SF Weekly Interview: E-40
By Tamara Palmer
It's now been more than 20 years since Earl Stevens (aka E-40) put his first independent record out on the streets of the Bay Area and set out on a mission to put his hometown of Vallejo on the international rap map and his colorful phraseology into the mouths of society at large, you smell me?
On the eve of his 11th studio album Ball Street Journal, which will be released on Tuesday (and features guest stars like Snoop Dogg, Bun B, Game, Akon and T-Pain), we spoke with the man known variously as E-40 Belafonte, Forty Water, Doc Scrill, Mr. Flamboyant, Fonzarelli, Charlie Hustle, the Ambassador of the Bay and about four million other names to find out the latest from him and his musical family as they grind through these tough economic times. You can best believe they'll continue to make it, fa shiggadale.
Ball Street Journal has been a long time in the making. It seems like you broke your own rule with that; you could have had a couple of musical babies by now. Was it because of the shift in the music business that made you wait, or were you not satisfied with what you were doing?
I was waiting actually for things to get a little different. I think that '07 and '08 have been terrible for music for the most part. There have been some big records out, but the climate is terrible. So I just waited patiently and kept doing my thing. My Ghetto Report Card came out in '06 and during '06 and '07, I was doing a lot of footwork: a lot of concerts, a lot of traveling. I really couldn't sit still, I stayed on a plane and I had to record in between that. I barely had time to kick it with my family and make sure I spent quality time. I've got 19 songs on the album. And, you know, I do like to make like a pregnant lady and come out every nine months, but . . .
Well, you did that for many years, so you should be forgiven for taking a little extra time to make this record.
Yeah, I should be forgiven this time.
What's the state of the Bay Area rap scene? Right now, we have some tension between [cousins and former collaborators] San Quinn and Messy Marv here in San Francisco, which just makes a small scene seem even smaller and more splintered.
The scene right now is. . . we've just gotta make good music, that's all. Make good music and try to work together as opposed to trying to break each other down. The San Quinn and Messy Marv situation, both of them are people I've got a lot of love and respect for and I definitely hope that, if they haven't already, I hope that they get their situation squashed because I feel like they're better together. With everybody, we're better together than separate. Them dudes go way back.
They're family, and I love 'em both. Hopefully, time will tell. I know that words carry a lot of weight, words can hurt people. They both said some bad things to each other and hopefully they get that together. I've got a lot of love for both of them, I don't have anything bad to say about either one of them. I want them to know that 40 loves both of them and would love to see them making music together. We don't need this at this time from nobody in the Bay, actually. We need to make good music, because them boys out there in Florida—DJ Khaled and all them—they're all out there together and they show it. None of them hate on each other or try to fight for turf, they're just trying to get the music out. And the Atlanta boys as well, they're all tight-knit—there might be a couple going at each other's throat, but, for the most part, the majority of Atlanta all works together.
You work with your own family so closely with your Sick Wid It record label. Do you have anything going on with them right now?
Me, [my brother] D-Shot, [cousin] B-Legit and [sister] Suga T are talking about working on this new Click album. It's going to be called Respect and Recognition.
When do you think that will come out?
Definitely next year—I'd say the second quarter of the year, like April. [Cousin] Turf Talk is working in the studio right now, as are the [cousins] DB'z, Nump, [son] Droop-E and B-Slimm. We're all grinding, and in the Bay we just need to make the music we feel in our hearts and keep moving forward and show unity.
You seem to have the best of both worlds by being signed to a major label, Warner Brothers, but also running Sick Wid It independently. Isn't it really kind of a good time to be independent these days?
I don't think it's a bad time to be independent, especially if you move units. But at the same time, being independent without a machine in these hard times, that's also hard. You have to have the right distribution, and it takes money to make money. That's something you've got to realize: You put your own money in, and that's also a burden, too. As opposed to when you're on a major, you're spending the house money, you know?
What's the latest on your other business ventures, like your Fatburger franchise in Pleasant Hill and the new cognac that you're endorsing? Anything else new to talk about?
I have the one Fatburger, but the economy is real bad right now. With the economic crisis, if nobody has any money, how are they going to spend it with you? Right now, they're trying to eat at home.
At least you're running a low-priced restaurant and not something totally unaffordable.
That's true, but right now it's just a bad time to invest in anything, so I'm not investing in anything else right now until the dark cloud has removed itself from the country. My Landy cognac though, I'm trying to get everybody to come back to dark liquor, the cognacs of the world: The Remys and Louis XIII and Hennessy and Courvosier. Landy is a cognac like those, and in these disastrous economic times, people drink liquor when they're down and out with no money and when they're rich and celebrating.
Yes, that's a recession-proof field.
Liquor's gonna be around!