Amidst the ever-changing landscape of the music industry, E-40 never changes. He’s the same exuberant California rapper from the 1990s who re-invented the way rappers talk and flow on a record. In a way, E-40 is the OG Blueface (except more clever, and well, much better). His words swiftly carom off the beat-teetering between spoken word and actual rapping. His eccentric style has aged very well, primarily because his technique can be exercised in multiple different ways (over trap beats, booombap, G-funk; you name it).
This experimentation can be fun for a little bit…until that little bit becomes a 26-track marathon. Which is exactly what his new album Practice Makes Paper is. This is more like a practice in patience, where essentially E-40 borrows from contemporary trap influences from all over the map. Despite the diversity in production, E-40 succeeds in keeping that California G-funk aroma (mainly when it comes to bass). Even that style is modernized with a Mustard-esque flavor.
At times, his efforts are admirable, but mainly when he’s hidden behind the featured artists. “Chase the Money” (aptly produced by Chasethemoney) is undoubtedly a banger because of Quavo and Roddy Rich’s melodic chorus. The real problem is 40, who spits some of his most cringeworthy bars to date (“I’ll make a ho stand outside like a scarecrow,” or how about, “Money longer than the end of them action-packed movie credits”). The production is pretty standard for today’s output.
James Too Cold supplies a standout verse on “No Choice;” a track that features spooky piano keys and a booming bass. His sinister street candor adds a Detroit flavor to the G-funk blueprint. Once again though, it’s E-40 who can’t hold his end of the stick (“I stay drunker than a pirate, call be Blackbeard,” or “All my life I had it rough, I ain’t never been powder puff/Never been a weenie, I’ll disappear you genie”). His middle school raps grow tiresome by the halfway mark, which is never a good thing on an album as dense as this.
The beat-making is what elevates these songs to tolerability. E-40 does a nice job of bridging the gap between different styles from different regions of the country. He re-visits that Detroit aesthetic on “Made This Way,” where Traxx FDR, Tee Grizzley, and Rod Wave add much-needed spice with an ominous chord progression and menacing character storytelling (although Tee does uncomfortably use domestic violence as a channel for a clever bar in his verse).
The budding city of Houston is represented as well, with Scarface contributing one of the album’s most memorable verses on “Watch the Homies.” The track overall is nice ode to a time when both rappers reached their apex creatively (You wanna wallow with the hogs or fly with the eagles?/”Slow it down and ride wit’ ya people (Ride wit’ ya people)
He who moves fast is destined to fall victim/To niggas who was plottin’ to catch him slipping;” a phenomenal four bars from Scarface).
But for every compelling collaboration on Practice Makes Paper, there’s about five tedious endeavors that follow. And for every fire bar 40 lays down (I do enjoy his socially conscious first verse on the intro track “Wake They Shit Up”), there’s about six that fall flat due to corniness. The source of these inconsistencies lie within the track-list, where two-minute fillers are as coercive as dead air (like “I’m It” or “I’mma Find Out”).
Oftentimes though, it’s E-40’s unusual lackluster writing that seals the deal for mediocrity. Ultimately, the entire project centers around redundancy-which is abnormal, especially for an album with so many flavorful sounds. 40 clearly has an appreciation for the scattered direction of modern rap music (all while keeping that signature G-funk feel). A lot of it just doesn’t stick unfortunately. 40 would rather wallow in hip hop’s diversity than progress it forward (which is unlike him). So in the meantime, here’s a gem from “G.O.A.T.”-“Bitch I’m the G.O.A.T, I’m not a sheep/I’m counting fetti when I’m asleep/Ho I’m a mogul, your dude is a hobo.”