Review Summary: Accessible, old school and almost predictable at first, but there's more to this duo than meets the ear.
It’s funny. It wasn’t until Eminem’s 2nd album that he finally got respect from the hip-hop community, which was largely black. A successful white rapper in the mainstream. He had style, lyricism, emotional depth, and he knew how to write a single. Yes, there were other popular white rappers with skill such as Everlast and El P, but they were often shoed in as fusion blues-rappers or alternative hip hop, respectively. So one would expect, after Eminem, for an entire wave of talented mainstream white artists to appear in droves. That didn’t happen; instead, they went underground.
Sorry for the history lesson but one more point: in the early 00’s as people began to notice that hip hop divided itself into the mainstream “get money” Nelly/G-Unit kind of rap or the underground super lyrical stuff (Cannibal Ox, Canibus, etc). Rappers like Vinnie Paz, Apathy, and a well-respected DJ/MC Duo from Boston, called 7L & Esoteric, went underground. Their debut was a little on the dense side conceptually. Their sophomore album was a little too lighthearted. Their third LP, Bars of Death, gets it just right. The production on this is classic and atmospheric to those who love movie samples and the subject matter can get deep.
The first thing the listener will notice is 7L’s zany yet steady production. He loves old movie samples, random intermissions and funny dialogue skits. He wants you to feel like you’re watching a comedy spy B-movie called Bars of Death. Cheesy at it sounds, it actually bangs, and its boom bap nature pairs almost flawlessly with Esoteric’s constant punch lines, which are his forte. When it comes to clever boasts and pop culture references circa ’04, Esoteric knows how to deliver lyrically. He can be mean, funny, creative or down right cruel. It’s all entertainment. But that’s not all he can do. In “Battlefield," he admits “with tears in his eyes” that rap is reduced to phony wankstas bragging about guns (wait till he sees rap nowadays…). In “Rise of the Rebel,” he questions why all his rhymes are arrogant and boastful while in reality most of his life is full of embarrassing moments. Finally, by the end of “Loud and Clear,” the listener will probably have a clear picture of where Esoteric stands on President Bush and the war in Iraq.
The features on this album are great. Uno the Prophet and Es go back and forth on “Touchy Subject,” which discusses a white man’s place in hip hop music, and both sides provide compelling but completely opposing viewpoints. The uncomfortable elephant in the room I alluded to earlier is back, should talented white rappers stay underground? Jedi Mind Tricks and Apathy show up to offer quality production and cypher verses, but the belt goes to Celph Titled, who always steals the show with his twisted humor.
So, why isn’t this album an underground classic? Was it Esoteric’s proud Bostonian accent that kept him from success outside the region? Did the album come out in a time where you either had to be part of a beef or have Kanye West or El-P level production to survive? Or was boom bap dead by then? Who knows? Either way, in the words of Willie D of the Geto Boys, “if the beat bumps and the lyrics hot sun, I could give a rat’s ass where a rapper is from.”
PS: I don’t mention the Beastie Boys because hip hop was technically still “hardcore” by then.