Sunday, December 26, 2010

E-40 & The Click Week: Day 1, A Federal Case

It's been ages since I've done a "week," huh? Well, I think this should be a fun one... Instead of boring top tens and "year in review" retrospectives, we're gonna ride out the last week of 2010 examining the music of E-40 and The Click.

I don't think I've mentioned E much on this blog, if at all (except for my awesome interview with the man, of course); but I've always been a fan. He's like the perfect blend between the lofty, artistic end of west coast hip-hop with his inventive, off-the-wall delivery and streetwise gangsta rap with an air of first-hand knowledge. The Good Life movement meets NWA.

And Federal was his major label debut. One of the songs on that album, "Drought Season" remains one of my favorite 40 songs of all time, with him and his cousin Kaveo spitting tongue-twisting game over a retooled version of Whodini's "One Love." Federal was originally released on his own label, Sick Wid' It Records, in 1992. But after the success of his single "Captain Save a Hoe," Jive didn't just sign E-40 and his crew, The Click - they also bought and redistributed most of their back catalog. So in 1994, Federal was rereleased, reaching a mass audience for the first time. But unfortunately for them, Jive gave them an inferior version.

There are some superficial changes to the artwork and the sequencing... "Carlos Rossi" originally appeared early on the album; but on the Jive version, it's tucked all the way towards the end of side 2. But there are far more important, and disappointing, alterations to consider than that type of stuff.

The high energy "Hide-N-Seek," a first person narrative which has E-40 running in fear from the police. It features a classic old school horn sample married with hard drums and this piercing keyboard sound, giving the song a discordant, anxious vibe, mirroring 40's panic. At least it does on the original. On Jive's Federal, all that music has been removed and replaced with a much calmer, relaxed beat with soft vibes and some very g-funk keys. It's not bad, but it absolutely fails to replicate the fast-paced adrenaline rush of the original version. It would've been more fitting for a nice story of how E-40 met a girl he liked, rather than a high-speed chase.

Speaking of a story about how E-40 met a girl he liked, how about "Tanji II?" Don't remember that one? That's because Jive pulled it off their version of the album completely. This is really unfortunate, because, after "Drought Season," it's my favorite moment of Federal. It's got E-40 kicking an unusual, high speed, start-and-stop flow with a fun, stuttering hook "T-T-T-T-Tanji; I picked her up at a house party. T-T-T-Tanji!" The instrumental, with it's pop guitar samples, is definitely out of the ordinary for any music coming out of the west coast at that time, let alone from The Click's camp. And his word choice has a lot of unexpected humor to it ("radical!" he declares). Unless you got the Jive version, of course, in which case you got nuthin'. I guess they figured audiences being introduced to E-40 for the first time would be confused by the "II" in the title.

And that's not the only missing song either. "Get 'Em Up" is another casualty of Jive's, an almost New York-style cut with a hardcore shouted chorus and freestyle battle rhymes. There's old jazz horns and vocal samples flipped into a rugged rap track you'd expect to hear TR Love rhyming over, rather than anyone from the V. Then there's "Rasta Funky Style," where E-40 joins in the short-lived tradition of the token raggamuffin song MCs used to put on their album. This is the most painless loss, but it's interesting to hear how E-40's unique style and voice marries to reggae - it certainly doesn't sound like anybody else's raggamuffin song. I assume both songs were removed because they featured E-40 trying something different and drifting out of his lane... Jive wanted a gangsta rapper, not a multi-talented artist flexing his versatility. But these songs go a long way to keeping this album from getting dull and "one note."

Given the luxury of an informed decision, I can't see why anybody would choose the 1994 release of Federal over the original '92... though of course I can understand why completists would feel compelled to pick up both, just for the alternate versions of "Hide-N-Seek." But for most people, who were just going to get one Federal, the Jive version just feels like a bit of a rip-off - a trap for the new fan who didn't know enough to hold out for the original. And while I can sort of guess why Jive made the decisions they did (except with "Hide-N-Seek" - I guess they just couldn't clear the sample?), it still just seems stupid... passing off a lot of potential sales of their album to Sick Wid' It's version, which was still out in stores at the same time, after all. Oh well.

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