When Earl Stevens, aka rapper E-40, takes younger artists (he calls them "top hats") to a steak house, he tells them to look around. "What's on their table?" he asks. All the young rappers see wine-filled glasses. "You see why? You eat a steak, you drink wine with that."
Stevens has worked with the likes of hip-hop heavyweights Snoop Dogg, Raekwon, Tupac Shakur, T-Pain and Lil Jon during his 30-year rap career, but his growing wine business has been a solo mission that he hopes will get more people into wine.
"In [the music] industry, we tour and we're moving around and sometimes you need to take a break from spirits," Stevens told Wine Spectator. "I've spoken to big-name rappers and they drink tequila, vodka, Cognac and gin, but sometimes they want to take a break and drink wine."
Stevens launched Earl Stevens Selections in 2013; his debut red blend took its name from his 2012 hit single, “Function.” In the past five months, the platinum recording artist added four new sparkling wines sourced from California’s Lodi AVA, as well as a Prosecco and Prosecco rosé from Italy … all while putting the finishing touches on his 27th studio album, The Rule of Thumb.
Despite that Stevens’ stage name is a nod to a fondness for Olde English 40s, he says that his appreciation for wine started early in life. He grew up in Vallejo, Calif., not far from Napa Valley, and remembers watching his mother wind down with Carlo Rossi wines on the weekends after working multiple jobs to support four children in a single-parent household. In his early twenties, Stevens and his now-wife, Tracy, would head to wine country to taste.
"I was the only young rapper drinking wine," Stevens recalls. "We'd go to Napa all the time to do wine tours, and that's the first time I tasted Muscat and I was like, 'This is hella good!' I remember we'd go to Wente Vineyards in Livermore, and Mondavi and Kendall-Jackson in Napa." Stevens adds that Caymus has become one of his favorite wines.
Stevens has also recently inked a new distribution deal with Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits which will put Earl Stevens Selections in 41 states, up from 17 when the brand launched in 2013.
"I paid my dues, and I stayed working hard to get to this point and built up the demand to have [Southern] bring me in," Stevens said. "It's now catching on to other demographics, and when people taste wine, they know this is a rapper that cares about his products."
Stevens also sells rum, Bourbon and Cognac through his Tycoon label, and plans to add beer, tequila, vodka and gin to his repertoire in the near future. "I keep my ear to the street like a soccer cleat," Stevens, who loves to sprinkle rhymes in conversation, says. "I diversify my portfolio by staying consistently motivated and watching the game."
Relationship Status Bar-Wear from Absolut Vodka, ’Pose’ Star Mj Rodriguez and Sexpert Serena Kerrigan to Support GLAAD
Perhaps like no pandemic before, personal boundaries have varied wildly and have been difficult to read in 2021. Some folks are ready to mix and mingle, while others prefer keeping strangers at arm’s length, if not separated by a 10-foot pole …. It was with that in mind that Absolut vodka partnered with Emmy-nominated Pose actor and singer Michaela Jaé (Mj) Rodriguez and dating expert Serena Kerrigan to create the “Drink Responsibly, #MixResponsibly” campaign, which encourages everyone to proudly share their boundaries for socializing and dating. The campaign includes a merch line featuring one-liners like “I liked you better 6 ft apart,” “Summer’s hottest single” and “Ask now. Mix later.”
“We’re craving connection in a way we never have before,” said Kerrigan, whose Instagram dating show Let’s F**king Date has been a social media sensation during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Whether it’s emotional or physical, everyone is really trying to make up for lost time, so whether that’s merch or spontaneous first-date ideas, people are craving tools to enhance their experiences.”
According to a survey by Absolut, 59 percent of Americans under the age of 35 planned to go on in-person dates this summer, but 47 percent of them were not planning to talk about their social-distancing preferences beforehand. So, wearing a shirt that reads “I liked you better 6 ft apart” might just help get the point across.
And the limited-edition collection isn’t just a fun way to show off your summer status: Proceeds from the merchandise line go to GLAAD, which works to counteract negative media narratives against the LGBTQIA+ community and initiate cultural change. Absolut has partnered with GLAAD for more than 30 years, and has donated $450,000 since 2019.
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