Embedded within the historical parameters of hip-hop is an unwritten bylaw: regardless of rhyme skills or verbal acrobatics, if a white MC sounds like a white MC, he's not a real MC. This convention has held true ever since a needle hit the grooves of the Fatback Band's "King Tim III" in the late '70s. Despite the continual rewriting and evolution of hip-hop, this bylaw has rarely been contested (the Beastie Boys being an obvious exception). More recently, with Eminem's introduction and rapid acceptance in hip-hop communities, previously dead-bolted doors are being cracked open, and primitive visions of colorblindness are taking form. For evidence, look no further than Boston and one of the underground's finest, 7L & Esoteric.
With their sophomore album, Dangerous Connection, 7L & Esoteric deliver a heavy dose of neck-snapping, minimalistic hip-hop. Owing more stylistically to late-'80s rap than to today's overcrowded, commercialized market, Dangerous Connection is a welcome throwback to the "golden age" when the beats were tight and the rhymes woven tighter. As Esoteric pops in and out of a mixed bag of characters and rhyme styles, 7L builds the rhythmic framework one dope beat at a time. Dangerous Connection is yet another reminder that the underground is alive and well and that 7L & Esoteric are a force to be reckoned with.
7L & Esoteric saw their first recording action as God Complex on the 1996 Rebel Alliance compilation, which showcased a faction of Boston's then-promising up-and-comers. Following this up with a string of successful 12s ("Protocol," Speakin' Real Words," etc.), they dropped their first full-length The Soul Purpose in 2001. Well-received by hip-hop's underground, 7LES's debut led to a stint on the "True School Academics Tour" in early 2002, and, most recently, travels through Denmark performing alongside The Beatnuts. With the release of Dangerous Connection, 7L & Esoteric are back on the scene, poised to silence all naysayers and turn some heads in the process.
From the get-go, 7L & Esoteric make one thing clear: it's not about where you're from, it's about where you're at. Recalling the skeletal beats and visceral rhymes of late-'80s hip-hop, on Dangerous Connection they drop killer after killer, stuttering just a few times along the way. Opening with the appetizing "One Six," 7L lays down the tight groundwork as Eso hints at the verbal assault to come. "Watch Me" arrives next, driven by a series of cryptic strings, reminiscent of Premiere's golden days, and fueled by Eso's steady dose of meticulous chatter and Beantown bravado.
On the salient "Terrorist's Cell," Eso jumps into the confused mind of one of the World Trade Center bombers and offers up an eye-opening, first-person perspective of 9/11 that's poignant enough to chill your spine. "I keep praying, thinking to myself, my next life brings wealth/ 'Cause this one is nothing but a bump in the road and I'll be going to better place if something explodes/...Am I ready to die for a god I've never seen/ Ready to die for an idea or a dream."
Other standout tracks include "Precision," in which 7L flexes his cutting skills over a fusion of meandering piano and grievous horn, and "Word Association," a humorous oral exam that poses 7L as psychiatrist and Esoteric as mental patient. However, the album's real highlight is the malicious "Speak Now." Here, Eso, Vinnie Paz (Jedi Mind Tricks) and Apathy (Army of the Pharaohs) trade verses over a gritty fusion of guitar and organ. Littered with one ferocious verse after another, "Speak Now" is a call to arms that dares any fool to step up and battle. "I'm Jesus, my right hand rights diseases/ My left hand will strike and fight your weakness/...We speak now or forever hold our peace/ A.O.T.P., shook rappers call police."
All this being said, if you stand firm in your belief that hip-hop must stay true to its 25-year-old roots, don't cop 7L & Esoteric's Dangerous Connection. But if you are willing to let go of your preconceptions, lend an ear to one of the best joints that today's underground has to offer.