In the world of underground hip-hop–where purity is God and progression is often looked upon with scorn–it's quite rare to see artists ditch the formula with which they've made their name. But A New Dope, the fourth LP from Boston-based MC/DJ combo 7L & Esoteric, finds the duo engineering a stylistic switch-up of the highest order.
"In addition to keeping our fanbase entertained, we wanted to keep ourselves entertained with this record," says MC Esoteric. "It kind of feels like we cranked the same record out the past few at bats. I would definitely say this is the best example of us that we have given anybody."
Where previous LPs like 2001's The Soul Purpose and 2004's DC2: Bars of Death were backpacker-friendly combinations of boom-bap beats and battle-style rhymes, A New Dope (Baby Grande) finds the pair (who've been around since 1992) dabbling in leftfield, electro-fied tracks that owe more to '83 than '93, even delving into the 120-bpm range. The stew of recognizable yet unusual samples–including pieces of Suicide's electro-punk classic "Girl" ("3 Minute Classic"), Angelo Badalamenti's theme to cult TV show Twin Peaks ("Perfect Person"), and the Serge Gainsbourg/Brigitte Bardot duet "Bonnie And Clyde" ("Everywhere")--evokes the Dust Brothers' work on the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique.
Esoteric, taking his first ever stab at production, made nearly half the beats and set the tone for the album with some early homemade demos, according to 7L. "The first couple of tracks he played me were faster than anything we've done before and I could tell he was really comfortable with rhyming over that speed," says the DJ/producer. "We were both working on stuff independently that, in the back of our minds, [we thought each other] wouldn't like. But we both really liked what each other was doing and we ran with it. Every song we made, we kept. We didn't really sweat it, thinking, 'People aren't going to like this.' This was by far the fastest we ever made an album."
Esoteric's lyrics display a similarly carefree attitude. He often sounds like a smartass Jay-Z with a retahded Boston accent, whether rapping about incompatibility with a girlfriend ("Perfect Person") or criticizing religion ("Everywhere"). On "Girls Gone Wild," the 31-year-old asks his mom why she couldn't have had him later so he could have come of age in today's era of, um, sluttier girls.
"I know the typical underground kid is going to hate it," Eso says of the album, the group's second for Babygrande Records. "But we don't really care what those kids think. We're just doing it for ourselves. That sounds cliché, but it's really true. Our fans are going to hear this record and say, 'What the fuck are these guys doing?'"