If you haven’t noticed a paradigm shift in hip-hop drinking preferences recently, it’s time to wake up and smell the moscato. Whereas high-end champagne and Hennessy once dominated rap lyricism, artists these days are expanding their horizons—and making money by doing so.
The movement has its roots in some high-profile spats between hip-hop and big brands—in 2006, Jay Z famously called for a boycott of Cristal after the managing director of Louis Roederer made disparaging remarks about rap music. And now, increasingly, rappers aren’t just endorsing brands—they’re launching them on their own. Nicki Minaj is behind Myx Fusion, Ludacris is a co-owner of Conjure cognac, and Pharrell has Qream, just to name a few.
The latest emcee to step into the booze arena is Bay Area legend E-40, best known for his boisterous, slang-laden songs like “Gouda” and “Captain Save a Hoe.” His recently launched NorCal wine label, Earl Stevens Selections, includes a mango-infused, 18%-ABV fortified wine called Mangoscato, a straight moscato, and a Cabernet and Zinfandel blend named after E-40’s 2012 hit “Function.”
E-40—a.k.a Charlie Hustle, a.k.a. Fortywater, a.k.a. Earl Poppin’ His Collar, a.k.a. a bunch of other amazing nicknames—stopped by FWF HQ to sip some Function red and talk about his early experiences with wine, trips to Napa, and why hip-hop has embraced moscato.
A lot of people know you from rapping about Carlo Rossi. How did you end up making your own wine?
Man, I love wine man—I love drinking alcohol. But wine is what I prefer. You can drink it throughout the day, and my days be long, bruh. Hard alcohol can shorten your day. You might get tired or sleepy, then go out and you don’t have the type of energy you had when you took your first sips of it, you know? Wine have you fine, not trippin’ too much—just relaxed, you know what I mean? It’s real bossy. I just wanted to have the opportunity to have my own wine. A lot of times we got ideas, especially in the inner city, but we don’t have outlets. I ran across an outlet and—bingo.
Do you remember when you first started drinking wine?
I don’t think I should say that. [Laughs] You want me to say it? Kids, don’t do this…I was 15. I was sneaking into mom’s wine—she had Carlo Rossi up there on the [cabinet], and I snuck into it. There it is.
What else were you drinking when you first started tasting wine?
It was cheap wine, be honest with you—White Port, Thunderbird, Wild Irish Rose, MD 20/20, things of that matter. Along with Carlo Rossi, which is affordable. But then I started learning the tastes of wine and all that good stuff, from Opus One to Rodney Strong. I figured if there could be a Rodney Strong, or a Robert Mondavi, or a Kendall Jackson, why can’t there be an Earl Stevens? And I had to push that thang in gear, mayng—you feel? Motion like the ocean.
On that track “Carlo Rossi,” which came out in 1993, you said, “The key to set ya free, so give it a try / But don’t mistake it for Chablis unless you already high.” I’ve never heard anyone else reference Chablis on a record. Even though you were drinking cheap wine, were you paying attention to the styles and looking into them?
Yeah, I knew about Chablis, but it wasn’t what we was drinkin’. We was drinkin’ Rhine. When they brought us back Chablis, it was like, you fucked up. Chablis is the nastiest out of all of ‘em, you feel me? But people like it, it’s still around. It’s a drier wine.
I figured if there could be a Rodney Strong, or a Robert Mondavi, or a Kendall Jackson, why can’t there be an Earl Stevens?
Being in the Bay Area, you’re a stone’s throw from Napa and Sonoma. Did that proximity draw you in a bit?
Yeah, you know when I was a young man, wifey would go out to Napa to do the wine train and do the wine tastings. I pretty much know my wines. I like full-bodied reds. And moscato is always good, especially for me when it’s 18% alcohol. A lot of females like moscato. I think that they like it because it sits right on the palate and it’s strong, so you don’t have to drink as much. It’ll have you right, right away.
Why do you think hip-hop has embraced moscato so much? Everyone from Nicki Minaj to Waka Flaka has rapped about it, and now you’ve got your very own moscato.
It just happened, man—my timing is right. You know, a lot of times, I just let G.O.D. take the steering wheel. They used to drink wine in the Biblical days. [Laughs] It’s a fruit from the vine, man. I don’t know too many people that’s violent off wine, do you?
I’ve seen it happen.
Yeah…you can get perkin’ off wine, I’m trippin’. [Laughs] I’m perkin’ right now! But not violent.
Some 18% mango moscato might do it do you.
I’m used to drinking hard alcohol as well. But this [wine] is perfect for me man. ‘Cause I love wine, and it goes good with food. Have you ever been to a restaurant, like a Ruth’s Chris or something like that, and you look around and everybody’s got their steak, but guess what else they got? Some wine to go with it. Whether it’s red, whether it’s moscato, whether it’s a Chardonnay, they got a glass of wine right with their steak. This is protocol.
I can drink in moderation, but sometimes I can drink in ignoration.
The food is good for keeping yourself in check.
Me personally, I can drink in moderation, but sometimes I can drink in ignoration. I say, “I’m not an alcoholic I’m just a serious social drinker.” [Laughs] You know we socialize and we drink right? I do a lot of socializing.
I’ve always thought you must know more cheeses than any other rapper, since you’ve popularized so much slang for money—gouda, mozzarella, cheddar. Ever think of making a cheese to go with the wine?
Somebody said that recently! Hmm…there’s just so many cheeses, I don’t know what to say—that’s a whole other arena. Because you know, they got some old cheese. You know you go up in Whole Foods or somewhere like that and they smell like feet—yeah, they be stinkin’! [Laughs] So I don’t know, man. But, let me think…probably a white cheddar. A white cheddar would probably go good with some wine. Definitely.
What were your impressions of Napa Valley when you started going?
Napa is tycoon shit—some of the best food in the world, some of the best chefs, the best wine. Something about the 707—can you say the 707 backwards? It’s the same. That’s where I’m from, too—not Napa but Vallejo, same area code. We grow some of the best, um, grass on earth, if you get my drift, in our county. It’s the soil—Napa’s got some of the best wine. No need to get intimidated. People come from all over the world, man. I tripped out—I think Barry Weiss was out in Napa for some wedding or something with his family. Tycoons come from all over to come to Napa. It’s smooth.
Have you found ways of getting friends or fans into wine?
[This wine will] turn ‘em around right now. A lot of my fans is grown, and a lot of them drink hard liquor. It’s like, ‘Why this boss shit?’ It’s real classy. And what does Dr. Oz say? Three glasses of wine a week? Nothin’ wrong with that. Drink some wine, get some antioxidants.