40oz Beats: A Brief History of Malt Liquor in Hip Hop
From Eazy-E to Wu-Tang Clan, hip hop performers have a long history of celebrating the low quality, cheap and strong booze.
Watching “Olde English”, Jimmy B’s recent ode to forties, where the Toronto rapper shares a crate of 40oz OE with his buddies, we were reminded of malt liquors place in the history of hip-hop culture.
When Jimmy says, “I’m drunk as fuck I need another cup” he tells no lie. At a hefty 8.0% abv (alcohol by volume) the Canadian OE will get Jimmy and his fellas squashed. But whether it’s Olde English 800, Mickey’s Malt, Colt 45 or St Ides, two things have always attracted young and poor urban kids to malt liquor, price and potency. One low and the other high. These are also the reasons why forties have often been celebrated by hip hop stars from 2Pac, Ice Cube, N.W.A, Cypress Hill, Eazy-E, Snoop, Wu-Tang Clan, Warren G, Nate Dogg, and Eminem.
The history of malt liquor dates back to the 1930s when during the Depression and later becaue of rationing during World War II, brewers didn’t have enough malt to make beer. Through the mid 1960s, malt liquor companies began marketing towards an African-American market and by the late ’80s, 40s were showing up in many rap songs and Eazy-E had an entire song dedicated to Olde English, called “8 Ball,” on N.W.A.’s first album.
Malt liquors heyday was in the early 90s and St Ides was the undisputed king of the 40oz when some of the most influential rappers of the day including Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, Ice Cube, the Geto Boyz and Wu-Tang Clan appeared in commercials celebrating the sweet tasting swill.
In a 2013 article 40 Ounces to Freedom, Besha Rodell says that the astronomical success of the 40 was short-lived. “Rappers moved on to cognac and Cristal, Ice Cube moved on to Hollywood, Snoop Dogg moved on to…Hot Pockets. Many cities actually banned the sale of 40s. You can still buy them, of course, but the 40’s share of the market, compared to the 1990s, is negligible.”
Though popularity and sales for malt liquor may have wained in recent years, the 40oz bottle remains an important part of hip hop lore.
Eazy E - “8 Ball”
“Police on my draws, I have to pause, 40 ounce in my lap and it's freezing my balls,” slurs Eazy on NWA’s 1987 debut Panic Zone.
“Old East 800 Yeah that’s my brand, Take it in a bottle 40, Quart, or Can,” says Eazy before he does some drunk driving around Compton, stops at a liquor store and almost shoots someone or in NWA parlance “show a nigga what time it was”. He later goes to a party where he is “drunk as hell” and three girls complain about his boozy breath. He calls them all “bitch” and then gets in a fight. All in a days work for Mr. E.
In 1987, Minott Wessinger a descendant of an established Portland brewing family began brewing a new malt liquor—St. Ides. The drink became popular in the hip hop community but it became really popular in 1988, when the San Francisco-based McKenzie River Corporation launched the St. Ides hip-hop ad campaign.
Featuring everyone from WuTang Clan, Snoop, Notorious B.I.G., Eric B. and Rakim to Snoop Dogg, the advertisements almost became their own hip-hop genre. Perhaps Ice Cube put it best when he said, “Get your girl in the mood quicker, get your jimmy thicker with St. Ides malt liquor”?
Malt liquor became so synonymous with hip hop culture during the 90s that it found it’s way in the popular hip hop parody movies of the time. St Dies and Menace Ice that parodied St Ides and Ole English 800 appeared in Don’t Be a Menace to South Central. St Ives in Menace II Society and TAP aka “Take a Piss” was in Chris Rock’s CB4.
Tha Alkaholiks Use 40oz Bottles as Musical Instruments
Hedonistic LA hip-hop trio Tha Alkaholiks introduce the 40 oz bottle as a percussive/wind instrument on their 2001 album X.O. Experience. The sound of someone hurling at the end of the track is a nice touch.
Blackalicious – “40oz For Breakfast”
The classy and understated sample of Hookfoot’s “Is Anyone There” seems an odd choice for a track about a guy whose life goes to shit after he drinks forties for breakfast and loses his job.
Mobb Deep and their Dainey
The ingredients and method for making a Dainey are quite basic. Just get some St. Ides malt and some Pina Colada Champale, mix that shit together and get drunk as shit. Mobb Deep’s Prodigy says that St Ides alone couldn’t get him drunk enough so he mixed it with some foul sunscreen like pina colada mix to get his wastoid on.
“They got us on the BQE / Just to get a taste of that greenery / We took our smoke out to Coney Island / Posted up by the Himalaya / Pina Colada Champale mixed with Dainey / That’s St. Ides in Dun lingo / Spillin’ it on the floor for our dead people…”
Public Enemy – “One Million Bottlebags”
Not everyone was down with the strong yellow beer and the amount of alcohol advertising that it generated in inner city communities. Appearing on Public Enemy’s Apocalypse 91 …. The Enemy Strikes Black album "One Million Bottlebags" disses St. Ides after the company used Chuck D’s voice in a radio spot without his permission. Chuck D also sued St. Ides for $5 million.
Speaking to Melody Maker Chuck said. “"One Million Bottle Bags" is about the malt liquor problem in black America. Malt liquor has twice as much alcohol content and twice as many residues, that’s to say, waste products from regular beer. It’s fucked up beer, with more alcohol. Instead of making people laid back, it makes them hostile. And it leads to a lot of black on black violence in America. They have massive campaigns for this shit that are targeted at the black community. Malt liquors are made by the major brewers in this country. When they put their regular beers through the filters, all the excess bulls–t they push to the black community. And it’s been killing motherfuckers for the longest period.
Hood of Horror
In Snoop Dogg's 2006 Hood of Horror film, in a piece of cinema genius, some dude slips in the puddle of malt liquor that he poured out for his dead homie and falls face first onto his 40. He then comes back to life as a zombie, with the 40 still stuck in his face.