Three artists are singlehandedly responsible for hipping me to the dopeness of the Bay Area in California – the original pimp Too $hort, the Oakland-based Hieroglyphics collective, and Vallejo’s own E-40. Sad but true, were it not for this trio my experience with the West Coast might have started and ended with N.W.A spinoffs and Project Blowed releases. Thankfully each one came along at the right time. Too $hort pioneered being rap’s original “Freaky Tales” shit talking MC over big bass beats. The Hieros proved with “’93 Til Infinity” that lyrical and musical innovation wasn’t exclusive to the East coast. And E-40 brought it all to a head when I copped “In a Major Way.” 40 had already been banging with a “Federal” LP and “Mail Man” EP, but for me his third release straight blew the doors off the hinges. Most people remember the smoothed out old school stylings of “1-Luv” or the anthemic “Sprinkle Me” featuring Suga T, but those two songs were just movements in a sixteen track symphony of innovative slang and booming beats. I’m just as fond of cuts like “Sideways” featuring B-Legit and “Dusted’n’Disgusted” featuring 2Pac, as well as lesser known cuts like “Da Bumble” and “Smoke ‘n’ Drank.” The album not only made me an E-40 fan for life, but had me checking for more and more Bay Area artists. Mac Mall and the Luniz were soon major parts of my rotation. Thank you 40, you done made the game AND changed it, for me and for many other hip-hop fans worldwide.
“The Best of E-40” is a celebration of that influence, and it’s not at all surprising to me that 20% of this album (three of the six cuts mentioned above) are from “Major Way.” There’s nothing that’s mediocre here from rap’s most celebrated alcoholic, including vintage and somewhat seldom heard songs like “Carlos Rossi” and “Captain Save a Hoe.” That’s not to say this album doesn’t miss the mark in several ways. Although “Rapper’s Ball” might be his biggest crossover hits (besodes sharing vocal duties with Too $hort throughout, K-Ci of Jodeci fame also came in to sing the hook) it’s dissapointing that this was the only inclusion from “Tha Hall of Game.” On the other hand the overly long DOUBLE album “The Element of Surprise” has THREE inclusions – the “Hope I Don’t Go Back” classic as well as “Flashin'” and “Zoom.” What gives? There’s no excuse for not including a SINGLE song from 2000’s “Loyalty and Betrayal,” particularly the hot “Nah, Nah” track featuring Nate Dogg that set it off so right. I suppose I don’t fault them for including “Automatic” from 2002’s “Grit & Grind” since Fabolous co-starred, but it wasn’t my favorite song on the CD. Furthermore that kind of logic should have put “Quarterbackin'” featuring The Clipse on the album, from last year’s “Breakin News.” There’s really no rhyme or reason to these choices at all.
Fans of 40 Figgaro should still cop this one regardless of whether or not they own the rest of his catalogue for two reasons. The first is that even though this is not anywhere close to what “The Best of E-40” album should be, it’s still equivalent to making yourself a nice little E-40 mixtape. The second and more important reason are the four new songs comprising the “Tomorrow” mentioned in the title. “Gas, Break, Dip” featuring The Federation, “It’s On” featuring Bone Crusher and Cotton Mouf, “Thick & Thin” featuring Lil’ Mo and “Bust Yo Shit” featuring B-Legit and Rankin Scroo are all hella tight tracks, particularly the latter two. Those four tracks would in fact form the seeds of a great new E-40 album. That’s precisely the problem with “The Best of E-40” album is. While everyone expects a “best of” album to include at least one or two new songs these days (even Van Halen did it) there’s no excuse for half-assing SELECTING the best, and then fill another third of the album with new songs instead of more classics.
To do this release right, it should have been a double disc including E-40 rarities, including soundtrack and compilation tracks, as well as his appearances on big remixes. One or two of the four new tracks should have been used as a teaser for his new album. When E-40’s new album comes out now, fans will be left feeling cheated if they pay for the same four tracks twice, or equally cheated if they didn’t buy “The Best of E-40” and these four aren’t included. It’s a no-win situation. I hate to say Jive blew this one because I still enjoy the content, but what could and should have been a perfect 10 for a hip-hop legend actually falls somewhat short. 40 fans should still consider it a must own, but those who are new to the rapper would be better off buying that classic “In a Major Way” album themselves and discovering Earl Stevens the same way that I did.