SAN RAMON, Calif. – It's been nearly 20 years since E-40 (Earl Stevens) first started slinging slang and selling his independent albums out of his car trunk throughout the Bay Area. The 38-year-old rapper recently released his 12th studio album, "My Ghetto Report Card," executive produced by Lil Jon. It reached No. 1 on Billboard's R&B/hip-hop albums chart and No. 3 on the Top 200.
In an interview, he talked about "hyphy" — defined as a youth-oriented movement that has its own dances, slang, fashion and car culture — its home and its history.
AP: How do you explain hyphy to people? Is it here to stay?
E-40: Hyphy started in the streets of Oakland. The origin of the word is just straight wild: "Better watch out, boy, he's hyphy, he might do something to you!" Being hyphy is energy, like the cousin of crunk and I feel like it's going to be here forever where it started. That doesn't necessarily mean the buzz on the sound and the movement is going to be here forever, but the kids are the future and they're hyphy. This generation coming up here in the Bay Area, they're hyphy and I don't see that going out no time soon. I didn't invent the word hyphy and I'm not trying to say I'm the king of hyphy. I'm just a dude from the Bay Area that's about my whole region. I love every bit of it and I'm just here to let the whole world know, "Hey, come take a look at us."
AP: Is hyphy a safe expression of aggressive feelings? Would places like Atlanta and the Bay Area be edgier without things like crunk and hyphy?
E-40: I think without it, it would be more violent. Hyphy is letting it out. Don't hold it in, don't hold back. Let it out. Scream, shake your dreads, act a damn fool. Release it, slowly. It can relieve stress, because once stress comes to a head, it's over.
AP: Have you seen it diffuse the tension in a room before?
E-40: Oh yeah, definitely. When I had my club (the Ambassador's Lounge in San Jose), I saw it a lot. I saw cats really hyphy, but having fun and not bothering nobody. Just juiced and having fun, with so much energy. That's what it's about. Music is therapeutic and healing. Music is really a medicine, it can make you feel good.
AP: Few kids in the Bay Area have music programs in their schools now. Is this the sort of thing that happens when kids are forced to do without?
E-40: Yeah — I grew up in music, playing drums from the fourth grade all the way up to 12th, because that was our only form of (musical activity). There wasn't ProTools or studios in your house or project. It was all manual and we didn't have access to anything electronic. We had to use what we had. When I was in the marching band, I used to take my snare drum and turn it over and use my drumstick and scratch on the other side. That was just being creative ...
AP: Why was it important to you for your album to not just be all Bay Area styles and sounds, but to feature guests from all over the country?
E-40: It was a natural extension of my friends and people that I admire and wanted to work with. I'm a universal dude. I've been rapping on some crunk beats and getting down on the South music for years. I feel like I can do it all. I can do snap music.
AP: What is snap music? It's kind of like a child of crunk, right?
E-40: It's more laid-back than crunk. In its own way it has a lot of energy, too.
AP: Why has it taken so long for the national scene to notice Oakland and the Bay Area again?
E-40: I don't know. We always have been bypassed like the surgery for some reason, and I feel like there's so much talent here. In the Bay Area, it isn't just all about hyphy. We all endorse the movement, but at the same time there's different flavors out here: We've got backpack rappers, we've got R&B singers, female and male. We've got reality rap, giving it to 'em straight and not giving it to 'em late. Telling it like it is. We do it all. With that being said and without boasting, I think it took the single "Tell Me When To Go" to really get 'em woke to us here.