Longevity in rap is the exception, not the rule, but those exceptions are glorious: witness E-40, who dates his career from his 1988 self-released 12-inch as a member of MVP. After 11 years with Jive Records, 40 signed to Lil Jon's Warner Bros.-distributed BME for his 2006 Gold-certified album, My Ghetto Report Card. Now the 41-year-old Vallejo veteran has returned with The Ball Street Journal, which dropped Nov. 24, a Monday, to increase first week sales.
The same day, San Francisco independent SMC released From a Boy to a Man, the long-awaited seventh solo album by Fillmore legend San Quinn, who began recording in 1991 at age 14. "My competition was Kriss Kross," he told me in a phone interview several days earlier, neatly putting his endurance in perspective.
Though Quinn, now 31, released a handful of discs in his late teens on JT the Bigga Figga's then-Priority-distributed Get Low Records, his success has always depended on his loyal local fanbase. Fueled by his regional radio hit, "Hell Yeah," his last disc, The Rock (SMC, 2005), is his biggest seller yet, moving more than 20,000 copies.
Yet despite good independent numbers and 17 years in the game, the powerfully deep-voiced Quinn is still hungry. "I've yet to blow all the way up," he said. "I want to be known worldwide, and I'm still slowly climbing that mountain."
THE BALLITICS OF RAPPIN'
Quinn makes a good point: if your audience keeps expanding, you can't be said to have fallen off. A major label rapper like Yung Joc may have debuted with a triple-putf8um single "It's Goin Down" in 2006, but where is he now, let alone 17 years from now? The overinflated major label economy of scale means Joc could sell 200,000 and still be a failure, whereas Quinn's independent grinding has kept him viable with only a tenth of that figure. I somehow suspect Joc's artistic legacy won't compare with Quinn's in terms of length or depth, regardless of sales.
"Lotta these new dudes is ringtone rappers," E-40 remarks on BSJ's "Tell It Like It Is." After 15 years of major-label activity, 40 knows whereof he speaks. He pioneered the "rapper as independent label head" model with his Sick Wid It Records, forcing the industry to take notice when his 1993 EP, The Mailman (Sick Wid It), debuted at no. 13 on Billboard's R&B chart with no major-label distribution deal.
While signed to Jive, 40 frequently complained the imprint never gave him that superstar push. He knew he could be bigger, and in an era of shrinking album sales, the fact that the well-promoted Ghetto Report Card scored 40 his first Gold since 1998's The Element of Surprise (Sick Wid It/Jive) proved him right. (His 1995 Gold album for Jive, In a Major Way, went Putf8um in 2002, showing more artistic longevity than many an instant Putf8um disc.)
The push is not without its price, however. Don't get me wrong: BSJ, to me, is clearly the best major-label rap disc of the year. Like every such recording, it's too long and where Jive gave 40 free rein, the corporate hand of Warner Bros. is evident. For example, the Akon collection, "Wake It Up," is an admittedly catchy pop single though it sounds more like an Akon song showcasing 40. Similarly, the marquee power of Snoop Dogg can't disguise the fact that his verse on "Pain No More" sucks, which is a shame, since 40's verse rocks.
But overall, BSJ is a more distinctively E-40 disc than Ghetto, inasmuch as its tempo and feel varies more than the hyphy-fueled onslaught of its predecessor.