Review Summary: Tha Hall of Game is a transition album for E-40, reacting to his newfound place as a mainstream artist. It is a celebratory, grateful, often times humbled record, but is over reliant on guest appearances, and is extremely frontloaded.
Tha Hall of Game is Vallejo, California rapper E-40's (Earl Stevens) 3rd solo LP, and his second record since receiving his landmark (at the time of course) $3 million contract from Jive records, after gaining fame from selling independent tapes and CD's out of the trunk of his car through Cali and the South. 40, his group The Click (consisting of his cousin B-Legit and siblings D-Shot and Suga T), and his label, Sick Wid It Records, were the forefathers of the independent rap scene, and had finally hit the big time, with 1995's "Sprinkle Me" becoming a major hit. But while 40's innovative, wildly unorthodox approach to rapping displayed a creativity that no one has ever really been able to duplicate, it also drew criticism from more traditional (re: East Coast) rap fans, and 40 has carried that chip on his shoulder his entire career. "Record Haters" opens this album with 40 addressing comments that former NBA star Rasheed Wallace, and Nas protégé AZ had said about him, basically that he didn't deserve the million plus sales he had achieved at that point. 40's really just defending himself and his hustle, and seems more shocked and offended than angry. He also has actual, real life singer/rapper/cannibal (look.it.up.) Big Lurch singing the hook, stating in reference to those "haters": "N!66@s like thaaat shouldn't be livinnnn". No wonder no one responded back.
After getting that off his chest, the first half of this record is 40 celebrating his new, well earned fame and fortune. There are good vibes throughout, and 40 attributes his success to the pimps, players and macks of the Bay Area, who taught him how to be unique and clever with his language, and approach to life in general. Another certified insane (seriously) person, Mac Minister, anoints 40 as the chosen one to use this language in the rap world (skit before "I Wanna Thank You"). This is a big part of understanding the lyrics, as a lot of the words Earl says are phrases unique to the Bay Area and can sound like a different language if one is not already familiar with it. E-40 also possesses an elastic flowing ability, able to transition from slower styles to lighting quick fills in the blink of an eye, and even random high pitched shouts and sidebars. When he raps fast, it's almost like a drunk mumbling to himself, but the way he's able to connect rhymes schemes with this technique can be mind blowing. His first verse on the Bay Area hoe down "My Drinking Club" has phenomenal examples of this as he fits extra wordy lines like "Might not know how to read or write but I sure do know how to count moneeeyyyy" into a single bar. A bevy of producers (Ant Banks, Mike Mosley, Studio Ton & Rick Rock) and guests contribute to the project, allowing 40 to make use of all these different styles he has. The first single, the party anthem "Rapper's Ball" marks 40's first collabo with Bay Area legend Too $hort, who he still works with to this day, and the two of course sound perfect together. I love the way the beat keeps getting modified during the verses to fit the 2 rappers opposing styles. A relaxed 2Pac drops a solid verse on "Million Dollar Spot" along with B-Legit. 40's infant son even raps on "Growin' Up", asking his pops to "hook me up like a tow truck", as 40 muses about his childhood. Mike Mosley uses a great vocal sample from "Paul Revere" to give life to the introspective "The Story".
If things basically stopped there, we would have 40's best album for sure, but the record starts to drop off in the second half. "Ring It" features a fine performance from 40, but guests Keak da Sneak and Spice 1 (both talented rappers in their own right) sound so horribly out of place of the breezy, summery Tone Capone beat. 40, The Luniz and Celly Cel have great verses on "Circumstances" but the hook is one of a few distractingly bad ones on here. B-Legit and 40 sound comfortable flowing off each other on "I Like What you Do to Me", but the Cameo sample is nails on a chalkboard. The somber , Mike Mosley produced second single "Things'll Never Change" is based around mid 80's rock hit "The Way it Is" and could have been MUCH worse, but still is a bit ham-fisted, despite the classic "If I applied for some work, let's make a bet:/I'd get denied cuz I don't know about the internet" line. The swampy, southern flavored "It is what It Is" is producer Studio Ton's best work on the second half, as he is the main producer towards the end. It's the only song on the album with violent references and Sick Wid It narrator Kaveo fittingly states at the end of the track "Oh, I see (pronounced O.I.C.), it is what is was, and what it was has just been told. Ain't no sense in saving leftovers, that's yesterday's thing. Roll with the right now and everything's gonna be 'is what it is'". Letting go of the bullshit is a big part of growing up. Tha Hall of Game represents E-40's ascension to a new tax bracket, it's a celebration bitches. This is him preparing to take his business not only beyond the streets, but beyond rap.