E-40 – Carlos Rossi
I don’t know why, but today I inflicted the Rolling Stone “50 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time” list on myself, in its entirety. I know that “Greatest of All Time” lists are inherently dumb, and complaining about them is even dumber, but this particular one seems so especially dumb that I think it might not be excruciatingly dumb to criticize it, as long as I can keep it short and un-ranty. So I’ll put aside as many personal biases that I can and try to actually play by the guidelines of a list like this. These kinds of lists measure things like historical significance and cultural impact, and they worship “firsts”. “Great” in the sense it’s used here isn’t an extreme form of “good”, it’s an attempt at objectivity about something inherently subjective by looking at factors like a song’s sales, chart positions, and the population’s general familiarity with it. Framed in this way, it’s easy to see why lists like this are dumb, because those things aren’t what’s actually interesting about music. But this list doesn’t even follow through on that flimsy objective. It is unsurprisingly biased towards old guard “Golden Age” sensibilities, and yet still finds ways to overlook many obvious old school contenders as well. Hardly any of my personal favorite songs are on that list, which is to be expected, but there are so many truly relevant-to-our-culture artists, songs, and movements that aren’t even touched on that I think it would be worthwhile to create a new list in response:
DRIVE SLOW’s Top 15 Artists Somehow Completely Ignored by Rolling Stone’s “50 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time” List
1. Too $hort
5. Gang Starr
6. Goodie Mob
7. Slick Rick
9. Gucci Mane
10. Three-6 Mafia
11. DJ Quik
13. Nate Dogg
14. Ice T
15. 2 Live Crew
But nobody really reads Rolling Stone anymore anyway right?
At first glance, this video might seem like a pretty straightforward interpretation of this new E-40 track. It’s a rap song about fighting, so you’ve got some shots of dudes fighting, and some shots of some dudes rapping. Alright. If you really pay attention though, there’s another element in here that adds some depth to this otherwise obvious interpretation.
E-40 – Catch a Fade (feat. Droop-E and Kendrick Lamar)
Mixed in with the shots of E-40, Droop-E (who is E-40’s son), and Kendrick Lamar (from Black Hippy, who apparently I can’t stop writing about lately) and some dudes catchin’ a fade (that means getting in a fight) are some other dudes who are doing something kinda in between. Sometimes solo, sometimes in groups, there are a few dudes on here who aren’t quite putting hands on each other, but are expressing themselves physically, and somewhat competitively, in a different way: they’re dancing. In this particular video, the dance mimics, pantomimes, and caricatures the motions of physical conflict, but any battle in this arena would be won with originality, creativity, and technique rather than brute force. Now I’d be doing my good friends Ivan, Charles, and every other martial artist in history a great disservice if I didn’t point out that originality, creativity, and technique also certainly play a role in physical combat, as does self-expression, but there is still a brute force element of fighting that is removed in the kind of dancing in this video. But isn’t it interesting that in describing this video I’ve found only one element that differs between fighting and dancing? The dancers seem to be competing much in the same way the fighters are, or the rappers for that matter, and when you see all of these different expressive modes in quick succession, the boundaries between them begin to break down.
Rap and hip-hop have a long history of competitiveness being more central to the culture than most other art forms. Rap battles, DJ battles, breakdance battles, these are all commonplace. When is the last time you went to a jazz battle? A sculpture battle? An architecture battle? Probably never, unless it was ironically billed as such. Yes, these art forms have elements of competition and even hold formal contests, and there is such a thing as a “battle of the bands” in rock music, but I don’t think you could argue that the centrality of competition in hip-hop is paralleled in the art world, except for the martial arts of course. Rap is probably somewhere in between painting and football in the spectrum of competition-based arts. Or, you might say, between brawling and dancing. Competition is found in all of these places because humans are competitive, and the cultures that give rise to this or that form of expression imbue it with the level of competition inherent to that culture, which is probably based on something like the level at which the people of that culture historically feel their survival is at risk. Hip-hop grew out of a time and place where survival was far from easy or simple to accomplish, and clearly the tradition (and the culture that gives rise to it, to an extent) continues.
You don’t have to love violence to love rap. I don’t think you have to love violence to love martial arts either. But I think you do have to acknowledge that violence exists to have any kind of understanding of either of these art forms. We compete all the time with each other. We might call it different things, we might not even think of it as competition exactly, but we do it. We argue, we make jokes about each other, we belittle other people or their ideas, we see somebody do something and we try to do it better, or try to make what that person did look worse, there are countless ways that competition plays a role in our lives, and I think that one thing rap can do is force us to be a little more up front about your competitive nature, and see that it can be fun, as well as fulfilling, and not just something to be avoided for fear of being defeated. I believe that even a person who attempts to isolate him or herself completely from competition from others would still find themselves alone, trying to outdo themselves, mentally and physically, throughout their life. It’s what we do, and recognizing that can really help hone it in positive directions, and there are countless street rappers that credit rap with being exactly that influence for them: the thing without which they would have been reduced to a much more brutal form of competition in their probably all-too-brief lives.
Lately I’ve been pretty good about keeping up with any interviews that come out for artists I’m interested in (or interested in being interested in), but the more of them I find, the more I realize how much time I’ve spent not being very up to date about that side of the music I listen to. So I’ve made an effort to search around for some older interviews that might provide an interesting snapshot of some artist at a different phase of their career than they’re at now. This can be especially interesting with rap, where tastes and styles change and morph so quickly to the point that you only need to go back a few years to see some surprisingly different ideas and sounds being talked about.
One of the interviews that didn’t necessarily provide me with a ton of info (mostly due to its length and lack of very substantive questions) but I definitely enjoyed a lot was the Fader Q+A with E-40 from back in 2008. It’s particularly interesting to read this article in 2012 with all of the election talk that’s happening right now; 40 expounds on his excitement for voting for Obama in the upcoming election (“I’m voting for Obama. I’m voting for Obama all day.”) with the palpable enthusiasm that I think a lot of us felt around that time, that “what’s going to happen if he gets in there??” feeling that made a lot of people, like E-40 as we find out, vote for the first time in a presidential election. Pretty interesting.
Another notable part of this interview for me was when he was talking about his newest video at the time, “Poor Man’s Hydraulics“, and how the filming of it went down. Apparently they didn’t jump through all the bureaucratic hoops you’re supposed to when shooting a video of this type.
If we had been out there to get permits and all that, they wouldn’t have even let us shoot it. So we did it guerilla style. We from a small city, but we a lot of players and gangstas, and intelligent hoodlums, we got a lot of talented people out there. So we was just like, Let’s hurry up and do this, cause we know the po-po gon’ shut us down.
I think this move on E-40’s part is very telling about his approach to music and art in general. The album he’s pumping in this interview is his 11th, and he’d been a successful rapper for over 15 years at this point, but here is sporting dreads for the first time in his life (“I was just doing it to just do it”), shooting a video for his newest single in his hometown totally “guerilla style”, without permission from the authorities and having to shut down early because they eventually did get busted by the police. I think a lot of artists, understandably, once they reach a certain age and point in their career they start to kinda sit back and don’t feel the excitement of taking risks that E-40 always has. He explains that attribute of himself very bluntly in that same interview:
I ain’t scared to roll the dice, a lot of other cats might be scared. I’ve been taking chances on my career my whole life. To those that never had an E-40 album, I’m not just a radio guy, my albums have concepts, I got something on there for everybody. Also, read up on my discography, be open minded, ‘cuz I’m not gonna sound like your favorite rapper. I’m in my own lane. At the end of the day, you gon’ say, You know what? That boy 40, one thing about him, he had his own thing, he was unique, he was a trendsetter, and he poked out like nipples.
I’ve got piles of respect for that, and I think E-40’s model is one that many rappers would benefit greatly from following. I mean, how many rappers do you know that put out triple-disc albums of brand new material of a very consistent quality when they’ve already been rapping for over 20 years? I can only think of one.
E-40 – Poor Man’s Hydraulics
I remember the first time I saw the cover art to Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire’s first big mixtape, Lost In Translation. I immediately knew that this was a dude that’s making his own rules, and probably breaking those ones too sometimes. He refuses to have his name listed without the expletive (“Don’t forget the ‘Muthafuckin’ / Without that, it’s nothin“), he shoots music videos in his real house with his real friends doing what they really do, and he writes whole songs where he’s the main character in some kind of weird postmodern comic book/sci-fi/cartoon world. Basically, I knew I had to listen up, and give this dude some room to do what he does.
I’ve been very happy with what I’ve heard so far, and just the other day I was biking around listening to his latest mixtape (which came out on Christmas; hilarious) and noticed some stuff about one particular song that slipped by my usually razor-sharp attention the first couple listens.
Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire – Two 22’s b/w Twenty Two 2’s
I definitely caught the main reference of the song, which is to Jay-Z’s “22 Two’s” from his first solo album, but it wasn’t until I listened more closely to what eX was actually saying (duh) that I thought of this possible reference, or maybe just coincidental similarity.
Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Shimmy Shimmy Ya
Did you catch it? I’ll give you a hint: I totally gave it away already in the title of this post.
See, after that weird break in the middle of “Two 22’s“, he comes back in and raps the whole first verse backwards while the beat plays backwards underneath, and when ODB comes back for his second verse, it’s actually just the reverse of his first verse also (with the beat playing normal). The difference is that with eXquire, he actually raps the words normally but in reverse order, while ODB’s approach is to play the whole first verse backwards, so the words themselves are backwards too. So yeah, it’s not the exact same thing, but I feel like there’s no way Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire isn’t influenced by Ol’ Dirty Bastard pretty heavily. And even if it is just a coincidence that these two pretty similar rappers did the same thing on their songs, it’s pretty cool to notice how experimental and far out these dudes are getting in their music; that’s some conceptual shit that I feel like doesn’t really happen much in other popular music. Correct me if I’m wrong.
As a side note, I was checkin’ out E-40’s Tumblr page the other day and I saw a link to a “west coast remix” of “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” that featured E-40 and MC Eiht. I thought it was some weird fan-made remix thing at first until I actually saw E-40 and MC Eiht come out in the video and start rapping. That shit was actually official. Wild.
Oh! Some more Bay Area rap connections while I’m out here. Me and Amber went on a pretty long drive through the country to a town called San Rafael (pronounced ruh-FELL, I’m told) and one of the things we listened to on our journey was this juicy tune.
E-40 – Ballin Outta Control (feat. Levitti)
I bet my little 4th grade mind would have been about as blown by that song when it first came out as my 27 year old mind is by this track we listened to on the trip back, which I think must be meant as a tribute to his Bay Area big homie.
Lil’ B – Basedgods My Name
In between hearing these songs we came across a copy of Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff” on vinyl in a Goodwill (no, I didn’t buy it) and some weird chocolate wafer candy whose motto was “Say Chair-Old For Finest Flavor“. This place is fuckin weird.
That’s a pretty perfect way to describe Freddie Gibbs, if you ask me. I drove up to T-Town today to go hang out with my dad for a few days around Christmas, and on the way I finally got around to listening to Gibbs’s newest mixtape Cold Day In Hell all the way through. It was definitely worth it. I’ve been a huge fan of his since Matt first turned me on to Midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik and The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs a couple years back, and I’m really happy to see that he’s got himself a solid record deal now and is getting more and more attention all the time. And he’s not lost a bit of his integrity either, he’s stayed very true to his style this whole time, and I was happy to hear even more evidence of that on Cold Day in Hell.
Anyway, I didn’t mean to ramble, what I wanted to hit you all with was this little connection I noticed when I was listening to that mixtape. The third song on there has a title that I was already familiar with from a much earlier tune: “187 Proof”. Maybe that’s a common term that gets used all the time, and I’m just too ignorant to not know about more than two instances, but here’s what I’ve got to offer.
Freddie Gibbs – 187 Proof
Spice 1 – 187 Proof
I’m in love with that Spice 1 video, and I also really like the slightly different meaning these two dudes ascribe to the term “187 Proof”: Freddie is asserting that he is immune to being murdered (187 is a common police code for homicide), but Spice has a whole running play on words throughout the song using names of different boozy drinks as names for characters in the story he’s spinning, so the “187 proof” for him is an extension of that wordplay (referencing the way of measuring alcohol content of liquor in “proof”). Pretty cool.
Here’s a little bonus too. That first line of the Spice 1 “187 Proof” gets referenced in the intro to an E-40 song a few years later, pretty hilariously. The only video I could find that included that intro is this one, which also includes the entire song before it. So the part I’m talking about doesn’t come in until 1:49. But you should probably just go ahead and listen to the whole thing, you can’t really listen to too much E-40 I don’t think.
E-40 – Da Bumble
After reading the Boots Riley interview I mentioned in this post that talked about E-40’s track “Practice Lookin’ Hard“, I tracked down the EP that song was on and found this other single called “Captain Save A Hoe” that is fuckin GREAT, and the video is priceless too. Check it out.
E-40 – Captain Save-A-Hoe
Then a couple days later I was drivin over to my friend’s house and I was re-listening to the old UGK album Dirty Money because I hadn’t listened to it in a while, and I had a whole new appreciation for this song. I think you’ll see why.
UGK – Choppin’ Blades
OOOOOH. Jade’s been gettin into Digable Planets lately and I was talkin to her about this E-40 song that uses a sweetass sample from “Rebirth of Slick“, and I just had to post it up here. Plus the video for that Digable Planets song is AWESOME too, so you gotta watch that if nothin else. Why’s their whole backing band Asian?? Hahaha
E-40 – Yay Area
Digable Planets – Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)