The legacy of E-40 cannot be understated: pioneer of the independent hustle, hyphy ambassador and inventor of half of Snoop Dogg's favorite slang words. His motormouthed spieling and uniquely blapping beats — many courtesy of his son, Droop-E — have carried him two decades in the game; and he just released his 15th, 16th and 17th albums this week, the three-volume set The Block Brochure: Welcome to the Soil. For almost three and a half hours, Forty Water swerves around in the lane that he paved — Bay Area slappage, slow-rolling asphalt beaters and the some of the most evocative narratives around — without ever stopping in "Rack City" or "Marvin's Room." E-40 stopped by the SPIN offices to sprinkle us.
It's amazing that your records never leak until days before they hit stores…
I turn mine in at the last minute, the last deadline. You've gotta turn it in three months before. I try to turn it in last minute.
Does the label like have any feedback for you at all?
They don't get a chance to listen to it because it's me, I'm the label. The distributor don't get a chance to listen to it. We have a session where they come listen to it, but they don't get a chance to hear the final. They heard it in its earliest stages, but they just trust what I do.
When was the last time someone gave you a piece of business advice you didn't want to hear?
That's a good question. I'm trying to figure that out. I know just recently I got some good advice. I was talking to a guy that owns a restaurant, a steakhouse, and been running it successful for many years and he was just asking me how old am I. He said, "Shit that's when the money starts flowing, right when you get 44, 45. That's when you're really making money, the real money." This is a whole 'nother page of the game. I always got money, since I was a young teenager, you know what I mean. But for the other money? That adult, that granddaddy, adult money? That's what I'm looking for right now, you know.
Your records sort of work in their own self-contained world. You're not chasing Tyga or Lex Luger. It doesn't even sound like what's coming out of the Bay right. How does something like that happen?
It don't have no date on it. If it sounds right, and it feel right, it's right. For one I'm a professional beat picker. I'm not trying to be a "me monster" and just brag, but I know beats. I know 'em.
Do you go out and dance? When do you listen to other people's music?
To be honest with you, I don't have a lot of time to listen to other people's stuff. If I buy something I might listen to it a few times. I've gotta really, really like it to keep rewinding it. When I do listen to music a lot of times I listen to old school music, I'm talking about Earth, Wind & Fire, I'm talking about the Isley Brothers, the O'Jays. It just eases my mind. I don't listen to rap all the time. Even though I rap, rap can be nerve-wracking. I'm not trying to show my age or nothing, but it's just me. My kids like that and they're young. They do all the new rap shit, but then know all the old shit. [My sons] Droop-E and Issue, when they in the car with me, ever since they were ankle low to a centipede's toe. They hear old school R&B, soul music.
Well let's talk about Droop-E. You hear him as a little kid on your early records and now he's making your beats. How did you nurture his talent?
Man, you know what, it was naturally done. It's like, in 1992 he was two years old, three years old, three years old. When did I do Federal? He had to be three years old. We did a skit called "Questions." I used to always take him to childcare and he asked me a lot questions. And I feel it's good for a kid to always ask questions, let alone anybody to ask questions, because you learn quicker, you know what I mean? A couple years later, he was five, but the album came out when he was 6, In a Major Way, my platinum album. And he rapped on a song called "It's All Bad" and he spit eight measures of that thing, you know what I mean?
When he's 6 years old and rapping, were you helping out?
At that age I had to help quarterback that with him, lyrically and everything. It's just a fact that for him to be so young and have the nuts to really getting in the vocal booth and get on the mic and really gas that thing, you know what I'm saying? I pat him on the back for that. He delivered it right. Like the youngest rapper I ever heard. Then a couple years later he's 9 years old, and he put the pen to the paper and showed up on a song called "Growing Up." Then he got into making the beats. His mama over there, she put him in piano. He's not Beethoven, but he knows the notes and everything.
Did he come to you and I say, "I want to make beats"?
He was fucking around in the studio. At my house I got a studio, so he got my engineer at the time, a good friend of mine to this day, D-Wiz. He gave him [Pro Tools] and said go ahead and make some beats on that, you know what I mean. So he took it upstairs and was messing around with it. Next thing you know, he comes downstairs like, 'Listen to this.' He always down there listening to people like Rick Rock and Bosko, people like that, Mike Mosley and Sam Bostic. And he grew up on their stuff. And there it is.
If you're not listening to new rap stuff how did you hook up with Kendrick Lamar?
This is crazy, let me tell you. So I'm on Twitter and I see a little guy — I'd been hearing his name — just like, "E-40 explains the realest shit in his rhymes, the realest motherfucker in the game." Some shit, right? So I went to the page and seen it, and he has hella followers so I said let me check out this youngster. This little motherfucker raw, you smell me? Then probably about four months later I'm on tour with him — we didn't even know this was going to happen, I'm on Tech N9ne tour and Kendrick Lamar is being [Jay Rock's] hypeman and everything. I'm talking to him and he's like, "Man, 40, man, my daddy laced me about you." I'm so happy for him. He wasn't trying to grab the spotlight from Jay Rock. They're a unit. I love to see that. I love to see loyalty.
Kendrick Lamar is one of the most unbelievable rappers in the game right now. When you know you're going to be on a track with someone like that do you feel a competition vibe?
I don't even look at it like that. The dude was so unique. He did that at my house. Me, him and Droop-E was at my house and we just listened — let's go and knock one down. We listened to probably seven of Droop-E's beats. That was the one that poked out like nipples.
How much of the three records was recorded in your house?
Oh man, shoot, 98 percent of it. Ninety-nine, probably.
You've been married for 20 years and I always love the sweet love songs on your records… They almost feel kind of confessional in a way. Are those hard tracks to do?
Yeah, but a lot of those kind of songs are like 90 percent right. Then some of them be 10%. I'm just a storyteller. I don't just base it on my wife. I call for everybody. Even though she the most wonderful — I'm not just saying this because she here — she the best thing that ever happened to me. She's the mother of the only two kids I got. We've been together since teenagers… You don't hear about me out there fuckin' on other bitches and shit like that. Acting up. Even my homeboys can't just, "Yeah I remember that time he was getting sucked up in the back of the…" No you can't do that. You can't pull it up on me. She was there when I was Earl and we were broke together and living off love and the whole shit.
Is it OK when she hears you rapping about getting blowjobs and stuff?
I talked nastier than this when I was younger! I just came to the conclusion I'm a narrator, you know what I mean? A commentator.
That's always been really fascinating about your records is that you're a family man, you're an entrepreneur. But you're still very drawn to these subjects that you've been rapping about since the early 90s?
Because that's how I came in the game. It ain't just my story, that's somebody else's story I'm telling. I remember I was talking to Too $hort one day, I let him hear this song called "Seasoned" and I said, "Feet stinkin through my shoes in P.E. class." He started cracking up. But I wasn't talking about me. I do is I'm broadcasting live from the soil. I'm a storyteller, you know. I paint pictures with my raps. That's what a real recording artist is.
So where do you get your inspiration for this stuff?
You want to know?
Man, I get collect calls. In the pen you got cell phones now. "Talk to my folks right here." They get on the phone, it'll be somebody from motherfucking Kentucky, anywhere. And they'll be like, "Man 40, I just want to tell you your music has been an inspiration to me" I got people that really listening to what I have to say. I'm not trying to tell them to do the right thing, I'm not trying to tell them to do the right them. I'm telling them in order to some right you've got to do some wrong. I got raps to uplift a female. I got raps that I've done that made killers cry. It's like that to this day it's like that because I tell the real. When I say something like in the ghetto we got all kinds of remedies and things, "We catch a cold / We drink the juice from collard greens." Come on, man. What rapper you know say shit like that?
You released three records on one day. How many people told you this was a terrible idea?
I don't think they got the nerve to tell me that. They're probably saying it in their mind. But the thing is, it's perfect for me, like I said I'm independent and I can't see it failing. I took one budget and turned it into three. I can sell 100,000 of them and make the profit that a major label artist would make on a million, you know what I mean?
It's the exact opposite of the way everyone is doing their business right now. Everyone is like give it away for free as mixtapes
That's leaving the producers out of money too. I gotta pay all my producers too.
You don't see yourself going that way anytime soon?
No time soon. I'm not giving away shit. [Laughs]
So what's next?
Man, you know what, I'm trying to come up with this cologne called Sucker Repellant.
You are shitting me.
No, I'm not bullshit. Trademark by me, Earl Stevens, you can look it up, Google it or whatever you want to do. Sucker Repellant, you smell me? That's my slogan: You Smell Me. I'm on the case there right there.