Born: In Vallejo, Calif., in 1967.
Sounds like: A sugar-tongued gangster with a flair for the dramatic.
For fans of: Too Short, Rappin' 4-Tay, Spice 1, 3x Krazy.
Latest release: History: Function Music and History: Mob Music, a pair of collaborative albums with fellow Bay Area legend Too Short, are full of hard-hitting street and club anthems.
Why you care: Earl Stevens, better known as E-40, is a character. He speaks in a flamboyant, Bay Area-based lingo, full of sayings like "game doofy," "sprankle me" and the mainstream-adopted "fa shizzle." He often raps offbeat in a slurred voice, as if his salivary glands produce maple syrup. He wears a gold-encrusted pig around his neck, and used to own a Fat Burger. He even once saved the life of Notorious B.I.G. when he prevented a gang of Sacramento goons from opening fire on the rapper's limo after a concert. What gets lost in all this, though, is that E-40 is a tremendously reliable MC who has been releasing quality albums for two decades—whether it be his early gangster-funk records, his hyphy period ("Tell Me When to Go" remains his biggest hit) or his new street albums. What's even more remarkable is the sheer scope of his new projects—his last one contained nearly 60 songs—and his consistency. The root of this is a true sincerity for the people and places he reps in his music, as well as a willingness to always be different. Sprankle me, 40.