I know what you’re thinking: Let’s see where Prefix stands on the whole 7L & Esoteric vs. Def Jux crew war of words, a sexy gossip column waiting to be written. But aside from saying the word “cannibal” once, there are no allusions to any member of the Def Jux roster on DC2: Bars of Death, 7L & Esoteric’s third full-length. Nor were there any on Vast Aire’s recent mixtape, The Way of the Fist. So let’s analyze this hip-hop group objectively; DC2‘s median sound is tough-guy rapping from Eso over 7L’s theatrical beats and piano samples.
The aforementioned feud devolved into an immature back-and-forth spat when Vast Aire had a good six or eight bitch-out songs on Look Mom … No Hands. His mixtape Dirty Magazine called 7L & Eso “nerd rap,” “bitch niggas,” and accused them of canceling shows to avoid an inevitable confrontation. Cage and Copyright, both of the Weathermen (an amorphous band of several Def Jukies, including Vast and El-P), have taken shots as well. And who could forget the collaboration between Aesop Rock and El-P on Aesop’s Bazooka Tooth, where El-P just rails on the “nerd rappers” before Ace Rizzle jumps in to cloud the waters, tossing off an intelligible insult once in a while? The Bostonians 7L & Eso shot back on the tune “Runaway,” getting personal by calling Vast “fatso” and Aesop “Gaysop,” making lewd sexual remarks about Copyright’s girl, and insinuating that El-P looks like the Keebler elf. Sheesh. I don’t know what started all this, and I don’t really care. But since 7L & Eso don’t really have the notoriety of New York’s Def Jux crew, this battle has come to define them, for better or worse.
Aside from a lot of entertaining sports references (Ruben Sierra, Larry Bird, Chris Mihm, Cam Neely, Danny Ainge, Ted Williams’s son), DC2 falls into a formulaic pattern of blandly acceptable hip-hop. Since Esoteric doesn’t totally posses the charisma to really harness the striking tension of 7L’s production, the album doesn’t necessarily fall flat, it just doesn’t quite accomplish the drama they’re obviously gunning for.
7L’s dramatics, paired with Eso’s long verses and un-creative flow, are thuggishly cheesy at their worst, like in “Rise of the Rebel” (the rebel being the rapper, naturally), where Eso tells the story of his harsh life over 7L’s shimmering piano samples. To his credit, 7L occasionally sounds great on DC2. “Touchy Subject” brings an infectious disco vibe that’s pretty irresistible, and “This is War” and “Graphic Violence” have a driving street grittiness that’s simultaneously thugged-out and nervously beautiful.
Esoteric may be one of Boston’s most visible emcees, but he’s a fairly mediocre rapper, usually talking about himself being tough with a deliberate, un-charismatic flow. It becomes tedious when he stretches it out for too long, something that becomes obvious on the several songs that feature guest rappers. Uno the Prophet and members of Army of Pharaohs really outshine him. Honestly, once the anticipation that any second he’s going to lay into a Def Jukie or Weatherman subsides, so does Eso’s ability to engage.