Few people are more qualified to speak on the do’s and don’ts of hip-hop than E-40.
Throughout his 30-plus-year career, 40 has pioneered independent distribution, endured countless changing trends in the culture, and has managed to stay relevant and successful through it all.
That kind of longevity is staggering, and the more I learn about the career of Earl Stevens, the more I realize luck has had very little to do with his success.
E-40 is a brilliant businessman, an incredibly prolific artist, and at nearly 50-years-old, the Bay Area legend still has a solid grasp on his purpose within hip-hop. In a new profile with The FADER, E-40 shared some valuable insights with author Willy Staley regarding his insistence on remaining in the game:
On the way back from the Warriors game, we were talking about his new album, 'The D-Boy Diary,' and contemporary trends in rap music, and he mentioned something that bothers him: rappers who do nothing but show off and talk shit. “If you ain’t in this game to teach somebody something, to try to uplift their spirit or give ‘em motivation about whatever the fuck they’re doing, you shouldn’t be rapping,” he said. “Get up out of our game.”
I asked him what sort of rap bothered him in particular. “Bragging,” he said. “Which can be 10 percent motivation, but the 90 percent is, like, a lot of people ain’t living like that. Man, at least show ‘em how to get out of it. Teach ‘em some business skills and some ways to flip the money. But, nah, they don’t want to do that.” He continued, getting still more worked up: “If you ain’t doing nothing for the children, you a bitch muthafucka. Fuck you and whatever horse you rode in on! I don’t give a fuck about your Bentleys, your Phantoms, your luxurious cars. If you ain’t doing nothing for the kids, you a bitch boy.”
Forty’s animated indictment of today’s overly-braggadocious emcees is exactly the type of constructive criticism hip-hop needs today. This isn’t a veteran emcee saying “hip-hop is dead.” This is an emcee still near the top of his game, calling out specific ills he’s witnessed in an industry he’s devoted his life to—and he’s totally right.
We’ve become all but expectant of the sort of amped-up opulence E-40 is referencing in his impassioned critique—the Instagram pages full of cash bricks and foreign cars, entire songs dedicated to copping whatever high fashion namesake is currently dominating the culture. Hell, Young Thug’s Snapchat alone is near 95% devoted to using the flash on his phone to accentuate his latest diamond purchase.
Flossing has been a part of hip-hop for decades, and Forty himself is no stranger to boastful bars, but as the legend himself pointed out, there needs to be a balance. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the fruits of your labor, but if you’re not also helping others to better their own circumstances, you’re doing little to help the culture and those that look to it for motivation.
Of course, part of the motivation listeners get from hip-hop is from the bragging. It’s empowering to see someone who once struggled rap about and enjoy private jet flights and overpriced denim, but only to a certain extent.
Not only does one-dimensional social media flaunting offer little to no explanation or motivation to listeners for how to achieve their own success, but studies have shown that it has the potential to do more harm than good for all parties involved.
There will always be room for every style under the sun within hip-hop, regardless of what any detractors might say, but when an emcee who’s managed to wrangle success for over 30 years offers up some game, it’s probably best to listen.