Artist: 7L & EsotericTitle: DC2: Bars of DeathRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Matt Barone
The combination of a producer/DJ and an MC has been a proven formula for quality hip-hop since the musical genre’s conception. Gangstarr, The High and Mighty, and Jedi Mind Tricks are a few of the groups that have been met with acclaim by sticking to this simple recipe. Boston’s own 7L & Esoteric fall into this category, but may not be as recognizable as the aforementioned acts, despite grinding in the underground scene for nearly a decade. Having delivered uncompromisingly hard music to their devoted listeners for years, beat-maker 7L and bar-spitter Esoteric calm anticipation with their third studio album, DC2: Bars Of Death, what may be their strongest record to date yet still suffers from problems that have plagued the duo from jump.
The highlights that DC2 boasts are blazing exhibitions of aggression and execution, pairing 7L’s relentless sounds with Esoteric’s energetic flow. Esoteric blesses the album with some of his best work, showing signs of growth and creative maturity. The melodic piano arrangement heard on “Rise Of The Rebel” inspires Eso to scribe his autobiography, while the Uno The Prophet featured “Touchy Subject” finds Eso and Uno engaging in a poignant debate over hip-hop’s ‘Caucasian invasion’. Guests Celph Titled, Apathy, and Lord Digga join Eso on the punishing “Way Of The Gun”, a template for gully posse cuts scorching with fiery verses and a combustible blend of horns, gun shots, and pounding percussion. On “Loud & Clear”, 7L’s medieval backdrop sets a fitting mood for Esoteric to brainstorm, touching on issues including political corruptness with lines like, “We got people overseas getting blown to bits, and thrown in a ditch, while Bush is at the game throwing the opening pitch” and “See, they all talk like Republican radio really, only right-winger I support is Cam Neely.”
7L’s board work on DC2 never lets up, with each respective beat offering something new. Handling duties on all but one selection (J-Zone’s typically addictive “Neverending Saga”), he demands industry notice. His composition of escalating electric guitars on the opener “Ring Music” brings to mind stadium rock’n’roll, and the rapid violin assault of “Murder-Death-Kill” makes unabashed violence sound deliciously entertaining. Where DC2 begins to falter in spots is when Esoteric and his array of friends rely too heavily on intimidation tactics rather than innovation over 7L’s creations. Tracks such as “Battlefield” and “So Glorious” quickly bore due to uninspired tough-guy talk, and “Deathgrip” would have been done much stronger justice as an instrumental interlude.
DC2: Bars Of Death is a release catered to a specific audience, one that favors their rap music with a rougher edge. Co-stars Celph Titled and Apathy represent nicely for their Demigodz family, and 7L & Esoteric definitely fulfill the appetites of those who have been craving their raw brand of hip-hop since 2002’s Dangerous Connection. Eso’s mic skills still border too closely to forced battling, but improvement is clearly displayed, and 7L crafts some of the most entertaining production of the year. DC2: Bars Of Death may not break any new ground for below-the-radar rap, but as the old saying goes, if it isn’t broke then don’t fix it.