To borrow a forced metaphor from Ghostbusters, were E-40’s creative output a Twinkie, the past three years would have seen that Twinkie expand to the relative size and shape of the Chrysler Building.
The Bay Area MC released three albums last year alone, and if we’re counting this joint venture with Sick Wid It label-mate Too Short, he has produced a stunning five albums in calendar year 2012, not including guest spots and collaborations. Such a Herculean workload has to test the talent of even a rapper as seasoned as E-40, and History: Mob Music proves the unfortunate runt of E-40’s creative litter.
As always, E-40 festoons the album with a seamless concatenation of verses, which he delivers with trademarked enunciation and clarity. The themes on History, even more so than on E-40’s other recent works, concern themselves with warning young’uns about the hardness of life on the street and the inadvisability of taking a cavalier attitude toward its attendant risks. E-40 even contributes a few new pieces of slang to the album’s coffers. “My Stapler” provides a fine nickname for one’s handgun, and “Fire Fighter,” while coming up short as a song, at least gives us another euphemism for cumming on the sheets.
Too Short, a Bay Area legend whose renown nearly matches E-40’s, brings a similar professionalism to History. His charisma never quite matches Fizzle’s, but he phones in exactly zero of his 17 verses. He and E-40 comfortably trade rhymes on the topics of money-earning and womanizing, two occupations in which they have been partners in crime for the past twenty years.
Helmed by two MCs who have maintained their momentum well into their late careers, History had the potential to yield astounding results. The fact that it achieves only competence owes partly to its tendency to play things close to the vest. The LP’s beats, however, must shoulder a majority of the blame. With a couple of notable exceptions, they adhere to an inexplicable rock-bottom standard that diminishes E-40’s and Too Short’s significant returns.
Relegated entirely to mid-tempo thumping and composed of naught but thin synthesizers, the backing tracks on History just aren’t that interesting. Hooks are in short supply throughout the album, and with the exception of “If We Ain’t F**kin’,” not a single beat provides anything more than background noise.
It’s tough to tell whether or not this strategy was intentional. Neither E-40 nor Too Short seem perturbed by the canvas on which they have to work, and unobtrusive beats allow both to place their lyrics at the center of an otherwise empty stage.
With a combined 45 years of experience under their belts, the likelihood of E-40 and Too Short simply whiffing an album is practically nil. History: Mob Music provides a competent example of both MCs’ talents, but when dealing with artists still capable of surpassing expectations, mere competence can’t help but seem disappointing.