Jake Slesinski once had Mac Dre sign his E pill.
E-40 has been “rapping since Porky Pig was a piglet.” The list of slang he’s invented is as lengthy as a standard Sea Org contract term. He’s as perpetually underrated as Jeff Daniels, and with a discography spanning 22 years and 24 albums (14 since 2010), he can be difficult to keep up with. Everyone knows In A Major Way, “Tell Me When To Go,” and his feature on “IDFWU,” but one album required before you expire is Breakin’ News.
The album concluded an eight-year run on Jive Records and preceded a three-year break before My Ghetto Report Card. It dropped at the time that the hyphy scene was in full slap and the Ambassador was finally given the national attention he long deserved. Straight from the first track, 40 imposes his style with ruthless force. The Rick Rock beats knock and 40’s lyrics come chronicle the world of guns, goofie, and game.
Mutually irritated towards their Jive overlords, the Clipse shows up on “Quarterbackin’,” playbook in hand, ready to help breakdown game. The only other big-name feature is Lil Jon. Fonzarelli prefers to keep things in-house, enlisting his cousin, label mate, and fellow hyphy legend, Turf Talk. Turf Talk’s Gary Busey-esque hooks and 40’s surrealistic raps create an energetic balance as they attempt to discover, which “Which came first, the thizzin’ or the keg?”
Charlie Hustle plays his strengths throughout most of the album, but also ensures to spotlight the entire click. He leaves no one out, be it the folks locked down (“I Hope You Get This Kite”) or his main chick (“Show & Prove”). While the narratives don’t push much further than what you’d expect, 40 finds ways to interject showmanship, slang, and dazzling technical ability. In short, it’s an E-40 album.
The Vallejo legend has always embraced the eccentric, but the latter-end of the tracklist finds him at his most endearingly strange. “If If Was A 5th” is hullabaloo, a brainstorm of a song. An elementary beat, complete with a rubber band “wobble,” gives way for a plethora of non sequiturs (“If I was in the jungle, I’d be nothin’ humble / Beat an anaconda down and give a lion the muzzle”). The closer, “Pharmaceutical Outro,” is a hook-less song, a blazing declaration from a rapper “heated up like an electric blanket.”
Breakin’ News is a renouncement of rap record normalcy, a statement of character. It bounces between exasperation and experimentation, but concurs with one fact: flamboyance is always favorable. The evidence can be found in the hook for “Act A Ass,” “We gon’ do the fool / We’ll be breaking all the rules.” This line is the thesis of not only the album, but of 40’s career. It’s a declarative statement from of the underdog — essential 40 water.
With future major label support unassured, Breakin’ News could have been Earl Stevens’ last effort. He could have returned to Vallejo and kept playing small club shows from Bakersfield to Eureka. Instead, he channeled his inner game and flexed his jaw. The album finds him transitioning from liaison to Ambassador. It isn’t a testament to his will, it’s a testament to his consistency. E-40 has enough verses to rewrite the Bible. Maybe he already has.