.” Two years later he returned with the ambitious Revenue Retrievin' project, a double album split into two separate releases. The Day Shift version featured the more street-oriented cuts while the Night Shift version was filled with club tracks. The project turned into a quadrilogy in 2011 with the simultaneous release of his 13th (the varied Revenue Retrievin': Overtime Shift) and 14th (the very dark Revenue Retrievin': Graveyard Shift) albums. A year later he would return with another batch of releases, this time divided into three single discs titled The Block Brochure: Welcome to the Soil, Pt. 1, 2, and 3. The year 2014 saw the launch of a four-part album as Sharp on All 4 Corners: Corner 1 and Corner 2 landed, while Sharp on All 4 Corners: Corner 3 and Corner 4 were scheduled for 2015.
~ Jason Birchmeier
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