Screwston, Texas

Five Spot: Just Your Average Everyday Street Gangsta

Welcome back to Five Spot. Every Friday, we'll examine a recent bit of music news and, sometimes awkwardly, tie it to a bit of Houston rap. It's five videos and occasional cussing. Send tips to [email protected].

Two days ago, E.S.G. released Greatest Independent Hits. It's badass. Buy it. And not from the Bootleg Movie/CD Man, either. Buy it proper.

In the meantime, here's your assignment for the weekend: dig up a copy of E.S.G.'s 1994 debut Ocean of Funk, give it a proper listen through, and then email us a 1,200-word essay on why that album is not regularly mentioned as belonging to The Pantheon of Great Houston Rap Albums.

For the life of us, we can't figure it out.

Even in retrospect - especially in retrospect? - Ocean is a phenomenal album, but everyone not involved directly with the making of music seems to have forgotten about it entirely. Rumor has it that both Lupe Fiasco and Drake approached E.S.G. after the Bun B and Friends show last weekend and gave praise to him accordingly. (Upon hearing this, we immediately decided we like them more.

No doubt, the biggest obstruction to Ocean of Funk's rise to Ridin' Dirty status (UGK not Chamillionaire, although we suppose either way you take it, it's true) was his most untimely imprisonment.

E.S.G., then only 19, served two and half years in prison shortly after the album began its local ascension. When he returned home, the buzz had all but faded completely away, and the half a million or so dollars that the album profited had been gobbled up by the record company that released it; ESG told us he saw "maybe $3,500 of it."

Sixteen albums, E.S.G. later and he's still hanging out in acclaim's periphery, yet to catch that same lightning in a bottle. How's that for an oversimplification of a meaningful career?

For your consumption, here are five of best tracks of Ocean of Funk. Aces.

"Swangin' and Bangin'": There are about 37 songs on the radio right now (by non-Houston artists, mind you) that sound just like this one. That seems like a jab at ESG, until you remember that this was released 15 years ago. Two parts we want to point out:

1. This is the first example that we could find where a song was being played at normal speed and then was slowed down to Screwed speed briefly and then returned to normal. That's way more important than we care to get into right now. (According to E.S.G., DJ Screw wasn't even in mind when this happened during production, it just worked out that way.)
2. Did anybody else catch the part at the 3:08 mark where he acknowledges his boys "down in Dallas"? Down in Dallas? Errr... we suppose that's why he's the Freestyle King and not the Texas Geography King.

"Ocean of Funk": Is it just us, or on the third verse here does it seem like he's about two seconds away from revealing that Nate got the freaks, and that's a known fact? We can't wait for that G-Funk sound to become cool again. Man that was fun. Anybody where we can get a herringbone chain or a baggy Looney Tunes T-shirt?

"The South": We've written this before, but we're suckers for the goofy sing-song R&B hooks Houston artists love to use, so we'll just squint through the first minute and a half of this song and pretty like we didn't notice it was a knock-off of Snoop's "What's My Name?". (E.S.G. laughingly admits to being heavily influenced by the G Funk Era. He will not admit to wearing a L.A. Raiders Starter jacket, though.)

"My Real Niggaz": Here's a cool tidbit: As a way to earn money before his rap career took off, E.S.G., then a college student in Louisiana, participated in a weekly rap battle where the winner was paid $100 dollars. Legend has it that he won every week for an entire semester without ever preparing a rhyme; it was all freestyled material.

He confirms this with a laugh: "Yeah, honest truth, I just went in there and rapped about what I saw, every week for a semester. I never lost." Given that we've seen him do this exact thing to great effect, we're inclined to believe him.

"Birdies That Don't Chirp": "Swangin' and Bangin'" has remained the unquestioned smash of Ocean of Funk, but this could have just have easily become That song. It was probably that lull right around 2:04 mark that did it in; sometimes that's all it takes. We like that part about him not being from Compton but still sporting Dickies. He sounds skinny when he says that.

Have a safe weekend. Your essays are due Monday.

Follow ESG on Twitter at @darealesg and check out his MySpace page Look for his new album to drop either at the end of this quarter or the beginning of the next.

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Shea Serrano