Rapper E-40's Latest Hit
Getting sideways with the Robert Mondavi of hip-hop.
E-40, the prodigious Bay Area rapper and longtime San Ramon Valley resident, is only a birthday or two away from turning E-50. But as they say, that hasn’t stopped the hustle. Although his lyrical legacy has long been cemented—as a pioneer in the Bay Area “hyphy” movement in the mid–2000s and now as a sort of ambassador linking underground rap with the cultural mainstream—the longtime tastemaker has turned his attention from his fans’ ears to, get this, their palates.
Earl Stevens Selections, the rapper’s eponymous line of flamboyant wines and spirits, includes a Mangoscato dessert wine, a bright red premixed Sluricane cocktail, and as of early 2016, a 10 percent ABV malt liquor available in 40-ounce bottles. And with distribution agreements placing his line on the shelves of Costco, Safeway, and BevMo, it’s reasonable to suggest he’s scored his most unlikely hit to date.
Diablo caught up with the self-styled “Charlie Hustle” of the rap game to talk about life in the East Bay burbs, pouring a stiff drink, and maximizing his second act.
Q: Do you enjoy being considered rap’s elder statesman?
A: I accept my OG–ness. It’s like a second wave. I had my success, and people looked up to me. But I always remembered the struggle. So I don’t mind being Uncle 40 now. I don’t mind giving the younger generation any information they need, for free. That’s my duty—the role of an OG, of an uncle.
Q: Any local rappers on your radar?
A: One dude I feel has the talent to go far is [Vallejo rapper] Nef the Pharaoh. Not only is he from right down the street, but he’s got what it takes to be a star as far as being marketable, working the crowd, wearing the freshest gear, and being a hell of a rapper. I’ve been looking for someone with that potential—to be the next E-40, the next Too $hort, the next Snoop Dogg.
Q: OK, so the obvious question: How’d you get so interested in wine?
A: My mom used to come from work on Friday—she worked two or three jobs and was a single mother—and she’d put on “Livin’ for the Weekend” by the O’Jays, and pour herself a glass of Carlo Rossi. So later on, when I got older, I was like, “I’m gonna indulge in some wine.”
I always tried to reach out to Carlo Rossi, like, “Hey, man. I’m the one who got the younger generation drinking your wine.” But [the winery] never paid attention to me.
So when I had the opportunity to get my own wine bottled up, I said, “You know what? Let’s do this.” And slowly but surely, I got my feet wet in the adult beverage game, and now they gotta watch out. I’ve got a beer coming out, E40 Malt Liquor, and a Mangoscato that’s 18 percent—there’s nothing like it out there. It gets you right like you need it to. I’ve also got a red blend—Zin and Cab—and a Moscato, plus the Sluricane. And you can look out for me to do vodka, whiskey, tequila . . . everything.
Q: I tried the Sluricane Hurricane, but to be honest, I had to water it down a little. What’s the best way to drink it?
A: Club soda is always good—it adds some fizz to it. But you can drink it on ice or just put it in the freezer for an hour. And if you want it a little stronger, add a splash of Bacardi 151 to it: It’s already rum-based. I don’t think you can get any closer to a New Orleans Hurricane.
Q: Where do you go around here for a drink?
A: I like Clementine’s in San Ramon. There’s actually a drink called a Slurricane on the menu. [The restaurant] has a nice ambience: a New Orleans vibe, with gumbo and Cajun sausage.
I also like Worth Ranch in San Ramon and Nola Po’Boy and Gumbo Kitchen in Concord. You can tell I like that kind of food. [Nola’s] got the best chicken and waffles—I don’t know what’s in it, but it’s not your normal waffle. It’s addictive. It makes you want to fall asleep.
Q: You’re so tied to Vallejo, yet you’ve lived in Contra Costa for a long time now. What’s it been like for E-40 in the suburbs?
A: Without a doubt, our goal is always to move out of the ghetto but to never forget the ghetto. I have a family. I want to raise them in better conditions than I was in: That’s what you’re supposed to do. You climb up the ladder. My old house on Magazine Street—I could have easily had a contractor come and add another floor or something, and it would have been the only two-story house in the neighborhood.
So what do you do? For me, it was like, “Nah, you gotta move on.” So now, I’m out here in the Tri-Valley. The only thing that’s really different is I’m living on like a wildlife habitat. The deer are all right with me; it’s the rattlers and the king snakes and mountain lions and coyotes.
Q: Wait, you’ve seen a mountain lion in your backyard?
A: I saw one in my backyard like 14 years ago. I was the only one home; I looked out the window like, “What the hell?” He was looking at me like, “Man, don’t make me come bite you.” I would have dealt with him—done what I had to do—but instead, I called the sheriff, and [the lion] ran away. He jumped hella high up on the hill. So yeah, it’s not Vallejo, but you’ve got to watch your step out here, too.