I moved to the Bay Area in 2001, and for the first few months I found myself having the same...
DJBooth Album Review
Random guy at train station: “You like hip-hop?”
Me: “Actually, I write about hip-hop for a living.”
Guy (pulling a CD out of his jacket): “Well then you’ll love this. I got a copy of the new E-40 album, I’ll let you have it for $5.”
Me: “Who’s E-40?”
Guy (staring in disbelief): “Are you f**king serious right now?”
What I didn’t realize was that while E-40 wasn’t exactly a household name in my native Boston, the man was nothing short of the Godfather of the Bay, a rapper who not only helped define the local music scene, but owned record labels, restaurants and real estate. Not everyone loved him, but a Bay Area resident who didn’t know E-40 was like a Christian who didn’t know Jesus.
After more than a decade of local god status, America finally got intimately acquainted with E-40’s schizophrenic rhyme style on My Ghetto Report Card, an album that catapulted the Bay’s burgeoning hyphy movement into a national phenomenon and established 40-Water as a legitimate hit maker. But this rise in well-deserved notoriety leaves E-Fizzle in a tough spot for his latest album The Ball Street Journal: He needs to keep his intensely loyal and localized fans happy, while simultaneously making music the hip-hop masses can enjoy. It’s a difficult task, and one The Ball Street Journal almost pulls off...almost.
40’s status as the keeper of the hyphy flame means that at times Ball Street Journal might as well be called My Ghetto Report Card, Part 2. Nowhere is this truer than the opening track The Ambassador, a sparsely slapping cut that uses a chopped vocal sample nearly identical to Report Card’s first track, Yay Area. It was a dope track on Report Card, and while Ambassador is essentially a remix, it still bumps. It’s a similar story on Got Rich Twice, a family affair that brings on monstrous production from his son Droop-E and a raspy hook from his cousin Turf Talk. The absurdly heavy bass line is nothing new, but with 40 behind the lyrical wheel things never get old (“cut him off like an umbilical cord, turn off the lights”). All this means that long-time fans can think of Ball Street like their favorite pizza place; it’s the same slice you’ve been getting for years, and that’s exactly why you keep coming back.
The unexpected success of tracks like U And Dat proved 40’s unpredictable style could be commercially successful, leading E-Fizzle to recruit some predictable names to help him recreate the radio magic. Give Her The Keys brings back T-Pain for a track built almost entirely around the idea of buying your special lady a car. It feels more like a Christmas commercial for Lexus than a hit single, but I’ve learned never to underestimate Pain’s ability to turn everything he touches to gold. And of course Akon had to get in on the action, singing the same hook he’s been using for over a year now on Wake It Up, a track that’s an expertly crafted balance between Akon’s sparkling production and 40’s bouncing lyrics. From the club-ready Break Ya Ankles to the island-tinged Hustle, Ball Street has no shortage of tracks that should have radio stations pressing play, and long-time fans hitting the skip button.
Ball Street Journal doesn’t break much new ground, but not all of the album is formulaic. I wish I could say The Recipe, a track that provided step-by-step instructions for making crack, isn’t my favorite song on the album, but once that bass line hits and 40 starts spitting like an automatic weapon, I’m hooked. Such powder talk certainly isn’t anything unique, but it’s a style and subject 40’s rarely touched with such ferocity. On the same tip is Pain No More, a joint that wouldn’t be anything special for some rappers, but 40’s newfound connections mean this is the first time he’s been able to assemble a roster as high-profile as J.R. Rotem, Game and Snoop. It’s a damn good track, but not exactly something you absolutely have to hear. In a way that describes Ball Street Journal as a whole; it succeeds in doing a lot of things well, but nothing truly remarkable. Still, seven years ago I learned to respect the man they call Uncle 40 Water, with the release of Ball Street Journal it's about time America learns to do the same.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on Dec 01, 2008
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