Owner's Manual

E.S.G., never fully praised by history, is watching his legacy grow.

Near 9 p.m. Monday.

"Ay, you want something to chase it with? We're drinking it straight."

E.S.G., possibly the most unassuming, underappreciated regional legend ever to have existed, is standing in front of the Go Hustler Smoke Shop, a strip center business located in the rumble of Third Ward.

E.S.G. (center) may have sold more than 1,000,000 albums, independently, over his 17-year career.
E.S.G. (center) may have sold more than 1,000,000 albums, independently, over his 17-year career.

There are other businesses in the row — a discount cleaners, a place to get your hair braided, a place to get your hair cut (they are two separate establishments), a place to buy liquor and a place to get your taxes done — but, at the moment, the smoke shop is the only one with any activity.

E. is having an impromptu mixer, advertised as a listening party for his latest album, Owner's Manual, but executed as reason to stand around and hang out and, should the opportunity present itself, maybe sell a few copies.

He looks at the Styrofoam cup that's just been handed to him. He takes the top off. It's filled halfway. His mouth, straight and serious, leans into a slight smirk. He adjusts his posture. Then he looks up, aiming his eyes at the person that handed it to him.

"Like what," he asks.

The person names a fruit flavor; something to tame whatever it is that's in the cup.

He looks back at the drink, then back at the person.

There are eight guys standing within earshot, and a separate group of four a little further away.

They all appear to be here specifically to see E.S.G.

Everything has paused.

A quiet three or four seconds.

"Nah, I'm good," says E. "I'm a G."

He swishes the liquid around the cup slightly, then takes a sip.

E.S.G. is smart. And insightful. And, unquestionably, one of Houston's most vital pieces of rap history. But a prison sentence in the mid-'90s stifled perhaps his best chance at national stardom. He has continued to make music, but has not caught fire like he'd maybe like it to (gangsters don't record viral videos, yo).

Right now, outside this smoke shop, he is discussing the trajectory of D-I-Y rap, explaining how Houston rappers have always embraced the methodology, particularly pre-Napster, and how curious it is that now, with the Internet's influence on the music's business model in full bloom, more and more are gravitating back toward it. Mid-explanation, while he's talking about how a proper placing on iTunes can lead to X amount of sales, a man approaches, shakes hands with him, makes brief small talk, then trades him a $10 bill for a copy of Owner's Manual, which is in a narrow cardboard box sitting on the concrete next to E.S.G.'s right foot.

He has literally done this a million times; the Internet claims he has sold more than 1,000,000 albums independently over the course of his 17-year-career. The transaction is seamless.

Toward the end of a summation of his long discography (with Owner's Manual, E.S.G. has entered the teens), two of Houston's budding stars, Fat Tony and Andrew "A.D.D." Davis, algorithms of hipness and actualizations of rap modernity, wander up.

They heard about the mixer on Twitter, the only place it was "advertised."

E.S.G. pauses to address them, calling Fat Tony by name, even though they've never been properly introduced.

"I didn't know E.S.G. knew me," laughs Tony.

E.'s debut album came out in 1994. Tony's came out in 2010.

They interact briefly, then split, and E.S.G. resumes his lecture.

This latest album, playing loud enough inside the store to be heard plainly outside, plays mostly as it's billed: a How-To guide for young rappers; How To Create The Lifestyle That You Want With Rapping, How To Not Become Irrelevant While Rapping, How To Walk Through The Hyperpsychotic Business End Of Rapping, etc. (Hard work, honesty and intelligence.)

Last month, Drake, one of the most recognizable names in all of rap, released Take Care, his sophomore LP. It features two samples of E.S.G.'s music, a quick snippet from the intro of Sailin' Da South and the wonky spine of Ocean of Funk's iconic single "Swangin' and Bangin'."

E. takes out his phone, thumbs through to his pictures, selects one, then tilts the screen. It's a shot of the top of a check issued from Drake's record label for sample clearance.

"When I met him, he told me I was a legend to him," says E.S.G. of Drake. "When they e-mailed me and told me they wanted to use my songs, it was like the Lord was saying, 'Here you go. This is for all you've been through, for all your hard work.'"

He is hustle incarnate, but he's a little bit lucky, too.

As has been the case for the past decade, conversation eventually turns to his son, Bryson, newbie rapper and potential successor.

"His mama wasn't letting him come here," E. says with a head nod.

Bryson, only 11 years old, has already firmed up a remarkable story of his own.

Beyond the immediate accolades — he's performed at 97.9's Los Magnificos Custom Car Show, the Dub Car Show, and freestyled live on various stations — there are the nearly unbelievable stats.

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Candy Boyz
Candy Boyz

Good to see ESG back on the scene, he must have influenced northside regional kingpin Big Love (Representin Real *classic*) the new song they collabed on pits to titans from both sides of the city! Check it out SCARFACE - Big Love feat. ESG from the upcoming album Big Love & PC Gz - M.usic O.ver B.ricks

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