E-40’s 20 Best Songs of the ’90s
Earl Stevens has had one of the best runs in hip-hop history.
The Vallejo vet better known as E-40 been selling tapes out of the trunk of his car since you were still probably "running around drinking Similac"—the late '80s to be exact. He's credited with helping to put Bay Area rap on the map, alongside Oakland's Too $hort. And even more significantly, he's one of the very first rappers to conquer the independent rap game.
It's not an exaggeration to say that E-40 created the blueprint for indie rap labels with Sick Wid It Records. Master P acknowledges that he soaked up a lot of the ins and outs of the business for No Limit Records from following 40's lead, as does Cash Money CEO, Birdman.
"Not to try take the thunder away from all of the independent Bay Area rappers, but the people that spearheaded that whole independent shit, that financed their own selves and laid the foundation? The people that showed you could do it yourself without an executive producer or anything was me and the family, The Click. E-40, B Legit, D-shot, Suga T and my uncle Saint Charles," 40 told Pigeons and Planes in 2017. "Saint Charles taught cats like No Limit, and [Master P] will tell you that. That all started from the grass roots, he gave them the blueprint. We all started from the ground up with that shit. They were looking at us like, we need to be like Sick Wid It Records. Now don’t get it wrong, make no mistake, they did what they were supposed to do, the No Limits, the Cash Moneys, never taking credit away from them."
Adding to his independent hustle, E-40 has a massive discography. He wasn't exaggerating when he claimed to "drop an album every eight or nine months." To that end, he's had a single reach gold status at age 48, 2014's "Choices (Yup)"; a considerable feat for any rapper in an industry that's as age-conscious and divisive as hip-hop is.
Over his 30 plus years in the game, he's dropped a whopping 26 solo albums and six collaborative projects, and he's remained relevant. He's outlived trends, because he helped set so many of them. He's never lost his musical touch because he puts so much of it out.
"My style of rap was formulated by listening to different people such as KRS One, Too Short, Kango from UTFO, Ice T, and you can never leave out Run DMC," he said in 2017. "So it was a mixture of a little bit of everything. Also me being a people person, loving to make people laugh and sort of being a comedian with it. I've always been funny, but at the same time I’ve got a serious side to me. I'd rather have the make people laugh and feel good type of side, I’d rather have them see that than my hard-headed side, that's not a side that I'm really proud of."
While the years have clearly been good to him, even if he remains underrated, 40's initial dominance came in the '90s. He shot to national stardom in 1995 with the release of his pivotal album, In A Major Way. It was his first album to go platinum, and made him a household rap name, fueled by his zany delivery, the game-filled wisdom he cleverly delivered, and of course his "slanguage," which has been adopted and co-opted by rappers everywhere (from "fa shizzle" to "captain save-a-hoe" to "broccoli").
"I was definitely one of the first ones to say “broccoli.” Matter of fact, that was 1993 on a song called "Practice Lookin’ Hard,'" he says. "I showed a package of Broccoli in the video, it was like a little 20 sack. I held it up and I showed em, it was very self-explanatory... Slang is really coded talk. I can say a few things, in front of somebody, that only people who know what I’m saying are going to pick up on. That’s where it all comes from, me being laced and groomed."
Collaborating with everyone from longtime friend, 2Pac, to Bay Area vets like Too $hort as well as those beyond his circle, including Lil Wayne, Juvenile and Fat Joe, E-40's impact on '90s west coast rap is well documented. It's not a stretch to say that alongside Digital Underground, it was 40 who gave credence to Pac's impact on West Coast hip-hop, specifically in the Bay.
40 was an ambassador and bridge builder, a comrade and an elder statesmen, all at the same time. He's always swerved just a bit to the left, in business and sonically (he plays snare and base drum), and in that way, he's always been ahead of his time.
Between 1990-2000, he dropped five proper studio albums, as well as two albums with The Click, and an album showcasing the love and sonic similarities between the West Coast and the south, 1997's Southwest Riders. And though his legacy has carried well into the 2000s, with hit records and features with youngins he undoubtedly helped shape sonically, like ScHool Boy Q, his influence was birthed and cemented in '90s.
We've sifted through E-40's best songs from the '90s to pull out his 20 best (in no particular order). Don't feel bad if you have to rewind them. Just remember what 40 already told you, "I'm not rappin' too fast, ya'll just listening too slow."
His most popular collaboration with 2Pac, "Dust N Disgusted" is also one of 40's best songs, featured on his platinum-selling breakout 1995 album, In A Major Way.
Following in the same vein as 1995's "One Luv," 40 expounds on his childhood with fondness, despite the glimpses of poverty he faced over a joyous beat which samples the Ramsey Lewis' "Sun Goddess." That first verse lays the foundation for the premise of the song— he hopes he doesn't ever have to go back to his drug-selling days. That idea is one that's now found regularly in rap music (see: Killer Mike's opening bars on "Down").
E-40 originated or at least introduced a hoard of hip-hop terms—even if he doesn't get his propers for it. One of the most famous? "Captain Save-A-Hoe" which has regularly been referenced since 40 first debuted it, way back in '93.
A classic E-40 track for anyone familiar with his super lengthy discography, "Da Bumble" sums up 40's creativity— bars, storytelling, and creative delivery.
As usual, E-40 didn't let much time pass after he dropped his breakout album, In a Major Way, in 1995. A year later, he was back on the grind with a new album, The Hall of Game. "Record Haters" is the album's most decisive track, which finds an agitated E-40 schooling "record haters" who didn't understand the success of his platinum-selling, In A Major Way. Didn't these people know he was a vet, even by 1996, laying the blueprint for the indie rap hustle? Apparently, not. 40 was more than happy to inform folks ( NBA player Rasheed Wallace and rapper AZ) about his legend status.
E-40 put Carlos Rossi on the rap map with his 1993 track from Federal. He'd later go on to create his own spirits, but it's easy to see where he got his inspiration from when you listen to this early '90s ditty.
E-40's easily one of the most creative, self-observant guys in hip-hop, as is evidenced on "Practice Lookin Hard" from his 1993 EP, The Mail Man, where he shamelessly brags, "I got a mirror in my pocket and I practice lookin' hard..."
One of his more popular mid-90s tracks, "Hurricane" was a song that even the most casual E-40 fans knew.
The lead single from In A Major Way, 40 spends the smooth bass-heavy track talking about growing up in Vallejo and showing love to his family and friends who helped shape him into who he is today.
Another E-40 collaboration with Pac came courtesy of 40's 1996 album, Tha Hall of Game. The guest spot was especially anticipated since the album dropped just a month after Pac's murder in September 1996. Pac and E-40's friendship was evident by their natural vibe on tracks like this one.
The lead single from 40's Hall of Game, the track featured Bay Area comrade, Too $hort, and K-Ci, who was showing up on rapper hooks everywhere at the time. The track peaked at No. 29 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.
A double album is really never advised for any artist, but E-40 tried it back in 1998, just as it was becoming a thing, pushed by Pac's success with All Eyez On Me. This album would've been great if about ten songs were chopped, but as it is, "It's On, On Sight" featuring regular collaborator, C-Bo, still is a standout. The track actually featured a sample by an earlier 40 track, "Dusted N Disgusted."
Whatever happened to Jayo Felony? Once upon a time, he was considered one of the most skilled rappers from the West Coast, which of course, meant he wanted to work with one of the coast's undisputed leaders. With C-Bo also in tow, the three delivered one of the catchiest tracks on what's one of 40's most underrated albums, Charlie Hustle.
One of the early tracks that showcased the East Coast's respect for E-40's rap offerings, and also showed that the East Coast-west coast beef that dominated the mid-90s was coming to a close was "Get Breaded." A notable track on 40's 1999 album, as he teamed with Sauce Money and Fat Joe.
Baby will admit that he got the independent rap blueprint from E-40. In 1999, Cash Money's biggest names teamed with 40 Wata for "Look At Me," which wasn't only a cool collaboration musically, but an excellent example of two indie rap giants showing respect for one another.
E-40 is known for his game-spitting. "Mouthpiece" has to be one of the best examples for his penchant for detailing the game. Like he says, "I don't need no iron, I'm already creased/ I don't need no money, I got mouthpiece."
E-40 showed up to assist his cousin and Click group member, B-Legit on "Check It Out," the standout from his 1996 album, The Hemp Museum. Although Kurupt was in his prime with this song dropped and killed his verse, it was 40 who stole the show with one of his best quotables and a good summation of his career— "Ever since the womb, I been a tycoon."
One of the best remixes hip-hop has birthed came courtesy of Luniz and their monster hit ode to marijuana, "I Got 5 On It." Yukmouth and Numbskull called on some of the biggest names in Bay Area rap for the remix. Of course, that meant E-40 was right in the mix and arguably delivered the best verse.
Pac and 40 collaborated quite a bit, and one the best tracks that came from their friendship was "Ain't Hard to Find," from Pac's double album, All Eyez On Me.
One of E-40's early standout features came courtesy of D-Shot's "Call Me On The Unda" in 1993, where 40 completely stole the show.