“It might be old to me but new to you
Imagine wakin’ up with not a thing to do
Still livin’ with my grandma, I ain’t a liar
But my excuse is I’m my grandma cheer provider
And she a nervous wreck
Cause she ain’t received her SSI check
On holidays we gather, siblings
Get together and clean up giblets
Everything smooth, we sippin’ wine
Till the devil started workin’ overtime
Full of that potion
Mess, nothing but commotion
A test to see if we can stop
I started cryin’, ‘Y’all, we family, we all we got!'”
(E-40 on The Click’s “Family” – 2001)
E-40 and B-Legit released their first hip-hop record together 30 years ago in 1988. It was called “The Kings Men,” billed to M.V.P. (interpretations of the initials ranging from Most Valuable Players to Most Vicious Performers) and was a family affair through and through. E-40’s uncle Saint Charles Thurman lent a helping hand on the business side, his brother D-Shot (then going by Busy ‘D’) and his cousin B-Legit rapped alongside him while his sister Suga T made an appearance on the single as part of female duo Sugar ‘N’ Spice. The four vocalists soon regrouped as The Click, releasing the EP “Let’s Side” in 1990 on their family-owned Sick Wid’ It Records. Ostensibly the driving force commercially and creatively, E-40 officially embarked on a solo career the following year with the “Mr. Flamboyant” tape, which rang the opening bell on one of rap music’s most extended careers.
A constant companion to said career have been family-related ventures – three Click albums, solos by B-Legit, Suga T and D-Shot, and regularly further family members entered the music business – his younger brother Mugzi and his cousin Kaveo rapped with The Mossie, his son Droop-E became a producer and his cousin Turf Talk a rapper. “Connected and Respected,” the consequential new full-length collaboration between Forty and Bela first and foremost speaks of a lifelong bond (Legit grew up in the same household as the three Click siblings). If you have any doubt that this is not another random rap combo, just check the high school photo that graces the cover that shows the teenaged duo as drumming members of their Vallejo High School marching band. After graduating they enrolled at Grambling State in Louisiana (where they had relatives), where they wrote a rap version of their school’s alma mater song, whose warm reception inspired them to give the music thing a shot during summer vacation back in California.
Run, of seminal hip-hop trio Run-D.M.C., in one of their most famous songs, “Sucker M.C.’s,” created the narrative of how his talents were discovered, the brief scene ending with him getting into a Cadillac, “the chauffeur drove off and we never came back.” E-40 and B-Legit from all accounts never resumed their higher education, but like the majority of rappers they regularly returned to the past and shared with their audience the lessons they learned one way or another. “Life Lessons” then is an apt opener for such a project. As we’ve seen the term ‘O.G.’ used way out of its context in common parlance, the two rappers instill some respectability back into it. Their lessons typically carry a cautionary undertone, and while they realize that what they say may fall on deaf ears, they say it anyway, because adults just can’t help themselves in that regard. Hypothetically, there’s potential for a family sitcom in all of this, but while they are not averse to absurdities, the serious side weighs heavier than the lighter one, and as they get older probably increasingly more so. E and B are seasoned vets in street rap who abide to the rules of the game absolutely straight-laced.
Thus “Connected and Respected” takes us back to the days when rappers forced us to face the music about the American ghetto, often dramatized in action scenes and heroic poses, but still with a clear underlying message. Whether they detail the still adverse conditions for young people in “Up Against It” (“They losin’, they ain’t winnin'”) or associate themselves with criminal elements in “Meet the Dealers” or memorialize the neighborhood bulletin board with “Barbershop,” the focus is on the same environment they have always situated their raps in. As the two warhorses spread their tough love, the tone may sway towards harsh, critical or intimidating, but the overall message is consistent. Theirs was never mindlessly materialistic music. Says E-40 in 2018: “He havin’ his bread, he havin’ his wealth / but he eatin’ by the table by his self.”
They make a serious effort to directly speak to young black males on the cusp of taking up a – however part-time, small-time – career in hustling and really produce an album that addresses a generation that would be wise to heed certain warnings. While fans and critics typically hang on E-40’s every new word creation, it’s never too late to discover B-Legit’s sober ruminations. Excerpts from “Guilty By Association” and “Carpal Tunnel,” respectively:
“I get it – fast car with the bad-ass bitch
I get it – weed card and probably a zip
Plus you in California, so you figure – legit
But what if – swine pull you over and he know your name
Search your backseat, plant the cocaine
Snatch you out the whip, put you in restrain
And say he lets you go [if] you give him 4 names”
“Bet your money on a rollercoaster
Nigga livin’ good till the wanted poster
Then it’s retreat up out the streets
Different city every week, all a bunch of suites
And beware of the paper trail
Never use your debit, nigga, they can tell
Have you shut down in a cell
Hopin’ you’ll snitch, wantin’ you to tell”
But E-40 and B-Legit give more than pre-legal advice. Right after he ponders technological upgrades in the arsenal of police authorities (in reference to his 1993 song “Outsmart the Po Po’s”), E-40 recalls how we wouldn’t “ask family for money” because “loved ones can act kind of funny” and because he found it hard to swallow his pride. Later on he advises listeners to “swallow your pride cause pride is really a sin.”
The bottomline is that the cousins draw from both their upbringing at home and on the streets in equal measure. They manage to impart the importance of family (and faith) in passing. “A uncle is like a second dad,” offers Forty at one point, and it’s clear that they very much would like to be your uncles. What could sway neutral listeners in their direction is that they realize their limitations. “Played the tune straight, I don’t think he heard me,” Legit surrenders after one of his pep talks. “When I talk to ’em they get mad,” seconds his partner. It goes as far as “Blame It,” the final family reunion featuring the entire Click, laying the blame explicitly on the “O.G.’s,” the dads and uncles for raising a disoriented youth.
More plainly than previous E-40 projects, “Connected and Respected” uses eventual modern elements merely symbolically. Rexx Life Ray, 4rAx, JT the 4th and DecadeZ provide contemporary choruses, but the relation to the actual songs is not always evident. The P-Lo-featuring “Boy” fares better as its hyphy-esque stop-and-go flow offers dancers inspiration (as evidenced by the video clip). Musically the album doesn’t stick out from the sea of Heavy on the Grind releases. There’s the occasional nod to old school West Coast preferences, the synthesized harmonica in “Straight Like That” or ProHoeZak’s funky club track “So High.” About the only surprise the collaboration holds is that B-Legit delves deeper into their youth, although to be clear they never really share a trip down memory lane, discuss family matters in detail or offer the slightest insight into their own relationship. You could expect a little bit more from two men who have been sharing mics longer than almost anyone who’s still active in the rap game. So as revered as especially E-40 is in the Bay Area, it’s hard to tell if this album can hit its target. Firsthand experience is still the best teacher. Nobody knows that better than these two gentlemen. If you realize as much walking away from “Connected and Respected,” you’ve learned a valuable lesson.