Today, Bay Area hip-hop legend E-40 turns 45-years-old. One of the most prolific, consistent and innovative MCs to ever touch a mic, his two decades of regularly satisfying output is without peer. Whether selling tapes out of his trunk to a degree that puts him alongside Master P and frequent collaborator Too $hort in the hustler hall of fame, or sharing the mic with everyone from Ol Dirty Bastard and Busta Rhymes to 2Pac and Murs, to using his resources to put on several generations of up-and-coming west coast artists, E-40 represents everything a veteran hip-hop artist can and should be. That said, while he's a platinum artist with one of rap's loyalist followings, to many he's still an acquired taste. For those still new to 40 Water, we've assembled a beginner's guide to E-40.
E-40 – “Why They Don't Fuck With Us” 2002
Probably the best place to start with E-40 is the opening track from his 2002 album Grit and Grind, “Why They Don't Fuck With Us.” While some commend and attribute E-40's longevity to changing with the times, that's not exactly accurate as his work's been so often ahead of his time, when mainstream rap superstars finally catch-on to the hottest trends, 40's usually already been there. Despite this, he's often left off most “Top Rapper” lists. Here, 40 makes his case for his own legacy, and it's hard to dispute.
E-40 – “Practice Lookin' Hard” 1993
While 40 first made waves nationwide as part of The Click, which featured fellow west coast favorite B-Legit, his first video that saw his cult following spread nationwide was “Practice Lookin' Hard.” 40 carved out such a unique lane for himself early on with his inimitable but infectious style that all corners of the hip-hop map had to give him props. Sitting between 2Pac and Boots Riley of The Coup (whose voice is sampled on the hook) is probably the strongest visual representation of the realm in hip-hop that 40 occupies.
E-40 featuring Suga-T – “Sprinkle Me” 1996
When asked about what makes E-40 one of the all time greats, fellow west coast legend Ice Cube likened his style to the dopest graffiti artists whose work, while you may not be able to tell exactly what is says, still resonates as being very, very dope. The originator of more slang than perhaps any other person across all genres, 40's fingerprints can be found in pretty much any rappers' lyrics, whether they know it or not. Representing this, we've chosen “Sprinkle Me” from what's widely considered his masterpiece, 1996's In A Major Way.
E-40 featuring Keak da Sneak “Tell Me When To Go” 2006
E-40 was 37-years-old when he linked up with Keak da Sneak and Lil Jon for the minimalist hyphy anthem “Tell Me When to Go.” Not only did it result in a late-career platinum smash, but it brought the then-bubbling hyphy movement to a nationwide presence it had never had before. It's aged incredibly well and, while it captures the inventive energy that surrounded the mid-2000s Bay Area, 40's excellent call-and-response directing traffic has made it truly timeless.
E-40 and Too $hort – “Bitch” 2010
As we mentioned earlier, 40 has an uncanny ability to collaborate with anyone and let it come out fresh. From Outkast to The Ca$h Money Millionaires to T-Pain, 40 knows how to play to a featured artist's strengths while still carving his own lane to excel in. His work with Too $hort not only re-energized their buzz by reminding rap listeners why they're legends in the first place, but proved to be so fertile for creativity that it spawned several duet albums from the duo. Our favorite is “Bitch” because we at the Weekly love a song with an important message.