A lot of people have heard of ESG, but don’t know exactly who you are. I’m originally from about thirty minutes outside of New Orleans. My dad was always going back and forth to Houston, so I first met DJ Screw in 1993. I did a demo with my homeboys and it became a regional hit. I went to the penitentiary from 1995-1998, and while I was locked up, my album sold over 200,000 copies independently. When I got out in 1998, Screw had just passed away. I was tryin’ to find a way to keep the South alive. I did another album called The Shining, and in 2000 we sold 85,000 copies of another album. At the time, I was with a label that didn’t want to deal wth the major labels. I was in the studio learning and I knew I could do it myself. We tried to take this shit to another level independently. Selling 120,000 units or more wholesale, you could make a million dollars independently. I was talking to Interscope, but that didn’t work out because of some bullshit. When people aren’t used to having money, they get a little money and do some bullshit. Are you referring to the accusation that Slim Thug cockblocked your deal at Interscope? Yeah, when we were doing shows together we were getting love. Steve Rifkind at Universal liked the album. The album that I created, and put all this work into, running around to DJs and getting radio play and promo shows. [Slim Thug] goes to New York by himself like it’s something he created by himself. It’s some crazy shit. Then, he called me and was like, “Jimmy Iovine wants to talk to us.” I never even brought up the Universal shit; I left it alone. He never called me back about Interscope and I was like, “What happened?” He was like, “Jimmy don’t want to talk to both of us, they wanna talk to me.” Everybody knows in this industry that there’s a few artists that pop up, but most of the time they want to sign an artist who has Soundscan and BDS. Slim had never even dropped an album, so that was kinda strange to me. I came to find out that he had told them I already signed to another label. When he was in the meeting, Interscope asked why I wasn’t there and he said I was signing with somebody else. One of the attorneys who actually worked on the deal with Slim is the one who told me that shit. That’s how I am, I just speak my mind. I didn’t go on a “bash Slim Thug” campaign or a “I’m gonna whup his ass” campaign. I just try to look at it like this: Lil Flip ran with ESG, Slim Thug ran with ESG, before they even made it to be heard nationwide. These are people that are being looked up to, so I just sit back and laugh. There’s people who molded their craft off what they do. I ain’t trippin’ though, I ain’t put out any new music bashing him. I ain’t just a rapper dude. I rap to get paid, but hey, I had a murder charge in 1995 that got dropped to self defense cause that’s what it really was. I had a drug charge, niggas snitching on me and lying. I did four years in the pen. I done been through it all. I’m not tryin’ to come in the industry like, “Fuck you, fuck you,” I’m comin’ in the industry as an entrepreneur. I been making moves and making hits. I’m gonna bring you somebody else from the South that the rest of the world can really respect as a new artist. The whole music scene is kinda focused on Houston. Not just Houston, but people like Boosie and Webbie from Baton Rouge. The South is finally getting they due. I’m kinda like a UGK down here, someone that
everybody knows and loves but the rest of the world just hasn’t had a chance to feel me yet. That’s what I’m tryin’ to do this year. I’m one of Houston’s best kept secrets.
battle rappers who can’t make records. I don’t even wanna be mentioned in any category with battle rappers. I did that way back when I first started rapping.
Do you think the Houston artists with major deals are representing the culture properly? Well, I’m glad for the whole Swishahouse thing, but a lot of people around the world are thinking Mike Jones damn near created Screw music and don’t really understand the history of it. But it makes me feel good when you’ve got somebody like Chamillionaire putting the light on Screw music. I like how Paul Wall reached out to Big Pokey and put him on “Sittin’ Sideways,” that was a playa move. Even though Mike Jones went platinum, a lot of people in Houston don’t really respect his music. We’re just really trying to make sure we bring people quality music. Back in the days, everybody went out and bought albums, not just one hit song on the radio. Now you’ve got so many people with one hot song, but you get them in the studio and they can’t even come up with a real song.
Do you think the art of freestyling has been watered down because mixtapes and Rap City “freestyles” are often written rhymes? Yeah, man, that ain’t a freestyle. Ever since I can remember, I used to just embarrass niggas in battle raps. They’d come with all their metaphors and “yo’ mama”s and they might get a few “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd, but when it’s my turn, I’ll be talking about their cheapass tennis shoes, their nappy-ass hair, their fake jewelry, their homeboys next to them with a muthafuckin’ Roc-A-Fella chain you bought in the middle of the mall. Nobody’s tryin’ to hear their dumbass metaphors any more. They’re amazed by how I do my freestyles. I talk about things on the wall, the club we’re in, anything. That’s a real freestyle. My son, he’s four years old, and he can really freestyle too. He’ll be like, “I’m with my daddy / We ridin’ around in the car,” he’ll make up words and shit.
Your freestyle on the Dirty States DVD was impressive. Yeah, man, that night we was twisted up. I started freestyling when I was twelve years old. Back then everybody used to be into breakdancing or saying raps from a Run-DMC or N.W.A song. I just started rapping about what was around me. I did a big citywide talent show when I was in the seventh grade. Twelve years old, I just freestyled. I was talking about the whole crowd, and everybody went crazy. I did that until I graduated, and when I was in college I started doing shows all throughout the South and Midwest. When I went into a new city, I’d always do a straight acapella. I don’t even worry about that “freestyle king” title, but the true Screwed Up Click knows that the phrase “freestyle king” came up when people were talking about ESG, Keke, and Phat Pat back in the day. Sony was like, “Hey, Flip, we’ll say that Screw gave you the title ‘freestyle king.’” Not only can I freestyle, but I’m a beast in the studio. A lot of times you have
Why don’t you and Lil Flip battle for the title of “freestyle king”? Aw, man. I’m on good terms with Flip. I fucks with T.I., too, but it ain’t no bad blood. But I promise you, I put this on my son, if you asked Flip, he would never agree to battle me. He rolled with me in and out of town. We’ve had rap battles for fun, and he know goddamn well there ain’t too many rappers that could see me on some freestyle stuff. I don’t really consider battle rapping to be freestyling. Freestyling is just entertaining and standing up on that mic and never falling off, going off the top of your head. Flip wouldn’t even attempt to come in the ring with me. But he knows I love to see him doing his thing, though. Even though Slim Thug hated on me with the deal and did some foul shit, I don’t wish nothing bad on him. They’re both products of the ESG tree. - Photo and words by Julia Beverly OZONE AUGUST 2005