E-40 is one of the most exuberantly acrobatic rappers around, a stylist besotted with how non-lexicon coinage and contorted enunciation inflect words with new feeling and meaning. That spirit characterized his earliest work, as a member of Vallejo outfit The Click, and it defined an independent solo career that remains an aspirational beacon for Bay Area artists who want a regional empire with a national reputation. And the same sort of boundless invention helps explain why, after 25 solo releases, the appearance of 42-track double-album The D-Boy Diaries Books 1 & 2 is still an event.
D-Boy Diaries opener “Stack it to the Ceiling” puts E-40’s carnivalesque wordplay at the fore with its circuitous riffs on weed-spilling party fouls, adobo, and a sucker “so full of sh*t you like a dog park mark-ass poodle.” (The last bit unfurls like one word.) Though there’s no local tribute-track here quite as charming as “707,” from 2014’s Sharp on All 4 Corners, features from upstart rappers (and signees to 40’s Sick Wid It label) abound: Vallejo’s Nef the Pharaoh gamely guests alongside Mistah F.A.B. on “Bring Back the Sideshow.” And Funktown’s Ezale — whose 2016 DJ Fresh collaboration The Tonite Show deserves note of its own — reveals a relatively understated, breathy flow on hyphy throwback “Straight to the Point.” (You just have to endure a typically wooden G-Eazy verse first.)
Radio hopeful “Savage” features one of those strangulated hooks popularized by Fetty Wap, but it lacks the singular charisma of E-40’s recent hits such as “Choices (Yup).” That’s hardly to the overall detriment of D-Boy Diaries, a generously stuffed album from an artist who could coast on clout if he wanted. And it bears mention that 40’s delivery in recent years feels even more embodied than it once did; he draws vigor and breath from chambers most humans aren’t blessed with.