7L & Esoteric: DC2: Bars of Death

Stefan Braidwood

7l & Esoteric

DC2: Bars of Death

Label: Babygrande
US Release Date: 2004-07-13
UK Release Date: 2004-08-30

In the interests of journalistic integrity I should point out that I really wanted to hate on this CD, and here's why: last year these guys were involved in beef with Def Jux (referenced here on "Battlefield") and put out a diss track that primarily targeted El-P. Now, I'm not that staunch a Def Jux defender; I think they're great but I can more than understand why they don't appeal to all and sundry. On the other hand, dissing El-P, who wrote "Linda Tripp", probably the most devastating diss track in hip-hop history . . .? That's just STUPID. I shouldn't really need to point out that, although their effort was actually well done and amusing, they got their asses handed to them (check "7700 Years" on the net; which actually got printed up and sold by another member of the Demigodz crew; evil and/or genius, but hilarious anyhow).

And after the short instrumental intro, "DC Theme", which has a violin playing what sounds like an amalgam of the Mission Impossible and Batman themes, criticising this album initially seemed a shotgun/full goldfish bowl dealio. "Ring Music" has an intro by wrestler John Cena, for whom 7L has produced, a lifeless, sub-nu-metal beat and a boring, slow rap from Esoteric, whose vocal tone blatantly imitates his acknowledged influence Jay-Z. Elsewhere, ES claims he has "the streets on smash like the Hulk" and of his victims' bodies "weeks later / Find 'em in the woods / Like a bird's egg". Well, pardon me son but that's so LAAAAME (no, I'm not a biter / I'm a writer / for myself and others . . . which is actually sampled on here as a chorus, pfff.)

However, by track 9 ("Grace of the Gods") at the very latest it becomes exceedingly clear just why Esoteric is a member of crews as dangerous on the mic as the Demigodz or Army of the Pharaohs (the former especially turning up for posse cuts): simply put, he can be very sick with it. Starting with the couplet "You pack chrome? I doubt It / I'll rip out your frame, and make no bones about it" and continuing with lines like "My rap's pricey like Evisu jeans, while / Your twelves collect dust / Like PCP fiends", Esoteric proceeds to aggressively drop gems all over the track like a raging drunk De Beers employee. And when he enters over the dancing violins on follow-up "Murder-Death-Kill", his multi-syllabic flow, synchronising with every note of the strings, is quite simply awe-inspiring, and in terms of in-your-face styling steamrollers anything Jigga's ever done. Demigod Celph Titled's guesting on the track improves matters yet further, spitting my fav lines of the album: "You said I wasn't ripping sh*t properly? The magnitude of my gangsta's / A motherf*cking scientific anomaly / With a strange selection of weapons / I've got a good assortment / Come close and I'ma cut you / With a Mercedes hood ornament", like Necro played for plentiful laughs.

While Esoteric places his rep beyond doubt, 7L provides the production for the whole album bar "Neverending Saga" (underpinned by the ever-reliable pimp funk of J-Zone), and his beats are good if not staggering, fitting the MCs well and seemingly soundtracking an '80s drug-running thriller -- which indeed seems to be the artistic direction for the album artwork. Indeed, despite his protestations of realness Esoteric does appear exceedingly enamoured of the glamour of illicit violence, typified by "Graphic Violence"'s Grand Theft Auto-referencing killing spree fantasy. Here and elsewhere there's an uncomfortable air of the white guy gleefully fulfilling his bad (black) gangster fantasies, but thankfully this is leavened by the autobiographical "Rise Of The Rebel", the focused anti-Bush political ire of "Loud & Clear", and the thoughtful description of life when hip-hop's your career that is "Another Way Out" ("I remember looking at my first single and grinning") over 7L's soothingly wistful flute loop.

Furthermore, "Touchy Subject" is a striking look at the racial implications of being a hip-hop artist, pitting Uno The Prophet's fervent black-only creed against Esoteric's defense of white skill and respect for the culture. A pity that some of hip-hop's other touchy subjects, like the prevalence of homophobia and misogyny, crop up here as insults rather than debates. But then, when you've got Celph Titled around yelling "This ain't rap music, this is slap music" (on one of the two bonus tracks), it must be rather hard to convince yourself that being worthy and intelligent can be as entertaining as being raucously crude.

If this album hasn't really made me like this duo that much (a lack of truly personal detail, not to mention charisma, make Esoteric impressive but rather dull; the latter only being heightened by the aforementioned lunatic and Apathy) I have absolutely no problems stating that they have the skills to pay the bills, and then some. Above all, though, this is a great showcase for the Demigodz as a crew, and I for one can't wait to get my hands on a Celph Titled album; I like an evil laugh as much as a good one.

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