Hyphy rooled, running a game more shameless than hip-pop had seen for years. Proudly moronic yet carelessly word-drunk, its let-the-boys-be-boys mayhem rarely devolving to macho dick-waving, hyphy took crunk out the strip club and into the parking lot, where it encouraged mindless infractions against auto safety. In a scene where “dumb” was the height of praise, “Tell Me When To Go” may just have been the goddam dumbest — take it from that Run-DMC sample intoning “DUMB DUMB DUMB DUMB” like it had just struck stoopid o’clock.
Lil Jon tweaked his tricks to fit the scene–a rhythm track that could be the muffled banging of oil drums, a resonant electronic chirp serving as a MacGuffin of a hook. But the main attraction was the Humpty-ish enunciation, rubbery vowels, and overall splatter-not-flow of E-40, a dude who’d been kicking around what he’d dubbed the “Yay Area” since the early ’90s, releasing cult-adored albums I swear I’ll give another shot someday. “Jesus Christ had dreads so shake ’em,” he begins, and before you can worry he’s gonna start debating the color of Moses with you, he instead sketches a gonzo Biblical cartoon: “Imagine all the Hebrews going dumb/ Dancing on top of chariots and turning tight ones.” And after Keak da Sneak yadadameans his welcome way into the mix, we climax with a call-and-response lexicon of hyphy slang (from “ghost-ride the whip” to “go stupid, go) whose instructions at no point suggest attempting physiological improbabilities with your vagina.
Hyphy drew good press from less likely sources, like NPR and Slate, where Jody Rosen contrasted it favorably with an anti-dance movement that “tight-assed” hits like “Disco Inferno” and “Lean Back” had spearheaded. But the industry had other plans. E-40’s sly T-Pain collaboration “U and Dat” (“booty,” dat is) hit bigger than “Tell Me When To Go,” which (along with the unfortunate failure of the electrosqueak goof that was “Turf Drop”) must have convinced somebody that the rapper needed pairing with the likes of Akon to remain viable. As for hyphy itself, for all the good times it produced and goodwill it attracted, it never quite swept the nation — just gave it the serious dusting it needed.