The story of E-40's rise from a nobody selling self-made cassette albums out of his car's trunk to a chart-topping rapper and chief of his own label, Sick Wid' It Records, has been documented on camera. The resulting autobiographical feature will be available on video Nov. 24.
But don't expect this life story to be sugar-coated or to contain flights of fantasy.
According to E-40 (born Earl Stevens), "E-40 Presents Charlie Hustle: Blueprint of a Self-Made Millionaire" is different from similar direct-to-video tales of raps-to-riches by Master P ("I'm 'Bout It") and Jay-Z ("Streets Is Watching"), as well as the forthcoming "Kuruption," from Kurupt. The others are filmed re-creations, while "Charlie Hustle" is a straight-up documentary, E-40 said.
"There's no acting in this," E-40 explained from his home in Contra Costa County, Calif. "What I've got is testimonials from top celebrities, backstage videos, footage of the house I grew up in -- a lot of stuff that has never been seen."
Among the significant people interviewed for the project are gangsta rappers Ice-T, Snoop Dogg and Master P, as well as San Francisco Giants manager and E-40 fan Dusty Baker. "I'm not there for the interviews," E-40 noted. "If anyone didn't understand E-40 when they first heard him, I want them to say that."
The film will chronicle E-40's origin -- rapping with his brother B-Legit in the late '80s and 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 their performing lineup, labeled themselves the Click and signed a lucrative distribution deal with Jive Records for their Sick Wid' It label in the early '90s.
E-40 has come quite a way since then. His seventh solo album, a double-length CD entitled The Element of Surprise, is due in stores on Aug. 11 and has already scored a radio hit with "Hope I Don't Go Back" (RealAudio excerpt).
While the idea to make the film is something that E-40 has been kicking around for some time, it wasn't until the recent explosion of such do-it-yourself rap labels as Master P's No Limit Records and Jay-Z's Roc-A-Fella Records that he finally turned thoughts into action. Noting that he achieved similar success with Sick Wid' It as far back as 10 years ago, E-40 said that he was putting the documentary together to recount that history and to inspire moguls-in-the-making.
"I just wanted to show that there's a lot of ups and downs and trials and tribulations," he explained. "You never know when you're going to die, and you've got to crawl before you walk."
E-40 hopes that the documentary will illustrate that his early days hustling cassettes helped him maintain street credibility years later. "I'm showing that my street demand was absolutely fabulous," he said. "These days, you've got to wonder if, with no promotion or that kind of thing, could word of mouth bring an artist success?"
Davey D (a.k.a. David Cook), the community affairs director for San Francisco rap station KMEL-FM and the first DJ to play E-40 on commercial radio, appears in the documentary to talk about the Bay Area hip-hop scene and to interview such artists as Ice-T about E-40's influence. Though he hasn't seen a finished cut, Davey D thinks the history lesson will be very valuable for today's hip-hop audiences.
"That's just how it was done back then," he explained. "In the indie scene, you needed the streets, so you took it to the streets. It's a lesson that artists like Master P have learned to great effect, but E-40 was one of the originators of that."
"S--- that I talked about 10 years ago is the s--- people are talking about now," E-40 said of his legacy. "People need to know that an artist might be a gangsta street nigga, but ... every motherf----- ain't like that 100 percent of the time. You might be mean-muggin', but when you having sex and you bust a nut, you can't tell me you're not smiling and laughing. You hurt your face if you mean-mug that much."
The video will be accompanied by a soundtrack, which is still in the works. According to E-40, it will feature him collaborating with such fellow rappers as Do or Die, Snoop Dogg, Pimp C from UGK and Celly Cel on new songs.
With The Element of Surprise due on Aug. 11 and both the video and soundtrack of "E-40 Presents Charlie Hustle: Blueprint of a Self-Made Millionaire" set for a Nov. 24 release, is the Sick Wid' It Records chief worried about saturation?
"You can never flood the market," E-40 insisted, "not in 1998. It's all about being in sight and in mind. You've gotta keep coming with it these days."