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Friday, June 24, 2011

E-40 - Revenue Retrivein': Overtime Shift: A / E-40 - Revenue Retrievin': Graveyard Shift: B+

Much like Robyn’s Body Talk was a perfect encapsulation of every facet of an artist’s personality, Revenue Retrievin: Overtime Shift explores every aspect of Bay Area rapper E-40, the man painting himself as a thoughtful and clever savant, no matter what situation in which he finds himself. Fans of his know that the guy has a slippery flow that bounces between syllables and relishes consonants like the candy centers of words. He has a conversational drawl, but raps quickly, combining rapid lyrical runs with accessible wordplay that’s surprisingly easy to follow. With this voice, E-40 brings a varied sensibility to all the subjects of Overtime Shift, and slapdashes his way to rap superiority on them all.

There are a lot of E-40’s on the twenty tracks of Overtime Shift, so allow me to brief you on the most affecting. Many of the album’s tracks have subjects of typical gun and drug talk, but E-40 has the lyrical acumen to make them all sound fresh. E-40’s been on the drug circuit for so damn long, he says he, “probably sold your family member drugs,” on the amusingly blunt “Drugs”. On Overtime Shift, you’ll find E-40 “punkin’ ‘em out”, “hustlin’ all summer, grindin’ all winter”, “hotter than the left sink handle” and “making records before some of ya’ll was in your daddy’s nutsac.” All lively insults using inventive vernacular, all direct quotes from songs on Overtime Shift.

However, E-40 also observes significant depth on the album. The hilarious “Me and My Bitch” depicts the man’s love/hate relationship with his girl, but ultimately maintains his love for her and even her family in one of the final verses. “But for the most part we cool and I respects they gangsta / I got a baby by they sista we family I ain’t no stranger.” Later, E-40 honors his momma in “Love My Momma”, and the song’s presence doesn’t sound tacked on or superfluous. When he responds to insults about her, he doesn’t rattle off curses, but vindicates his guardian like the sweet momma’s boy that he is. “Talk about my momma / They probably shouldn’t do that / My momma good people / Give you the shirt off her back.” It’s a loving tribute amidst the drug talk and cursing, but it still feels appropriate. In it, E-40’s bouncy cadence sounds endearing where elsewhere it would be menacing.

This results in an intriguing contrast throughout Overtime Shift. On one hand, E-40 makes a great case for himself as the most dangerous man this side of Vallejo. On the other, he’s a caring father, born in the struggle, looking out for himself and others while still keeping his humor and wits about him.

Admittedly, though, Overtime Shift wouldn’t be nearly as fantastic if it weren’t for the inventive beats. “Beastin”, one of the best tracks on the album, begins with a horn fanfare before descending into a trunk-rattling dance number. “I Am Your” features a faint robotic voice singing the title just audible enough to give the track a post-modern crunch. Last track “Click About It” features rousing group vocals reminiscent of “Night Night” off Big Boi’s 2010 classic, Sir Lucious Left Foot: Son of Chico Dusty. The tracks of Overtime Shift may vary in subject and ingenuity, but what is always consistent on the album is the deafening bass. It shakes my chair as I listen to it at home and dismantles my speaker system as I take it on the road. Overtime Shift is fine for academic inspection, but you’ll never appreciate its true power until you’ve rolled up onto something with it blasting from your dashboard.

With all this mentioned, you’d think that Overtime Shift was its own record, but it is actually one of a four-part series of Revenue Retrievin’ albums, two of which were released last year and one of which was released the same day as Overtime Shift. Graveyard Shift has its own twenty tracks of blistering West Coast hip hop, but, listening to it in the context of its companion, the album can’t help but sound like an Overtime Shift redux. There are songs about hard times like “Trapped” and “Tuff Times” and more boasts that feature E-40’s rubbery lines rebounding off samples, synths and blustery bass. “E Forty” uses a frayed vocal line to propel the track and “My Shit Bang”, a similar sampled hook rager, may be the best track of the entire Revenue Retrievin’ series. The album gains momentum as it goes along, but it’s less of a dark contrast to Overtime Shift than the same story told not quite as well.

Graveyard Shift is still very listenable and features some fantastic songs, but its purpose seems to be evidence of how good of an artist E-40 is that he can release forty songs in a single day and have not one of them be duds more than anything else. It’s not so much where Graveyard Shift fails as where Overtime Shift exceeds in almost every way. As a result, these two albums may seem at odds in terms of quality, but they are still great albums. Moreover, their quality shows that, nearly twenty years into the rap game, E-40’s best years may still be upon him.


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