When it comes to the imminent release of his new two-CD set, The Element of Surprise, rapper E-40 is neither shy nor retiring.
"I'm just crossing my fingers right now," E-40 said last week, from his home in "a gated community in Contra Costa County [California]." He quickly added, "But I know I'm going to ship gold. I might even ship platinum."
If the history of the Billboard 200 albums charts from this year is any indication, E-40 (a.k.a. Earl Stevens) has every right to be confident. Releases from rap and R&B artists have dominated the upper reaches of the charts all along.
And E-40 has recruited help in his efforts to reach the top of the chart with his new album (Aug. 11). The CD features appearances by such big-name artists as Master P, pop-rapper Busta Rhymes and R&B crooners K-Ci & JoJo, as well as a wide range of songs.
"I've got car songs, I've got house party songs, I've got songs that are good for when you want some time with your lady; I've got songs for playing dominoes and I've got turf songs to play when you're listening to your boom box," he said about his two-CD set.
"What I've done with this album is kept it real to the streets while going back to my old Mr. Flamboyant style, some real down-and-dirty stuff."
Although E-40's last full-length release was 1996's Tha Hall of Game, he has kept in the public eye by appearing on Master P's hit MP Da Last Don, Eightball's Lost and Mystikal's Unpredictable.
"I believe in out of sight, out of mind," the rapper said, explaining why he has kept himself visible via other artist's albums. "I appeared on those songs to show love to the artists, but also to pump up interest in The Element of Surprise."
E-40 began rapping with his brother B-Legit in the late '80s, distributing their tapes out of a car trunk throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. They eventually added cousin D-Shot and sister Suga T to the lineup, labeled themselves the Click and signed a lucrative distribution deal with Jive Records for their Sick Wid' It label in the early '90s.
"The way my deal is set up, I make as much money selling 200,000 as most mother f------ make when they sell a million," E-40 said. Sick Wid' It continues to put out albums for its artists at a fast and furious pace. B-Legit, D-Shot and Suga T are all currently working on new projects while E-40 makes the rounds to drum up support for The Element of Surprise
Davey D (a.k.a. David Cook), webmaster of the hip-hop website http://www.daveyd.com and the director of community affairs for San Francisco hip-hop station KMEL-FM, said he thinks E-40's The Element of Surprise may contain a few shockers for fans who think he is pursuing a pop sound by including chart-topping crossover artists such as Master P ("Ghetto In The Sky"), Busta Rhymes ("Do It To Me") and K-Ci & JoJo ('From the Ground Up").
"He brought it more street this time because some people thought with his last album he might be going more commercial or in a 'softer' direction," Davey explained. "This is the E-40 we know as Mr. Flamboyance. He brought it back down to the streets, but also maintained a balance for those who aren't so much into that."
E-40's flamboyance shines through on such tracks as the boastful "Trump Change" and an ode to Brandy, "Moesha." His sense of humor is amply displayed in "Lt. Roast A Botch," a battle-of-the-sexes rhyme session with a rapper named Silky that recalls Ice Cube's "It's a Man's World," or the classic U.T.F.O. "Roxanne, Roxanne" battle.
"Me and Silky, we're folks," E-40 explained. "But, when we got into the studio, I was like 'This is all off the record. I want you to clown the s--- out of me and I'm going to roast the f--- out of you.' "
The album's first single is "Hope I Don't Go Back" (RealAudio excerpt), a song that E-40 said isn't just for people who don't want to return to drug dealing to make a living.
"In that song, I'm like the narrator," he added. "I don't care what it is -- digging ditches, working in an oil refinery, mopping floors -- once you've made it and like what you're doing, you don't want to go back to it."
For his part, though, E-40 said he has no fears about going back to moving his tapes out of a trunk. "I ain't going nowhere," he said. "I'm comfortable and I've got too much time and money invested in this."