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Papa Gangsta

Houston rapper E.S.G.'s evolution from street thug to family man.

There was some construction being done in the front of the house, so maybe someone knocked over a ladder or something, he remembers thinking.

He was in the back of the house when he heard the noise. BOOM! BOOM!

That's when a man charged in, wearing a ski mask, pointing a gun and shouting. It was 1995, and he was there to rob rapper E.S.G., short for Everyday Street Gangsta. The Louisiana native had been in Houston all of about four years.

He'd built up some national buzz as a rapper, due in large part to the massive success of his single "Swangin' and Bangin'." It would prove to be the pioneering single off a pioneering album, the first officially released LP to prominently feature music that had been Screwed.

The man was there because he assumed E.S.G. was hiding a bunch of work in his home. Work is slang for ye'. Ye' is slang for cocaine.

E.S.G. pantomimes holding a gun. Now it's 2009, and he's standing in the parking lot of a Chili's in Pearland. He puts his hand-gun right up to our nose and stares down, adamantly, for effect. That shit works.

It's 1995, again. Not including E.S.G., there are three other men in the room. The man with the mask and the gun and the shouting shoots one of the others in the head. Somehow, it doesn't kill him. It does take a chunk of meat off the crown of his skull, and blood is everywhere.

The man now takes to pistol-whipping E.S.G. That's when there's a tussle, that's when they're fighting for the gun. A few seconds later, the man is dead. Three bullets from his own gun have ripped apart his abdomen.

It's the only time E.S.G. has ever killed a man.

"For about the next 30 days, even if something like a fan came on, I was like..." he says, flinching. "After I got locked up, though, I was cool."

E.S.G. was eventually hit with a murder charge for the shooting, but that's not why he was incarcerated. He had been cited for a parole violation for dealing drugs a few weeks earlier. The murder charge didn't stick; the parole violation did.

He was sentenced to prison for two and a half years. The judge postponed his imprisonment for a few weeks so he could finish the album he was working on. When he got out, all of the money that had been made off of the two of his albums that were released while he was inside — Ocean of Funk sold over 100,000 copies; Sailin' Da South sold over 200,000 — had dried up.

Fuck, man.

It's 2009, again. E.S.G. is still in the Chili's parking lot. He's answering questions mostly about his latest album, Everyday Street Gangsta, but also about fatherhood, the Screwed Up Click, freestyling and how one has to transition from a "street nigga" to a "family man" when the time comes.

His nine-year-old son is pattering around, making sure to keep his dad within arm's reach. He's always around, like a tiny, squeaky bodyguard. He's been introduced as "Killa B." He spells it so you get it right.

"It's K-I-L-A, a space and then a B," he says. "So it's one L?" we ask.

"Huh? No. K-I-L-L-A, a space, then a B," he reiterates. When E.S.G. parked his car, Killa B popped out of the back seat, even though no one occupied the front seat. He's a charming kid.

Ostensibly, little has changed about E.S.G. since his name first rang out. His face is still young and fresh-looking, and his hairline is still full and clean-cut. Even after nearly two decades in Houston, his Louisiana tongue, that pinch that bunches up the ends of sentences into high-pitched bursts, is still prevalent.

It's structurally similar to the way that a lot of guys talk whenever they're lying about something, except his reaches highest when he's trying to crystallize a point, not fabricate one. It's familiar and strange at the same time.

We talk a lot about the new album, because there's a lot on the new album to talk about. Chamillionaire, Trae, Bun B, Duane Harris and Killa B are all on it. Big Moe is on it. Big H.A.W.K. is on it. After a couple years of silence between the two, Slim Thug is even on it.

We talk about the way his and Slim Thug's relationship fell apart, then about how they eventually patched things up. Lil' Flip isn't on the album, but we talk about him and how their relationship fell apart too.

We talk about DJ Screw, Big Moe and Big H.A.W.K., all R.I.P., and how those relationships were taken away.

We talk about how to stay relevant within rap for so many years — for the influence he's had on the culture, E.S.G. has largely been absent in talk of Houston's most important MCs. We talk about how that relationship never came to fruition.

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