Releasing two separate albums on the same day is not something that has been done often in hip-hop (Nelly released his LPs Sweat and Suit on September 14, 2004). Then again, the Bay Area ambassador E-40 is not the typical rapper. Over the span of his nearly 20-year career, 40 has rarely been one to adhere to trends, yet he has maintained a faithful, hardcore fan base. For his 11th and 12th solo studio albums (Revenue Retrievin’: Day Shift and Revenue Retrievin’: Night Shift), 40 chose to take the independent route and stick to the script.
Whereas Day Shift embodies a melodic, accessible sound, a back-to-basics aesthetic is clear on Night Shift. As one of the first rappers—if not the first rapper—to ever rhyme in detail about the drug trade, 40 reminisces and flexes his coke-rap muscles on both LPs. The Rick Rock–produced “Over the Stove,” where he raps, “If this rap shit don’t work, mayne/I’m back over the stove,” is one of the highlights of Night Shift. You’ll find similar venom on Day Shift, even though it’s designed to be the least sonically aggressive of the two.
Despite an unorthodox style, 40 has been able to work well with a variety of different artists throughout the years. There is an abundance of guest appearances on both discs. His guest list on Night Shift includes Bay Area stars like Messy Marv and The Jacka (“He’s a Gangsta”) and Ya Boy, Turf Talk and Cousin Fik (“Knock ’Em Down Music”). It is more-mainstream acts, like Gucci Mane (“Whip It Up”) and Too $hort (“Bitch”), who lend their talents to Day Shift. At times, it works out perfectly, like on the aforementioned songs, but at other times, E-40 outshines his company. On Night Shift’s Jazze Pha–produced “Can’t Stop the Boss,” 40 is joined by Too $hort and Snoop Dogg on what sounds like an updated, late-’90s West Coast collaboration, but the song works despite a subpar verse from Snoop.
Unlike on 40’s last album, The Ball Street Journal, catering to women is not a prevailing theme here. Aside from Night Shift’s “Stilettos & Jeans,” featuring singer Bobby V, most of the female topics on both albums involve sex (“Fuck You Right”) and pimping (“Attention”). The subject matter does not completely revolve around busting guns, pimpin’ hoes and selling dope. As an elder statesman in the game, 40 laces both albums with his brand of ghetto gospel and precautionary tales. Night Shift’s “Let Go & Let God” features three generations of 40’s family—his father, Earl Stevens, and son, Droop-E, produced the record—and OG sensibilities. Day Shift’s “I’ma Teach Ya How to Sell Dope,” featuring Turf Talk, is sure to be an audience favorite. Though 40 talks slick (“Reached in my pocket and pulled out a thousand dollars and a zone/I got a digital-scale application on my iPhone”), he is equally effective at sharing the pitfalls of the dope game without overly glorifying it.
On both albums, 40 is in the zone when he’s in storytelling mode. Day Shift’s “The Art of Story Tellin’” is somewhat of an updated version of “Bring the Yellow Tape” (off 1995’s The Mail Man EP). Much like the original, the song finds 40 hunting down a rival, only this time he has more high-tech ways of finding the culprits (“Go to they MySpace page/I bet you one of them rap/Bet you he got a picture with all of them in the back”).
Both releases have their hits and misses, but overall the music remains balanced. Longtime E-40 fans will find more than a few songs to mob to, while the decidedly West Coast sound may alienate newer listeners. However, at the end of the day (or night), a hustler like 40 will retrieve his paper either way. —Branden J. Peters