ESG, A SOUTH BRONX STORY (2000, UNIVERSAL SOUND)
ESG were a sister act whose parents knew they'd make trouble one way or another; the sticky streets of South Bronx 1979 were bad news for baby girls, so Mama Scroggins bought them a three-piece rock combo (bass, drums, guitar) and told them to start practicing—no lessons included, thank God, because otherwise hip-hop would barely have been invented. Three girls, one bass string, no supervision and a song called "UFO" made for one of the most sampled moments in music ever—NWA and Nine Inch Nails and about 50 more since its release in 1981, so many that new kids probably think it's just something already built into the sampler—and pushed ESG into did-it-themselves American classichood. On their first few records (collected here), they proved themselves a perfect fit for everything—opening for Wilson Pickett, the Clash, Public Image Ltd. and Grandmaster Flash—because they pinched dozens of influences into a super-concentrated moment where the music of the 20th century finished up and the music of the 21st began: blues grit, soul power, funk precision, rock swagger, reggae depth, punk accessibility, post-punk minimalism—and they were about 16 when they did it, too, opening Factory Records' Hacienda club with Mama chaperone waiting backstage and chatting with Martin Hannett. At bottom, ESG's bass/drums/sexy-Scroggins-sister-singing was a band built out of a James Brown breakdown—even today, singer Renee still uses a Godfather-of-the-mafia whisper to remember the Godfather of Soul—but their simple-to-primal rhythms and sizzling soul vocals—like Marva Whitney stuffed into a mean 16-year-old girl—made for an irreducible minimum that—and this is how they earned the term "classic"—no one could not like. As essential as learning how to read.