7L & Esoteric are the steam coming from city sewer covers, the water bubbling from the water drains implanted in city curbs, and the creators of the cracks in the pavement. In short, following the release of their third studio release, “DC2: Bars of Death” (the follow-up to “Dangerous Connection”), call 7L & Esoteric underground hip-hop; but it’s only a matter of time before they get noticed more ‘above street level’ by the hip-hop crowds that crave the “keeping it real” mantras and old-school producer/emcee vibe that used to encompass hip-hop music.
Armed with his usual pull-no-punches, no-apologies-here rapping style, “the rapper,” Esoteric, emerges on “DC2: Bars of Death” to finally outdo and outwit critics that have long critiqued his style as lacking anything outside of battle raps and clever wordplay. On “Battlefield”, which somewhat ironically plays off the concept of rap being like a battlefield, Eso raps, “Middle finger to the cynical critics, Who couldn’t do what I do if they was visiting my clinics: First, he’s too complex. Next, where’s the concepts? Then, he just smacks clowns. Now, he don’t back down.” And other tracks, such as the excessively addictive piano-driven “Rise of the Rebel,” glimpse into the upbringing and rise of Esoteric as an emcee.
Not personal enough yet? Try the planned controversy of “Touchy Subject,” where Uno the Prophet guests as a black rapper angry with what white people have done to the black culture. Esoteric clears out the room for a brief minute with his tales of making it as a white emcee, before Uno again talks of whites pillaging blacks for centuries. And then, the song ends. Maybe, just maybe, Esoteric is not as self-centered and braggadocios as most critics would have once pigeonholed him as being.
Esoteric, carried by his very unique Boston-boy voice and usually flawless 7L production, still does not move far from the same old Es that first captivated underground rap fans though. Bursting with punchlines and a knack for all the intangibles (breath control, flow, etc.), Esoteric delivers incredibly witty lines throughout “DC2” mixed within a smooth rhyme scheme. From the hair band rock-influenced tunes of “Ring Music,” where Eso is just “trying to keep a cool head like Ted Williams’ son,” to the group rap of “This is War” (featuring Army of the Pharaohs), which sees the Bostonian steal the track with “I’m feeling like one of baseball’s great in this sh*t, ‘Cause I make hits and it’s a second nature to spit,” even Esoteric’s baseball-influenced rhymes are home runs amongst a hip-hop game full of sacrifice flies.
7L removes himself from the production booth for a pair of songs, which usually would spell disaster, unless, of course, the pinch-producers are J-Zone and Apathy. “Neverending Saga” features the now-classic Zone movie samples sprinkled throughout, a Gangstarr-influenced chorus (in more ways than one), and the fiery, don’t-you-dare-step-to-me lyrics of Esoteric (“Small time rappers think they can jerk this, That’s a ‘Common-mistake’ like “Electric Circus””). The Apathy-produced “Way of the Gun” provides a similar change of pace for “DC2” with Ap also playing the role of bad guest with his song-stealing and quick-witted, even quicker-paced verse featuring the tongue tying, “I bruise brains and rapidly rip apart your anatomy, ‘Cause Apathy is phatter than the Phat Farm faculty, Ap’s known for spittin’, Plus shots I’m lickin, Got more biscuits than Kentucky Fried Chicken.”
“DC2: Bars of Death” does not avoid several minor Bill Buckner-like blunders, as “Murder-Death-Kill” (featuring Celph Titled) serves as an unworthy violence spree already done better on “Graphic Violence” earlier in the album. And “That’s Right” (featuring Main Flow and K.T.), although littered with wordplay galore from all three emcees, starts sounding more like a bad New York mainstream effort than the unique sounds of 7L & Eso.
On “Grace of the Gods,” guest emcee Rise notes, “If you get too deep, for real, when you rap, Then the attention level drops and people look at their watch.” 7L & Esoteric take equal note of this on “DC2: Bars of Death” as they provide a healthy mix of Esoteric’s growing persona with his classically-trained tried-and-true tongue of many punchlines to create the latest steam from the sewer covers and cracks in the pavement. As soon as the whole city notices, watch out. 7L & Esoteric truly will be a “dangerous connection” with the rest of hip-hop….