From his beginnings as a background player in ’90s gangsta rap—always well-respected, but never a commercial force—E-40 emerged as Bay Area rap’s most influential artist, the public face of the scene and a pioneer of a frenetic regional strain of hip-hop called hyphy. Without compromising his core Cali sound, the veteran rapper has kept up with the times, and where most of his ’90s peers have slowed down with middle age, he’s now recording at a clip that would wind all but the hungriest young mixtape rappers. He simultaneously released two full-lengths in 2010, Revenue Retrievin’: Day Shift and Revenue Retrievin’: Night Shift, then rounded out the series last year with another two-album drop, Overtime Shift and Graveyard Shift. With his latest project, he may well have set a record: The Block Brochure: Welcome To The Soil is a three-album behemoth that runs more than four hours with bonus tracks.
That’s an impossible amount of time for any rapper to hold a listener’s attention, but Block Brochure’s opening volume gets off to such an inspired start that for a while it seems E-40 might somehow pull it off. E-40’s best songs find common ground between the blunt bombast of late-’80s hardcore rap and the clapping repetition of modern club rap (an overlap that usually involves overheating drum machines and occasionally some sirens), and the first album taps that sweet spot for all its worth. Club shakers like “Fast Lane,” “What’s My Name?” and “In This Thang Breh” are perfect vehicles for E-40’s nutty, multisyllabic yammer.
But fatigue sets in hard on the second album, where the beats sound a good deal cheaper, E-40’s eccentric flow begins to nag, and the overall energy nosedives. Even when things pick up on volume three, which includes choice collaborations with California stalwarts like Snoop Dogg, Too $hort, Kendrick Lamar, and Hieroglyphics, Block Brochure feels like too much of a good thing—way, way too much.
The trilogy’s sequencing is nearly as much of a problem as its length. Where E-40’s Revenue Retrievin’ albums were organized, however loosely, by theme, Block Brochure plays like a shuffled 60-song E-40 playlist: It’s unstructured, unwieldy, and ultimately so same-y that even attentive listeners will swear some tracks have been repeated. E-40 has adamantly eschewed mixtapes on a belief that artists should be compensated for their work. If he insists on charging fans for so many albums, though, he could at least spend a little more time editing them.
Grades: Welcome To The Soil Part 1: B; Part 2: C; Part 3: B-