The H-Town Countdown, No. 9: E.S.G.'s Ocean of Funk
Roughly 84,000 rap albums have been released in Houston since 1989. We're counting down the 25 best of all time every Thursday. Got a problem with the list? Shove it. Just kidding. Friendship. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In last week's feature we wrote about E.S.G., we mentioned briefly that, for the influence that he's had on the culture, he has largely been left out of the "Who Are Houston's Most Important MCs?" discussion. See up there, that italicized intro under the title of the post? See how it says there were 84,000 rap albums released, blah blah blah? Think about that. Out of all of the albums that have ever been made by Houston rappers, only eight are better than his Ocean of Funk. We tried to figure out the percentage of albums that Ocean was better than (9/84,000 = X) and the calculator did that thing where it throws an "e" in the answer and then you feel dumb for not knowing what that means. Is it exponents? Equation? Eagle? We seriously have no idea. [Ed. Note: we're pretty sure it means "error."] Basically, E.S.G. is so important that he makes calculators malfunction. And Ocean of Funk is his best* album. *Before you get all "Whaaaa?! What about Sailin' Da South?," remember that album featured no less than four songs from Ocean. You don't get double credit for songs. Also, the version of "Swangin' and Bangin'" on SDS was slightly watered down a bit to make it more mainstream-friendly. Hell, even the album cover of SDS is an Ocean redo. So there. Let's break up the rest of the album into six separate parts so we can make sure not to miss anything:
- First, the album cover is brilliant. It's literal and figurative at the same time. People don't take the time to consider those things anymore, and that's sad for everyone.
- Second, Ocean has zero shippable tracks, pretty much a requisite to make it this high on the list. Even the intro, a snippet of a poem from Dolemite, is appropriate. Every song is necessary. We're going to say that slower in hopes that you'll realize how important that actually is: Eh...vah...ry... Sonnngggg... Iiiissss... Neh... suh... sare... eeeee...
- Third, E.S.G. was a founding member of the Screwed Up Click. That might appear to speak to the album's quality only tangentially, but know that those two relationships (his to them, them to him) was essential in developing each other's success. And to that point...
- Fourth, this was the first album with national production that prominently featured music that had been Screwed. And it wasn't like he snuck it on the back end, either. It was listed on the cover of the album, with the Screwed version of "Swangin' and Bangin'" being the first actual song.
- Fifth, possibly the biggest accomplishment musically is that the whole album sounded like people should've been knocking it for being so heavily influenced by the West Coast, but nobody ever did because it still sounded like Houston, somehow. Have you ever had a dream where you had someone else's face, but everyone still knew that it was you? That's how this album was. And that is way important.
- Sixth, on top of everything else, the album is genuinely smart and possessed of some absurdly strong songwriting. Take "Crooked Streets," for example. The first part of the song is a guy (E.S.G.) talking about how he regrets being involved in the dope game and how he hopes his 17-year-old younger brother doesn't follow in the footsteps. His verse ends with him getting shot when a deal goes bad. The second verse is delivered by said younger brother, informing us that he's taken over in his brother's footsteps.
What's more, he's disappointed in himself for doing so ("Thinking to myself, if my brother could see me now"), which is just heartbreaking. And double what's more, the younger brother's verse ends with his own recollection of how his older brother was killed in front of him. That's an amazing bit of commentary on the cyclical nature of urban life. It's also an eerie bit of foreshadowing, considering what became of fellow S.U.C. founders, and real-life brothers, Fat Pat and Big H.A.W.K. If you tell the future on one of your albums, you can expect to earn some extra credit points. We'll summarize the previous 725 words in 17 just for ease: E.S.G. is a monster. Ocean of Funk is amazing. This not be up for debate anymore. Boom.
References 10: OG Style, We Know How To Play 'Em 11. Z-Ro, Let The Truth Be Told 12. Street Military, Don't Give a Damn 13. DJ Screw, 3 N' Tha Mornin' Pt. 2 (Blue) 14. Trae, Restless 15: Chamillionaire, Mixtape Messiah 16: Bushwick Bill, Little Big Man 17: SPM, Never Change 18: Swishahouse, The Day Hell Broke Loose 19: Chamillionaire and Paul Wall, Get Ya Mind Correct 20: Z-Ro, The Life of Joseph W. McVey 21: Ganksta NIP, South Park Psycho 22: Big Hawk, H.A.W.K. 23: K-Rino, Time Traveler 24: Pimp C, Pimpalation 25: Big Moe, City of Syrup Read the rules of The Countdown here.
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