This affable Bay Area rapper has toiled in the no-man's land separating hip-hop's under- and overground for the past decade. His stature among fellow MCs and his unflagging work ethic mark him as an industry heavyweight, yet commercially he's never given stars like 50 Cent or the Game cause to worry. My Ghetto Report Card, E-40's 12th CD, might change that: Last week it debuted at No. 3 on Billboard's Hot 200, a high-altitude placement that likely reflects his collaboration with platinum-plated crunk kingpin Lil Jon, who produced about half of Report Card (and executive-produced the other half).

Jon and E-40 make for a delightful (if not exactly dynamic) duo, Jon's patented shock-jock minimalism pairing neatly with 40's laid-back Cali-born flow. In "Muscle Cars," over a spooky beat that approximates a tire bouncing down a deserted alley, 40 details the fun in making your vehicle's trunk sound like "King Kong and Godzilla back there thumping"; in "White Gurl" the rapper romances a lady named cocaine while Jon fights for his right to party (and wins). E-40's fellow Bay Area vet Too $hort shows up for "Yee," where 40 describes getting pulled over by Johnny Law. Maybe next time he'll have a gold record to flash the fuzz.

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