From '93 Til: Looking Back on the Moment E-40 Went Solo
[You could argue that 1993 was the most formative period for West Coast rap music, especially when it came to the Bay Area. Definitive lists and superlatives aside, we're just gonna take you on a trip. Every week, From '93 Til will dig up something that came out of the Bay Area roughly around the same time, 20 years ago.]
This week in 1993 was probably the defining one for the hip-hop zeitgeist of the year. Both Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and Midnight Marauders came out on the same day, and both within a day of the solo debut of none other than Mr. Flamboyant; E Feez-a-bo Belafonte Bellagio Bellwether; E Fonzarelli; Charlie Hustle; Forty Water; hip-hop's greatest Earl? E-40, mayne.
Earl Stevens influenced decades of Bay Area hip-hop -- a field in which he is one of the most valuable players of all time. He founded Sic Wid It Records in 1990, and had been active in that capacity for a few years as a member of familial rap crew The Click (featuring his sister, Suga-T, and cousin B-Legit). So by the time he put out Federal in 1993 he was not a new name. In fact, he was already well connected. If you've got the time, just watch the whole 25-minute video from the set of the star-studded "Practice Lookin' Hard" video from that year -- not only is '40 surrounded by members of the Click and affiliates, but at the nucleus of it all is a placid, 22-year-old Tupac Shakur, lounging in a Magic jersey and blowing smoke across the asphalt at Golden Gate Playground in Oakland. According to the date on the video, it was filmed exactly three years to the day before Pac was shot.
Like many other sought-after underground rappers of the time, E-40 was signed to a distribution deal with Jive Records shortly after his debut, which ushered in years of major label support for the Sic Wid It crew. Before that, though, he made waves with his early independent material. Though much of Federal was dwarfed by later, more iconic singles like "Captain Save A Hoe" and the rest of the Jive output, it's hard to overestimate the influence that 40's debut had on the Bay Area. Not only was he was among the first to drop culinary colloquialisms like "yola," "broccoli," and "candy," but it came with an attitude and sensibility that was completely unique to Stevens' character. Tunes like "Outsmart The Po Po's" not only coined slang, but dabbled heavy in (toilet) humor, showing emcees that you could look hard and still bear a name like Mr. Flamboyant.
Though his rap verses sparkle and his character looms large, E-40 has always been a businessman first -- you don't need to have sipped Earl Stevens Reserves' Mangoscato to know that. From an entrepreneurial perspective, Federal was a massive entrance for E-40, finding him already all-in on the aggressive branding strategy and image cultivation that has kept him afloat all these years.
Just listen to the intro skit to "Carlos Rossi," the cheap Gallo wine that has become one of the most consistent tropes in the E-40 enterprise. While throwing down cash for a liquor store run, someone suggests getting some weed, when E-40's voice, heavy on echo for emphasis, jovially interrupts to tell everyone how it's gonna be: "You don't wanna get purp. You wanna fuck with this Rossi shit, fool." The rest is history. Fast forward 19 years to find his son Droop-E carrying the torch, delivering a little-known Kendrick Lamar feature from last year:
The other thing about Federal is that, even though Stevens was coming up in a talented and broad network of emcees, he kept the album light on cameos. To this day, it's still a power move to come out strong on your own album and carry entire songs three or four tracks in a row. It's still a striking display of confidence in your potential as a solo artist.