Underground heads have been checking 7L and Esoteric for the past few years now. The Boston DJ and MC first made noise as two thirds of God Complex before dropping their classic Be Alert on Brick Records. Next, along with hometown crewmember Virtuoso, they connected with Jedi Mind Tricks, Chief Kamachi and Bahamadia to form the Army of the Pharaohs. Since the AOTP project, 7L and Esoteric have put out three consistently dope singles with Vinyl Reanaimators on Direct Records.
Esoteric has grabbed as much attention with collaborations with other artists as he has for his releases with his partner 7L. In the past few years he has appeared on wax with hometown crewmembers Skitzofreniks, Virtuoso, Akrobatik, and REKS’s all star posse cut “Final Four”. He has also hooked up with Nashville’s Count Bass D, Russia’s DJ Vadim and Wu Tang’s Inspektah Deck.
Damage: How did you hook up with 7L?
Esoteric: I did a college radio show at Salem State College in 92 and 93. 7L was a caller. He’d call up and make requests. We got a conversation going he said he was producing beats and it went from there. We’re best friends now.
Q: What do you think of the Boston hip-hop scene?
Esoteric: We get write ups in magazines and they always mention Boston contributing to the scene as a whole. We get a good turn out at all the shows. I don’t know if everyone who turns out’s heart is all there but that’s okay. I’ll say as far as being from Boston, people have noticed my accent which I was never really aware of until I started putting out records. People from New York and Philly started hearing me and commenting on it. No one up here noticed. They wouldn’t hear an accent.
Q: Any other area’s sound you check for?
Esoteric: The stuff we’re doing is the stuff we like. But I check for West Coast groups like Dilated Peoples. Jurassic 5. Rasco. Planet Asia. Stones Throw cats. They’re all doing the right thing. Its cool because we went to San Francisco for the Gavin Convention and met Rasco and he was as happy to meet us as we were to meet him. Stuff like that still surprises me.
Q: On Bound To Slay, you reference Kevin Madison. How do you feel about some kids might not know who you are talking about?
Esoteric: ( laughs ) I’m glad you do. I say, “My raps will leave you spell bound / Like Kevin Madison / kid I cant be held down”
Q: I missed the Spellbound part the first couple of times I heard it.
Esoteric: Yeah, a lot of people have said that. I don’t know , man. I grew up in the 85 to early nineties era. That’s when I really loved hip-hop and appreciated hip-hop. I make music for my friends first and all my friends know damn well who KSOLO is. I assume our fan base is younger meaning like 16 to 22 and they might not know who Kevin Madison is. Its esoteric to them. So I guess that goes along with the name.
Q: Who would you say are your top 5 MCs of all time?
Esoteric: Of all time? Man, that’s tough. I could give you five groups. PE, BDP, EPMD, Gangstarr and Ultramagnetics. And the Juice Crew, even though they’re not an official group. The only one out of them that’s still putting it down is Gangstarr. Kool Keith too. He’s constantly reinventing himself.
Q: But that’s what people know him for now. Not really Ultramagnetics.
Q: Who do you think was the dopest out of the Juice Crew?
Esoteric: Kane or G. Rap. Some of my favorite songs came from Tragedy and Craig G. MC Shan was dope too. But as far as stuff I was checking for back then. Kane and G. Rap.
Q: Do you think MC Shan deserved what he got after he battled KRS? I mean you really didn’t hear too much from him after that?
Esoteric: ( laughs ) Do I think he deserved to get dissed that hard? KRS just has this charisma about him that you automatically take what he is saying as true. His whole delivery or his aura. I don’t know what but I’m sure it swayed a lot of peoples opinion of MC Shan. I always looked at MC Shan as elder statesmen of the Juice Crew. Besides Marley Marl, of course. It was different, man. Back in eighty eight, ten songs was straight. Ten or twelve. Nas put out nine in 94. Now you got people putting out double albums. You can kinda get lost.
Q: Most of your rhymes have been battle raps. Is that how you came up?
Esoteric: You could say that. Growing up, there wasn’t that many kids taking MCing too serious. As I got older and met people like Akrobatik, then competition got tough. I began developing at a later stage.
Q: Do you think writing battle oriented rhymes effects your freestyling?
Esoteric: I like to freestyle but as far as what you hear on wax, everything is premeditated. I never write rhymes down on paper though. I think them up in my head while I’m driving in my car or something and recite em”, recite em’, and recite em’ until I memorize them. I remember them until I can put them down on tape.
Q: Do you think there are advantages to being on an independent label?
Esoteric: Well, the benefits are we keep complete creative control. We put out the records we want to put out. We make records for our fan base. People we know are going to appreciate it. That fan base has similar tastes to the people I associate with. Now the downside is we get to put out records less often. There is less income and that doesn’t allow us to do what we want as often as we would like.
Q: And you started out on Brick?
Esoteric: We put out Protocol and Be Alert on Brick which was a pretty big record for them. We helped pioneer Brick. They put out our first record under the name God Complex which was me 7L and another MC named Karma. We switched the name when it just became me and 7L. So we’re still associated with them. Basically, anyone putting out records from Boston, I’m associated with. Although recently I’ve been making guest appearances on three fourths of Brick releases. The rest of our singles as 7L and Esoteric have been on Direct Records. Its run by Sean C and Joe Mansfield. That’s who the album is coming out on.
Q: What do you think of the internets role in hip-hop?
Esoteric: A lot of people frown on the internet because hip-hop is supposed to be heard on the streets not from the computer. But there is a lot of exposure available. It makes records available where distribution companies can’t. Plus people can read about us or hear our stuff so its definitely helped us.
Q: Do you have a tentative release date for the album?
Esoteric: We’ve been giving tentative release dates for awhile and every time we change it we look like bigger and bigger bullshitters, so we’re not really giving a date anymore.
Q: Much success to you.
DJ 7L has been sharing production with Vinyl Reanimators on their last two releases. Bound to Slay and Operating Correctly are Bsides that are arguably more banging than its single. Besides spinning in Boston clubs, he has put out a series of mixtapes.
Q: How would you describe your music?
7L: We make the kind of music that we grew up listening to. Like 87, 88, 89. That stuff. Which was just, I don’t know, hip-hop music. I don’t like knocking topics or concept songs but the stuff me and Esoteric like are the more braggadocios type hip-hop songs.
Q: How do you start your beats?
7L: Drums i do first. That was my big thing when I first started collecting was finding drum records. That’s all I would look for. Esoteric is more into bass or he would notice a loop. That’s what he writes to but I spend more time on drums. Then I get like a trumpet, some horns , something prominent. I work it from there. I get a frame of a song and work it from there. I’ll add the little stuff later. Initially , I would look for stuff with more cutable breaks. Old soul stuff. Digging for old records got me listening to all kinds of stuff. That made me appreciate it more than just, “Oh Gangstarr used this…” Knowing someone is a collector will draw me to their stuff too. Ill pay more attention to their music. Like DJ Shadow. That UNKLE album took hip-hop in new directions which is cool. That shit with Kool G Rap, was dope.
Q: And the samples? How do you come up with them?
7L : The better ones come to you. we throw stuff around. Some of them come out as jokes. The better ones come like that. When you sit down and listen to acapellas and records sometimes something mediocre sounds good after awhile.
Q: What groups do you check for?
7L: All the Boston people I guess I’m biased too because I’m around them all the time. People like Akrobatik, Skitzofreniks and Lif. Outside of Boston I like KOTIX, Missin Lynx is dope. Dilated Peoples.
Q: Do you think its tough putting out records coming from Boston?
7L: To an extent its kind of tough. Boston needs to create a better scene. LA has its thing. Chicago kind of has its thing. As far as independent, underground or commercial they have things going. We could step up our game here in Boston a little.
Q: Do you get commercial airplay in Boston?
7L: We do on the weekends on the mix shows. There’s a DJ who looks out for local artists as long as what they are putting out is halfway good. He does it kind of in an unconventional way. Like you’ll hear 702 and then you’ll hear our song but he’s doing it and that’s helping us reach a larger audience.
Q: I noticed DJ Revolution put you on his shit last year.
7L: Yeah, that was cool. It happened fast. Usually people say things and it takes a while for things to happen. Which is fine because everyone is busy. Basically, he asked if he could use it and I couldn’t ever picture us saying no anyway. From the time he asked to the time it came out was only a few months. He’s one of my favorite DJs. he’s not too out of control. Just precise. Which is what I like.
Q: Do you think being from Boston effected the sort of hip-hop you listened to growing up?
7L: What do you mean?
Q: Did you listen to more East Coast artists more than others?
7L: No I listened to everything. 2 Live Crew and stuff from Florida. King Tee I liked a lot. At one point, he was one of my favorite rappers. I obviously liked the New York stuff better. Like the Juice Crew. But me and Esoteric listened to everything. Rhyme Syndicate stuff. Even Sir Mix A Lots early stuff.
Q: What’s your favorite record?
7L: Doug E. Fresh. The Show. That’s my all time favorite. That was my first rap record. My brother played me my first rap record in like 82. He had a KTel record with the Adventures of Grandmaster Flash and the Wheels of Steel. It had The Message on it. I definitely liked it. But Ill never forget hearing The Show in 85. This kid at school had a tape of it and La Di Da Di. Just those two songs. I had the Breakin soundtrack and I traded him the entire record for those two songs. The Show had a party vibe. There was cutting going on. They were trading off with good variance. Like the second time I heard it I knew all the words to it. That’s not even the case these days. I can hear a song twenty times and not remember the words. I got into it. I felt like I was there. I liked Doug E. Fresh, Run DMC and, of course, the Beastie Boys. That’s what got me listening to Whodini. Then I started buying anything on Jive or anything on Def Jam. It was more labels I paid attention to. I got into stuff I never would have heard that way. Like Davey D’s album.
Q: Not to completely change the subject, but what did you think of that group The Goats? I thought they were dope as fuck.
7L: Yeah, yeah. They were on Ruffhouse. They had that song Typical American. I liked it. I’m not going to say it was experimental but it wasn’t your run of the mill rap like Nas or someone would put out. A friend was a big fan and he put me onto it. He had it on tape before I picked it up on vinyl.
Q: I had the same thing happen. A friend heard it and was like you gotta hear this shit.
7L: I saw them live like a year after that album came out. They had a band with them and were doing like Rage Against the Machine type shit. Real hardcore shit. They were doing their regular songs and the band was playing the music and when the chorus came in a big melee would break out.
Q: Yeah, their second album had a live band on it. It kind of sucked.
7L I definitely think records like that are cool though. Like Prince Paul’s shit. Prince Among Thieves and Handsome Boy Modeling School. But they are not the kind of records you can put a twelve inch out, you know. You have to sit down and listen to the whole thing. I like Psychoanalysis best.
Q: What do you think about releases on vinyl only?
7L: Obviously, its a problem. That’s why we put out the EP. To have something available on CD. Not everyone’s a DJ. Not everyone is out buying vinyl. If you hear something on the radio you should be able to go out and buy it. Its hard even with records if you know someone is on an independent label, you still might not be able to find it. For the album, we’re going to do CDs and tapes. We’re planning ads so people will know they can get it on all formats. Its a problem but its also money. Not everyone has a distribution company behind them.