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My Ghetto Report Card

I never used to be a fan of E-40. His speed rapping bored me and his beats sounded like warmed-over G-funk circa 1995. But ever since I heard his new album, My Ghetto Report Card, I’ve been hooked on the hyphy. For those who don’t know, hyphy is a new Bay Area rap movement characterized by hyperactive beats reminiscent of house or techno music more than funk or soul. Originally Bay Area slang for getting drunk, high or crazy, hyphy is now considered “crunk” for the West Coast.

Fittingly, it’s Lil Jon, the pioneer (or at least its most public figure) of crunk, who produces a good chunk of My Ghetto Report Card, along with Rick Rock and E-40’s teenage son, Droop-E. The album’s first single, “Tell Me When To Go,” is representative of the hyphy sound, with big marching band bass drums, handclaps and a synthesizer that sounds like the noise you hear when you die in Super Mario Bros. Anyone who’s ever used the computer program Fruity Loops is bound to recognize a lot of the sounds used on My Ghetto Report Card, since so many of them have been made famous by Acid House producers.

But the simplicity of the beats becomes irrelevant when you hear how well E-40’s speed rapping is complemented by the hyphy beats. On tracks like “Muscle Cars” and “Gouda,” the man’s baritone voice is as percussive as the big bass drums in the mix. And on “Gouda,” 40 raps over pizzicato strings that sound like the ones used in the shower scene in Hitchcock’s “Pyscho,” creating the hip-hop equivalent of an aural panic attack. The track’s chorus brilliantly uses the sound of a money-counting machine as percussion, as E-40 quickly counts up using numerals of five.

The album’s supporting players are just as good, especially Keak Da Sneak, whose verses sound like the angry mutterings of a corner drunk yet never stray far from the beat. Other stand-outs include B-Legit and Stressmatic on “Gouda,” Bun-B and Juelz Santana on “White Gurl,” and Too Short on “Yee.” But it would almost be a crime for any rapper to spit a lackluster verse over such wild beats; the hyphy sound goes a long way in energizing Bay Area rappers too used to rapping over cowbells and cheesy-sounding clavinets.

However, the album does lose steam around track 17, with the misogynistic triple threat of “Just Fuckin,” “Gimme Head” and “She Says She Loves Me” bashing listeners over the head with nastiness. Why exactly the album was sequenced in such a way as to have three sex songs back to back is beyond me, but at least it allows listeners to stop the CD at track 16 (the last song, “Happy to Be Here,” is one of those lame inspirational songs featured on every rap album ever made).

The most exciting thing about My Ghetto Report Card is how uncompromising and unrelenting it is. Like the screwed and chopped sound of Texas rap, Bay Area hyphy is a regional movement that hopes to branch out to the mainstream, but refuses to sacrifice what makes it unique. Like underground dance music, hyphy is cheap and easy to make, but that’s what makes it so refreshing. During a time when it seems like rap is having a major personality crisis, the hyphy sound has come into the building with a boatload of personality and nerve.