Flash back to 2006: There’s rapper E-40 holding on to his designer glasses on the cover of USA Today while explaining the Bay Area hyphy movement.“The music makes the kids go silly, go bananas, go coconuts, go stupid,” he said.In a word, hyphy was slang for “hyperactive” coined by Bay Area rapper Keak da Sneak. In a lyric, it was the hip-hop tale of “thizzin’” at shows (taking ecstasy in clubs) and midnight car shows (aka “sideshows”) — a narrative that had been building for at least a decade. In a movement, it gave underdog Nor-Cal rappers, often snubbed by commercial rap stations nationwide, the attention they finally deserved.And on the cover of USA Today, it was proof that hyphy had gone mainstream, landing in driveways all over suburban white America.By 2008, Bay Area alternative weeklies already were penning “The Demise of Hyphy” manifestos. Now, eight years later, even though the Hyphy Juice energy drink somehow survived, the sound is all played out.But E-40 keeps rolling, as prolific as ever (although his “40 Water” energy drink tapped out). He was around long before hyphy, selling tapes out of his car trunk in Vallejo. And he’ll be around long after its demise.Before the 46-year-old rapper rolls through the Phoenix Theater on Saturday night, here are the Top 5 things to know about E-40:
1. Born in Vallejo, Earl Stevens grew up on Magazine Street in the tough Hillside neighborhood, hanging with onetime rappers like Mac Dre and Stevens’ cousin, B-Legit. Here’s how he lived it, immortalized in the song “Hillside”:“Ridin through the turf, on MagazineYou know I stay strapped, with a magazinePut it to your face, like a magazineI stay on the case, cause I’m from Magazine.”In 2006, E-40 gathered with family and friends at Beverly Hills Park in the Hillside to barbecue and shoot a segment for MTV’s “My Block” series.
2. Unlike many others in Vallejo, he escaped the ghetto in the 1980s with his cousin B-Legit to study at Grambling State University in Louisiana. It wasn’t the typical career prerequisite for Bay Area rappers.But he did his homework. On his Facebook page, you can see a 1986 photo of his Grambling State dorm room, the walls plastered with Run DMC and Fat Boys posters.One night, E-40 and B-Legit turned heads at a campus talent show. They started making a name for themselves by rapping over records and tapes at parties.Soon, the band The Click was born as they teamed up with E-40’s brother D-Shot (Danell Stevens) and sister Suga-T (Tanina Stevens). Their first album, “Down and Dirty,” was recorded in 1992 at the same studio where M.C. Hammer recorded early albums.
3. The same guy who coined “Fo’ shizzle” and “You feel me?” now lives in the tony Danville subdivision of Blackhawk, rubbing elbows with neighbors like Oakland Raiders running back Maurice Jones Drew and Motley Crue singer Vince Neil.It’s a journey “from the ghetto streets to executive suites,” he says.But don’t think he’s out of touch with the streets. He still hangs in Vallejo — “the V” — where he was spotted last month picking up a to-go order of short ribs, mac ‘n’ cheese and greens at House of Soul.Every Christmas, E-40 takes part in a big toy drive. Last year, it was the Vallejo Salvation Army, where he dropped off bikes and handed over a $10,000 check: “When you need food, clothes, when times is hard, during hardship, this is the place to go, and they always extend their hand,” Stevens told TV channel KTVU. “The community comes together and they all pitch in.”
4. You’d think “Earl Stevens Selections” might be a retrospective box set or maybe a collection of deep cuts from his three-decade career. Think again. On store shelves, from the Food for Less in Vallejo to the Sunshine Market in St. Helena, “Earl Stevens Selections” is E-40’s new wine collection.
Never heard of Mangoscato? That’s because Stevens invented it. It’s sweet moscato wine with “flavors of ripe mango,” and “the 18 percent alcohol makes it all worthwhile.” As the budding vintner likes to say: “Bosses drink wine.”
Judging by the line wrapped around the Sacramento Costco for his “bottle signing” a few weeks ago, his fans agree.
Here’s a sample E-40 wine tasting: “From spitting in the bucket to clearing my mouth out with water so I could taste it again, all the flavors poked out,” he told Black Enterprise magazine.
As a celebrity winemaker, he’s entering familiar territory when you consider in 2009 he teamed up with the Lonely Island crew for a song that spoofs a sparkling wine by Carlos Santana — “Santana DVX.”
He’s also an investor in Bay Area Fatburger and Wingstop franchises.
5. Last December, E-40 released three albums, “Block Brochure: Welcome to the Soil — Parts 4, 5 and 6,” making for a total of 10 albums in the past three years. Yet an article on Bay Area hip-hop last month in Spin magazine points out that E-40 still remains “largely under-documented and underground.”As evidence, Spin points to the opening track of the 2002 album “Grit and Grind,” in which E-40 says, “They never put me on the cover of The Source!”
Now, 12 years and 15 E-40 albums later, he still hasn’t made the cover of the New York-based hip-hop magazine. Not that he’s counting. These days, he’s more interested in blending the old and new on his latest “Block Brochure” releases: “I just wanna keep it right in the pocket of what they been listening to with a new-school twist, but keep the old-school twist, too,” he told HipHopDX. “You feel me? So I want to make sure it’s the right recipe. When you dip your finger in that sauce, the seasoning is perfect.”
E-40 WILL BE PERFORMING APRIL 18 IN TULARE CA. GET YOUR TICKETS ONLINE