Producer/emcee combo 7L & Esoteric’s history dates as far back as 1992. When the two first met in Boston and formed the first incarnation of their group (known as God Complex) 7L was looping dusty samples while Eso slurred through his vocals with a thick Boston accent. Throughout the years, the duo has seen praise from the calloused hands of crate diggers, as the two have made songs ranging from G.I. Joe -themed jams to full-on shootout music. Since 2006’s A New Dope, in which the duo took an electro-based departure from their stagnant style, 7LES have kept fans wondering what’s next. On one hand, Esoteric has found comfort in emphatic battle rhymes aside the Army of the Pharaohs and the Demigodz while also taking a stab at production, crafting outrageous instrumentals that are far from the usual boom bap fare. Likewise, 7L has branched out, choosing to take over the club scene by touring with the famous Bladerunners DJ crew. After a four year hiatus, the two Massachusetts natives returned to the lab for one of their most star-studded releases to date. 1212 finds 7L & Esoteric at one of the most creative points in their career, with the two having something to prove to both their longtime fan base and a new audience, which they so boldly assess throughout the LP.
For the most part, the group has left the electronic synth beats behind in favor of retroactive instrumentals which are well-suited to Esoteric’s flow. “Retrospects” finds Esoteric reminiscing on past albums, justifying if they were successes or failures. The 7L produced track features an inspired electric guitar sample as Eso touches on trends in music such as rap reverting to flashier retro tactics. This becomes the main theme throughout the album as Eso constantly touches on the ungrateful Hip Hop culture. The album’s lead single, “No Shots” features the least impressive production on 1212. Although Eso does a great job of critiquing the current state of Hip Hop, the instrumental sounds like a Nintendo sample gone haywire mixed with a Rihanna sample. However, Seamus delivers intelligent rhymes, which makes the song thoroughly enjoyable, as he tears through everyone from Waka Flocka and Mike Posner to Nicki Minaj (“the Young Money diva kind of made me miss Latifa/why’s that? She’s hopping everything, she got a busy beaver“). Esoteric shows the production skills he’s picked up over the years on “Aneurysm.” However, the instrumental is lackluster in comparison to others featured on 1212, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering Eso brags that he made it in ten minutes. Yet, once again Eso delivers amusing bars, as he spits, “your sh*t ain’t coming soon, it’s far from dropping/I split wigs like drag queens bargain shopping.” Seamus goes on to redeem his production effort on “For My Enemies” which has an incredible sample. Eso goes in on new age rappers, claiming, “louder than arena rock/you were raised on Speakerbox, I was on a speaker box.” To top it all off, Eso nails the beat on the album’s closer, “New Rapper” in which he once again disparages new rap fans by condemning piracy.
Wu-Tang Clan member, Inspectah Deck, reunites with the duo for the first time since 1999’s “Speaking Real Words” on “12th Chamber.” Surprisingly, the latest track stacks up, if not exceeds their first collaboration. Over a minimalistic horn sample, Esoteric pays tribute to the late Guru while he drops another onslaught of ridiculous punchlines (“While you be talking like a felon like you’re hoppin’ out a cell and/y’all be straight pussy like the opposite of Elen“). Another surprising guest appearance comes from Sadat X on the smooth cut, “The Handle,” which pays tribute to basketball greats of past. DC The Midi Alien assist Esoteric on the production of “Drawbar 1-2,” which appears unneeded because there’s little complexity to the beat itself. The Alchemist almost steals Esoteric’s glow with a nice flow, but, Eso recovers with the humorous line, “talking prison, you only hit the Bing when Google’s down“. 7L & Esoteric switch into grimy mode on the aptly titled “Bare Knuckle Boxing.” Over a dreary instrumental, guest feature, ILL Bill, manages to steal the show the spotlight. Reef The Lost Cauze also does his thing on this one with a rugged verse, while Vinnie Paz spits his usual angry rhymes with success (“a white boy with an accurate shot – Larry Bird“). Eso kills it over a throwback 7L beat on “I Hate Flying” in which he narrates exactly why the song title applies to him. 7L further demonstrates his skill on “I Hate Flying” smoothly slicing a Jay-Z sample. “Run This” featuring AOTP/Demigodz member Celph Titled utilizes an old-school instrumental that doesn’t skimp on the bassline. Eso demonstrates his over-the-top cleverness with the witty line, “you a flash in the pan like D Wade on Blue Hill Ave” which he is quick to add “it ain’t hard for you to get that line if you from Boston, if you ain’t Google it.” Celph doesn’t hold any punches as he delivers an entertaining verse containing the line “put so many rappers in trunk, I’m coaching swimming teams.” The album’s final guest appearance comes from fellow Bostonian Statik Selektah, who hops on “The Most Rotten” to provide the nicest instrumental on the entire album. Eso goes on to add fuel to the fire by spitting at a rapid-fire pace on the short track.
7L & Esoteric aren’t for everyone, underground fans included. Eso is sometimes criticized for his delivery, which seems unsounded to 7LES loyalists who see it as a unique touch which forms their style. Despite songs like “I Hate Flying” and “The Most Rotten” standing out more so than other, 1212 takes an throwback approach to making an album enjoyable to listen to all the way through. Although certain instrumentals lack the punch of their previous releases, 1212 is still far ahead of a majority of 2010s releases and is a must own for any 7L & Esoteric fan.