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7L & Esoteric - DC2: Bars of Death

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Artist: 7L & Esoteric

Album: DC2: Bars of Death

Label: Babygrande

Review date: Aug. 11, 2004

Boston's 7L & Esoteric have been floating around the underground of hip hop for over 10 years, releasing scattered singles and EPs under various names and collaborating with more illustrious figures like Jedi Mind Tricks and Inspectah Deck. If there's nothing really remarkable to say about them, they're certainly talented enough to deserve the success they can now claim, if not a little more: their first two LPs, The Soul Purpose and Dangerous Connection, have their share of memorable one-liners and catchy beats, and they only up the ante with their third, DC2: Bars of Death.

The duo don't do anything differently on DC2, mind you, they just do it a bit better. 7L's production sounds the same as it always does, relying on urgent string and piano samples and bouncy rhythms, but he downplays an over-arching similarity with capable scratching and choruses comprised of quotes from older rap songs. Esoteric's staccato flow suits the beats well, varying in pace from leisurely to meticulously fast with impressive dexterity. The large supporting cast of relatively obscure MCs (mostly from East coast collectives like Demigodz and Army of the Pharaohs) also works surprisingly well, offering frequent respite from Esoteric's sometimes-grating husky tenor. Though its production is single-minded on the whole, the record offers enough variety from song to song to avoid monotony.

The lyrical makeup of past albums has been mainly centered on battle raps, with the occasional jaunt into conceptual territory, for better or worse: Dangerous Connection's "Word Association" is an especially clever verbal workout, but it comes after the awkwardly unsuccessful "Terrorist's Cell," whose narrator is an Islamic suicide bomber. On DC2 Esoteric sticks to a thematic middle ground, content to fill most songs with witty quips ("Your shit is long and drawn out, like graphic novels"); when others are more focused, like the anti-Bush "Loud & Clear," the results are better. And when his flow occasionally wears thin, nearly every other song has a guest rapper to keep things interesting.

Some of Esoteric's lyrical gimmicks still fall flat--the handgun-as-narrator theme of "So Glorious" doesn't work as well as it did when Nas did it in 1996, while the N-word discussion in "Touchy Subject" is essentially an angrier take on A Tribe Called Quest's "Sucka Nigga" (and a more awkward one, as neither 7L nor Esoteric are black). Still, these are about the strongest complaints that can be leveled at DC2; even the ridiculous degree to which "This Is War" sounds like 2Pac's "Hit 'Em Up" (right down to the nihilistic laughter) is more amusing than offensive.

As interesting as it would be to see an MC base his battle raps on being merely above average, it doesn't seem to be in the cards. It's much more likely that, eventually, 7L & Esoteric will get to be every bit as unfuckwithable as they spend most of this album claiming to be. They're on the right track, anyway.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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