Armed with promotion and distribution strategies borrowed from original DIY rapper Too $hort and the local hustling game, the Click — brothers and sisters from the Stevens family of Northern California — hit the streets of Vallejo and sold tapes direct, building a reputation that resulted in six-figure sales for their full-length releases. The group’s success was subsequently duplicated by other bootstrappers in the Bay Area and elsewhere, ushering in a groundswell of independent rap labels. It does need to be noted that the Click ultimately hooked itself up to a major label, which might seem discouraging to those in favor of Afrocentric self-determination. But grand issues of nationalism were never the concern of these business-sharp operators. Their success resulted from shrinking the distance between performers and fans, capturing around-the-way themes for local audiences-partying and parlaying, often pimping, but rarely polemicizing-over nostalgic early-’80s funk riffs. As a result, the “product” itself is often less interesting than the story behind it.
The Click got busy in 1990, and the irrepressibly earthy E-40 (Earl Stevens) quickly stood out. Federal introduced his clunky synthfunk and oddly cadenced raps, as well as his topical range-drinking wine (“Carlos Rossi”), ducking cops (“Outsmart the Po-Pos”) and making money (“Federal”). The Click’s Down and Dirty followed, with improved production values; E-40’s eccentricity blossoms into genuine fun on tracks like “Mr. Flamboyant.” Other members of the group — Suga T., D-Shot and B-Legit — have all released less engaging solo releases; D-Shot eventually branched out into A&R, assembling the wildly popular Boss Ballin’ compilation of Bay Area artists.
The Mail Man (eight songs, including a remix) is excellent. From the on-point clowning of “Practice Looking Hard” (“I got a mirror in my pocket and I practice looking hard!”) to the antics of the sensitive ’90s male hero (“Captain Save-a-Ho”), E-40 proves a unique lyrical stylist and a cheeky rap comic. In a Major Way continues his ascent, sparked by the duet with Suga T. (“Sprinkle Me”) and the dead homies tribute “1-Luv.” Spice 1 and 2Pac join E-40 for “Dusted ‘n’ Disgusted.” Meanwhile, back in the band, a bigger budget helped Game Related produce a hilarious ode to fortified wine (“Hurricane”) and E-40’s socio-biographical “World Went Crazy,” a sympathetic chronicle of ’80s East Bay ghetto life.