Eye of the Sluricane: A Dispatch from an E-40 Bottle Signing

E-40 slinging Sluricane in Walnut Creek.

Earl Stevens, better known as E-40, the Vallejo-born rap ambassador, really needs no introduction. His inimitable flow set him apart from his contemporaries in the ‘90s; in the mid-aughts, he heralded the hyphy movement’s arrival on the Billboard Hot 100, the Bay’s all-too-short moment in the mainstream sun.

The hip-hop icon's entrepreneurial endeavors are perhaps less well-known: a line of energy drinks called 40 Water, a brief dalliance with a diamond-encrusted toothpick manufacturer, and ownership of local Wingstop and Fatburger franchises (Vallejo, Benicia, Pleasant Hill).

His promotional prowess is at its best, though, when he's simply marketing E-40, the personality -- and a thoroughly Bay Area one at that. Take the Golden State Warriors-specific remix of “Choices (Yup),” the call-and-response single that became synonymous with the team’s joyful ascent to the NBA Championship title a few weeks ago. You know the one: Draymond Green referenced it in his delightfully tipsy interview during the championship parade. The original, uncensored version of the song is decidedly NSFW; somehow it’s also become a network television-friendly rally cry for the ages. This is, ironically, a sign of Stevens’ top-shelf success: He's so beloved, he doesn’t have to choose.

Regardless -- as the song goes -- everybody got choices. And today you have chosen to wait in line for two hours at a BevMo! in Walnut Creek to get your hands on a signed bottle of E-40’s latest venture. It's called Sluricane, and it looks like this:

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Released last November, the pre-bottled rum cocktail is a play on the classic New Orleans "Hurricane," which is also the title of an E-40 and the Click track from 1995. The beverage clocks in at 18 percent ABV, which makes the lyric “Sluricane, strong enough to start an engine, mayne” very appropriate. Its other main feature is that it is red. Bright, unnatural red. Photos don't really capture it. Think Robitussin, Red 40, and nuclear waste. We'll get to the taste in a minute.

I am headed to Walnut Creek for today's bottle signage!!! 2940 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, CA 94596 July 9th ( 10am - 2pm ) E40Sluricane

Posted by E-40 on Thursday, July 9, 2015

10:30am: Outside BevMo!, in a business park next to an IHOP and a Walgreens, Sluricane enthusiasts have formed a quickly-growing line. The group skews toward guys in their early 20s, though the few groups of girls are louder. There are a couple families, lots of Warriors jerseys, and some people clutching E-40 records. The pros have brought their own pens -- metallic gold Sharpies.

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Security guards mutter into walkie-talkies. Every five minutes a regular customer who just wants to buy some wine approaches, confused. Eventually a BevMo! employee is tasked with identifying these customers and escorting them safely inside, past the tomfoolery of the Sluricane line. Sometimes this employee misses:

Employee: “Excuse me, sir, the store is open, you can come right this way if you’re not…”
Unassuming-looking elderly man in khaki shorts: “No, no, I’m here for the Sluricane.”
Everyone else: *CHEERS LOUDLY*

10:58am: Nearly a half-hour has passed and you have moved roughly two feet. Time to poll the neighbors. The girls in front of you with impeccable manicures drove down from Vacaville this morning after seeing a post on Facebook. They have not yet tried Sluricane. The guy behind you introduces himself as an MC in the rap trio Fort Knocks, up here from L.A. for a couple of shows. He gives you a CD. He doesn’t call women bitches in his raps, he wants you to know. Also, he and E-40 go back. And despite his past, he says, E-40’s a family man.

Okay, but what about Sluricane? He hasn't tried it either. “I drink more, like, gin and tonics.”

IMG_7217-e1436507885128-400x53311:30am: Finally indoors, in a line that snakes around the room. Everyone has been tempted by the drinking accessories at BevMo! before, but have you ever had the luxury of staring at them for hours on end? There is an entire line of wine glasses, cocktail trinkets and “party buckets” all designed to look like red Solo cups, when in fact they are sturdy, dishwasher-safe and reusable. The company is called Red Cup Living, and its motto is “It’s not just a cup. It’s a lifestyle.” Consider that for a while.

11:16am: A store manager surveys the scene. They’ve been planning this for about a week, he says, including hiring security and having people from corporate come in to help. Is this a bigger crowd than he was expecting? Do they do this kind of thing often?

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“Not that often,” he says. “About five years ago, Dan Aykroyd did a vodka signing, and that was…” his eyes widen. It was bigger than this, you gather. He doesn’t want to insult anybody.

11:42am: Stand in front of a greeting card display for so long that you remember you actually need to buy a birthday card for your mother. Pick out the dumbest one. The first customers have begun to return from their E-40 experience, traipsing past the line toward the checkout aisle gripping bottles of blindingly red Sluricane, grinning, dazzled, like they just got off a rollercoaster.

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11:59am: In a store full of beverage experts, you have yet to hear anyone actually discuss the merits of Sluricane. Ask one employee if he has tried it. Would he recommend it? What would he pair it with? He has not tried it. He hands you off to another employee, his best bet for having tried it. He is wrong.

“It’s a rum cocktail, yeah? Sweet?” says Employee #2 , making a face. He says he came in at 5am today to barricade the line area “like Disneyland.” Look closer. Said barricade is made of Sluricane.

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12:15pm: It can’t be an accident that one of the displays they have the line pass is a wall of Earl Stevens Selections, a.k.a. E-40’s wines, currently available in three varietals (Moscato, Mangoscato, and “Function” Red Blend), all of which surprised the wine industry last year by selling exceedingly well. He will not be signing these today.

Sluricane, for its part, has racked up some dynamic reviews in its eight months on the market. From the BevMo! website:

12:28pm: With only one couple in front of you in line, the employee closest to the holy grail announces that you will have 30 seconds with Stevens. That is plenty of time, of course, and yet you still panic.

Because here is the thing: You have tried Sluricane. You have willingly consumed Sluricane on three separate occasions since its release last year, given it three separate chances. Each time it has failed. Sluricane tastes like suffocatingly over-scented Banana Boat sunscreen, Jolly Ranchers, lipgloss and battery acid. It tastes like something a witch would give children in a fairytale to mask the taste of poison. If Strawberry Shortcake were an alcoholic, she would wake up in a pool of Sluricane. You love E-40, but you cannot tell E-40 you love Sluricane, because Sluricane is f--ing terrible.

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12:35pm. It’s over in an instant. He is warm, deep-voiced and friendly, and happily signs your mother’s birthday card in addition to two bottles, adding that you’re a good daughter. “I try,” you say. “Hey, and also -- I know you like to eat. What would you pair Sluricane with, food-wise?”

He laughs. “Well, it’s a cocktail, not a wine, so -- I think it goes with everything," he says. He thinks. “Pasta?”

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Float toward the checkout lanes. Pasta. Sluricane is getting another go-around. This time, with pasta.

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