Soon after disco died, unintentionally driving a racial wedge in popular culture, ESG—four sisters from a housing project in South Bronx’s Third Avenue Hub—helped repair the damage. Unlike other early-’80s New York groups who purposely created a spare sound (Liquid Liquid, Konk), the Scrogginses were minimalists because their mom’s money could buy only the bare instrumental essentials. Their drums’n’chants sound resembled a Mardi Gras Indian tribe or Yoruba percussion ensemble as much as the stripped-down funk that Prince and Cameo were pioneering. Balancing the ominous, strident grooves (no wonder they shared stage space with PiL and Gang of Four) and tales of romantic ebb and flow were sister Renee’s playful vocals, which echoed the giddy energy of a punk chanteuse. Taking the James Brown bridges they grew up on and the Latin rhythm they heard drifting around local parks, ESG gigged at new wave clubs like Hurrah and Danceteria as well as black dance clubs. With Joy Division/New Order producer Martin Hannett helping to keep their sound raw, their first EP on 99 Records would turn up in the data banks of hundreds of samplers, from TLC to Public Enemy to the Paradise Garage. A few records later, 99 and thus ESG would be no more. They gave it another try in the early ’90s, keeping the group in the family by adding some of the Scroggins daughters to the lineup: It’s easier to rehearse with family, you know.
ESG: A South Bronx Story (available from soundsoftheuniverse.com) collects early-’80s tracks along with later work. The ’90s stuff is more produced and less subtle (especially the Roxanne Shante-style B-girl on “Erase You”), but the Hannett material is their stake in history and an important cross-pollination of styles—easy to see why the horror-movie guitar and militant drums of “UFO” found their way onto so many records, and Timbaland must have learned something from “Moody.” In lieu of a new album coming soon, this is the best way to actually sample the Scroggins sisters, and make sure they get paid in full for a change.