ESG: A South Bronx Story 2

It's pretty much impossible to imagine about half of the dance music or hip-hop that exists today ever having been created without the influence of the Scroggins sisters.


A South Bronx Story 2

Label: Soul Jazz
US Release Date: Available as import
UK Release Date: 2007-07-23

At the risk of sounding condescending, ESG have carved out their unique place in music history by dint of being an anomaly. They come of age in a time and place when anomalies held center-stage in a rapidly expanding international music scene, and they have remained a potent force in the critical memory by dint of their skill, but at root there is something irreducibly unique in the band's appeal.

Of course, most bands would kill for this kind of tear-sheet blurb: a batch of sisters from the south Bronx (three or four depending on when you count) got together to make sui generis disco-funk records back in the early '80s, right at the height of the New York post-punk explosion. The music the Scroggins sisters created was a bit odd but nonetheless riveting, becoming some of the most often-sampled tracks in the history of hip-hop (you may have heard "Moody", the rhythmic basis for Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines", among many others). They fade from view in the '80s but return to the spotlight in the early '90s, in an attempt to get their props from a generation of musicians who either overtly or covertly owed their sounds to the combo. They've been around ever since, recording occasionally for the Soul Jazz label through to the present day. It's pretty much impossible to imagine about half of the dance music or hip-hop that exists today ever having been created without the influence of the Scroggins sisters. (There was also a bizarre workers' compensation lawsuit at some point, but we won't get into that.)

The early '80s was simply a remarkable time to be alive if you loved music, and the Scroggins sisters are a great example of just why this was the case. At what other time was their enough spill-over between the world of punk, hip-hop and dance music to create something as genuinely, sincerely holistic as this? The distinct strains that went into making this music would soon separate, and forever after these kind of catholic gestures would take a great deal more effort in terms of conscious boundary-crossing. But back when these ladies started, there were no boundaries to cross. It made perfect sense for the Talking Heads and New Order and Afrikaa Bambaataa and the Peech Boys to all be represented equally. It made sense for three black women (and a dude, bassist Leroy Glover) from the Bronx to have their debut EP produced by the same guy who produced Joy Division (Martin Hannett).

As you might have gathered from the title, South Bronx Story 2 is the sequel to ESG's first compilation, South Bronx Story, released back in 2000 and still pretty darn essential. However, Volume 2 carries the "Rarities" subtitle, so it is a slightly more dicey proposition than its predecessor. Even the best bands have hard time pulling off rarities compilations, and ESG is no exception to this rule.

Don't get me wrong: there's some great stuff here. At their worst, ESG are still one of the best funk bands in history, and even the tracks that sound like the B-sides they are are still pretty fun. But it's telling that the album also contains two alternate versions of "Moody" -- "Dance to the Beat of Moody" and "Moody (A New Mood)". It's never a good sign if a band records their hit multiple times, even if it's a great track like "Moody". Of course, this is the same band that titled an EP Sample Credits Don't Pay Our Bills, so I can understand their desire in this instance.

"Bam Bam Jam" is a great encapsulation of ESG's appeal: deceptively simple but actually quite intricate rhythm section, snarling vocals by Renee Scroggins, and enough in the form of extraneous noise to keep things from getting boring (in this instance, congas). "Erase You", from the first volume, is represented again with "Erase You (Puppy at Your Side)", a very similar variation that seems slightly repetitive in that context (although the song is still delightful). "In the Streets" shows off a rare guitar solo from Renee -- she's good, a lot better than the sparse rhythm playing on many ESG songs actually indicates. "There Was a Time" is a louche James Brown tribute that stretches toward the eight-minute mark, and seems to look forward to the eventual white-boy hypno-funk of LCD Soundsystem. "Standing In Line" was one of Larry Levan's favorites at the old Paradise Garage, and it still sounds great.

Tracks like "Earn It" and "Like This", while fun, seem less fully conceived than the rest of the album, and it's hard not to see why they were left off inclusion from the first volume. There's a lot here for anyone who loves ESG -- and really, if you don't you should -- but on it's own terms it's essentially an annex. It would have been a great disc two for the first South Bronx Story, but on its own it seems a bit patchy.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.