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Hot! Cult Hero: E-40 “25 Years In Hip Hop”

There are plenty of people in the annals of rap who’ve talked a good game but never quite managed to live up to the self-made hype – but Earl Stevens, AKA E-40, isn’t one of them. The Vallejo, California native started making records as part of the Click in 1990: a quarter of a century later, he remains criminally under-appreciated outside the Bay Area, despite a string of releases that have consistently expanded hip-hop’s potential, and a facility for coining catchphrases that permeate the argot of the genre worldwide (not to mention probably being the only rapper with his own wine range).

E-40’s first brush with pop stardom came in 1997, when Things’ll Never Change, a single sampling Bruce Hornsby and the Range’s The Way It Is, scraped into the US top 30 after the album it was taken from, The Hall of Game, hit No 4. A decade later, My Ghetto Report Card rode the buzz generated by the Bay Area’s hyphy scene (and the cachet that album’s co-producer, Atlanta’s Lil’ Jon, had helped build around crunk) to a Billboard top-three placing. But for the rest of his quarter-century of creativity, he has stayed well below the commercial radar, even as phrases and slang he has either popularised or has a credible claim to having invented – “fo’ shizzle”; “you feel me?”; the use of “scrilla”, “cheddar” and “gouda” as synonyms for “money” – have slipped into far wider usage. (Sadly, other coinages – such as “hizzelicopter” – are yet to spread much beyond his records.)

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