7L & Esoteric :: DC2 - Bars of Death
Label: Babygrande Records
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
Boston. There are few cities in the United States whose name is so instantly
evocative as Boston. On a casual examination one might think of baseball (the
Red Sox) or foods like clam chowder. Beyond that lies an astounding depth of
charm and character. It's history spans five different centuries, and it
has played a pivotal role in the political history of the U.S.A. since
the early days of the Revolutionary War. The greater metropolitan area
around Boston is also home to both America's oldest university (Harvard)
and some of it's finest, M.I.T. and Boston College among others. The latter
may in fact prove to play a pivotal role in history again, as it can count
John F. Kerry as among it's alumni; and it's certainly no coincidence that
the 2004 Democratic National Convention is held not only in Kerry's native
Massachusetts but in Boston itself.
Ironically it may be this very history and culture which causes Boston and
the surrounding metro to be overlooked as a mecca of hip-hop. While New York
is known as the birthplace of the culture and arts, Los Angeles is known as
the place that reinvented it, and cities from Houston to Chicago have been
recognized for the wealth of talent and the major rap stars to hail from them,
Boston is shamefully overlooked. There's no shortage of quality rappers who
call the area their home - GangStarr's own Guru hails from Boston, Ed O.G.
has been making records for a decade, and a thriving underground scene includes
artists like Mr. Lif, Akrobatik, and 7L & Esoteric.
Like their native city, 7L & Esoteric have a long history together - at
least by comparison to the fickle nature of partnerships in the music industry.
They've been working together for over ten years and in that time have
released a plethora of singles, the EP "Speaking Real Words" and the albums "Soul Purpose" and "Dangerous
Connection." In that time they've not only cultivated a strong following
in and around the East coast of the U.S. but with hip-hop fans around the
whole world. Other than Pete Rock on the wheels and C.L. Smooth spitting
rhymes, few duos sound as natural together as 7L & Esoteric do. Esoteric
paints cinematic pictures verbally, from battling for his sanity in a
psychiatrist's office to seeing himself going down in a plane on September
11th, 2001. 7L produces the beats and spins the wheels, matching almost
perfectly with Esoteric's concepts and topics.
Released as a sequel to 2002's popular "Dangerous Connection," 7L & Esoteric's "DC2 - Bars of Death" has no
shortage of expectations for excellence in execution. If this were the 2004
Olympics in Athens, those bars would indeed be set high, but perhaps it's more
apt to reference pro wrestling. Some might say this is a shameless plug for my
new website TheAngryMarks.com (and it
is) but there's really nobody to call to task but the group themselves if you
want to beef about it. The second track on their new album is called "Ring
Music" and the vocal samples found throughout it are from the legendary wrestler
Dusty Rhodes. While wrestling promotions have been trying to shove a connection
between pop music (Cyndi Lauper) and rock music (Smashing Pumpkins) for years,
pro wrestlers have been "rapping" on the microphone since the 70's.
Take Superstar Billy Graham for example: "I lift barbell plates, I eat T-bone steaks/I'm getting sweeter
than a German chocolate cake." Mr. Perfect had a rap song called "I'm Perfect"
on WWF's "Wrestlemania" album. And of course these days there's John Cena:
"We dominate your conference with offense that's no nonsense/My theme song
hits, get your reinforcements!" So it's no surprise to hear 7L & Esoteric
sample Rhodes, who often referred to himself as "The man of the hour, the tower
of power, too sweet to be sour." Even commentators in the day (perhaps not
meaning it quite so literally) said he spit "the working man's rap." Quite honestly if you had your eyes closed
and were half drunk, you'd think he was a black man from Louisiana instead
of a white man from Texas. His accent is as thick as pancake syrup, and he
talks trash as well as any braggadocious rapper there's ever been:
"I want you to take a look, at what will happen to you
The next time, you step in a ring with me
Because, as we start to watch this thang
I, am the legend, YOU, are the man
And there's a MIGHTY big difference between the two!"
There must be something in the water in Boston, because other than New York's
own Wu-Tang Clan (GZA once said "my style broke motherfuckin backs like Ken
Patera") nobody puts more pro wrestling references into hip-hop than
Bostonians like Akrobatik and Esoteric. If the song is called "Ring Music"
and the track samples Dusty Rhodes, the implication for the duo is clear -
like pro wrestlers they want to meet their opponents face to face and beat
them decisively. Lyrically Esoteric has the strength of Hulk Hogan:
"It goes one for forensics, two for the shells
Three for my DJ known as 7L
E-S, I'm back and overt, crackin the earth
Lyrics, lift your spirit like jackin a hearse
The boy's sick, somethin must have happened at birth"
Guest producers are few and far between but all represent beautifully
when they come in on the album. J-Zone has a pulsating mixture of bass,
drums, pianoes and comically slapstick samples on "Neverending Saga."
DC is all about the symphonic sounds on "Murder-Death-Kill" featuring
a strong guest appearance from lyrical murderer Celph Titled. On "Way
of the Gun," Apathy's sonic landscape sounds like the ominous backdrop
to an anime about war with robots. For the rest of the album's sixty
minutes, 7L holds down the fort with music to rock your headphones and
rattle the speakers in your trunk. "Rise of the Rebel" literally hits
all the right chords, as the beautiful piano playing lets Esoteric
reminisce on his growth as a rapper from back in the days to today.
"Rogue Nation" is sick with 7L's turntablist tricks, and the harmonious
singers in the background lift Esoteric up as he simultaneous knocks
down frauds with the line "you only spray guns when you waterin plants."
"Graphic Violence" is just as dark and eerie as you'd expect, with a
quick bassline that increases your heartrate and sound effects to
raise the hair on your neck. The only time a song's music seems
ill-matched with it's title is on "Battlefield," but that's not to say
the smooth handclap and tap won't still get you open anyway.
Like the album's third track, the music on "DC2 - Bars of Death" comes
through "Loud & Clear." So does Esoteric's strong dislike of current
president George W. Bush. Conveniently that brings things for this review
full circle. As Kerry is in Boston this week rapping about a new direction
for America at the D.N.C., Boston native Esoteric is rapping about why the
current President needs to go. While I was second-guessed by many readers
of RapReviews for saying the
Beastie Boys were too political on "To the 5 Boroughs," I stuck to my guns because the level of rhetorhic
seemed out of character on an album we were all promised was a return to
their roots in partying and drunken debauchery. On the other hand it's
not at all out of character for Esoteric to be controversial,
as he even portrayed himself as a terrorist on a September 11th flight on
the last album's song "Terrorist's Cell." Bill O'Reilly, get out your
notepad and write this down:
"This goes out - to the workin man, street scholar
Holla in ya ear, sayin fuck George Bush loud and clear
Get him out of here, show that cat the door
Cause we don't wanna hear that bullshit no more
You can look at this verse as a word to the wise
Realize, open up your eyes
We got people overseas gettin blown to bits, and thrown in a ditch
While Bush is at the game, throwin out the opening pitch"
Whether you agree or not, it's his opinion and he's entitled to it;
just like Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh are entitled to theirs.
The old saying goes opinions are like assholes, we all have one. The truth
of the matter is that music critics are no different from the average lay
person in this regard - we all have opinions about what we like or don't
like, who sounds good and who doesn't. If the feedback about 2Pac and Nas
reviews I've written is any indication, opinions can and DO vary
widely. As a result whether you agree with my opinion is entirely up to
you, but you can always rest assured I'll base my opinion on both my depth
of knowledge about the subject and my passion for it, whether
I'm writing about wrestling,
hip-hop music or politics. Do
I think George W. Bush is the worst thing to ever happen to this country?
Not necessarily, although I do think the war in Iraq was based on a false
premise and it's a mistake for American troops to still be there now.
The only way to force a change in that policy is force a change in our
presidency, so I encourage every eligible voter to hit the polls this
fall and let the voice of the people decide. Esoteric is just one of
those voices, there are many others, so make up your own mind about it.
I've made up my own mind about "DC2 - Bars of Death" - it's a well-produced
intelligently constructed hour of fine Boston hip-hop that deserves just
as much publicity as John Kerry or Ralph Nader's candidacy; like them
Esoteric is a good alternative to the same ol' shit.
Music Vibes: 8.5 of 10
Lyric Vibes: 8.5 of 10
TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10
Originally posted: July 27, 2004