7L & Esoteric 7L & Esoteric1212
Boom bap is like heavy metal. As soon as an artist tries to step outside of the conceptual and sound margins common to the scene and this movement doesn’t go well, the headz pull out their weapons and sentence the artist almost to life, leaving a last redeeming opportunity for sinners to turn back to the orthodoxy, straighten up and fly right, going back to the path they should never have left. Fidelity has a price, and in this sense, more hard-headed heavy metal and underground hip hop audiences have more in common than they themselves would like to admit. Some analyse betrayal in terms of how many R&B choruses, how many electronic productions, and how many anodyne lyrics have been added to a formerly rock-hard discourse, while long-hairs have their own rules in terms of whether the singer of a thrash band has cut his hair, if there are too many ballads in an album to be bearable, and whether the drummer has slowed down.
This is exactly what has happened to 7L & Esoteric, the duet that headed the underground revolution of Boston rap in the mid 90’s. They started out their career as a very powerful, brave representative of new boom bap, with two albums that managed to recover that rough, dirty, aggressive sound that the streets were asking for, “Dangerous Connection” and especially their debut, “The Soul Purpose”. But as their status failed to grow and their discourse lost strength and vigour, their fans started to turn their backs on them. “DC2: Bars of Death” and “A New Dope” showed us a duo that was longing to evolve and open their songs up to new ideas and aesthetic fronts, with a less fundamentalist production, with more frivolous, domestic lyrics, disconnected from hip hop battles, and with a wider idea that could open up the market for them. The plan was a spectacular failure any way you look at it: the recordings were artistically dispersed, weak, and not very credible; their sales figures barely grew or improved, and as a consequence of all of this, a notable discontent spread among the more purist, demanding fans who had supported them since the release of their first 12”s.
So after this, and after Esoteric’s failed solo attempt, the band decided to get together again this year to record this album to recover their lost credibility, and to win back the trust of the headz, who in the end were always their potential audience. “1212” is born with this clear, very marked idea, written all over it. Good-bye to samples of 60’s soundtracks, good-bye to thriller airs, good-bye to comic inserts, good-bye to absurd, almost comedy-of-manners lyrics, good-bye to accessible productions, good-bye to that almost naïf look. For their return, almost four years after “A New Dope”, the band has decided to return to its more solid, austere, bombastic side. The tone is serious, angry, committed, and aware of the situation, and so the selection of beats, cooked up between the two of them, plus a solo contribution from Statik Selektah, is no frills, no concessions. Rhythms to shake your head, dark, very simple loops, powerful basses, and scratched choruses establish the formula that the great majority of their fans were asking them for. It seems like an album made to order, more interested in pleasing their listeners than in pleasing themselves.
Esoteric’s rhymes also seem to be written to order, since that MC who is fighting, blustery, and proud in the face of a challenge is back, the one who won over more orthodox listeners nearly a decade ago, and who starred in high-level beefs with The Weathermen, El-P, and company. So paying attention to the complaints of the public, they have put out an album that is very competent, with two or three moments of very high-grade boom bap – “12th Chamber”, with Inspectah Deck or “Bare Knuckle Boxing” with Ill Bill, Vinnie Paz and Reef The Lost Cause, for example– and with that regularity and constancy that we missed in the two last albums. So there aren’t many complaints in this sense: “1212” is an album written, designed, and executed to satisfy a very specific demand, and one can say that it has indeed done so very well. Another thing is that coming up on the end of 2010, the boom bap scene can boast of other representatives who are more ambitious, braver, fresher, and more perfectionist—from Black Milk to Nottz , including Roc Marciano, Bink or Statik Selektah himself, among many others– who have known how to modernise and update the old, harsh sound of the 90’s and whose recent legacies make a good album like “1212” an exercise in vintage style without too many possibilities of survival.