I’ve became a fan of Boston Hip-Hop duo 7L & Esoteric some time in 2001/2002, and what struck me most about the music was the stripped-down, hard-hitting nature of the production and the ferocious, breathless nature of the emceeing. Since MC Esoteric embarked on a solo venture in 2006, the music arguably differed somewhat and I, for one, found it a little difficult to get into. Recently, though, I took it upon myself to grab Esoteric’s Saving Seamus Ryan CD from the shelf and give it another listen; and it wasn’t till half way into the album that I felt I had made a terrible misjudgement.
First things first, this is not the usual boom-bap/battle-rhyme album that most heads know 7LES is capable of; this is more of a concept album, featuring some of Esoteric’s most personal storytelling to date. Inspired by a dream he had some years ago, the album takes us on a journey into Eso’s mind, recounting his sequence of events via the perspectives of the characters involved. Eso stars as himself and the narrator; Main Flow appears as “Dr Flow”; Blacastan plays “Benny Macko”; K.Flay is Seamus’ girlfriend; while Masta Ace, DJ Premier and Qwill also make appearances.
The storytelling is handled impeccably, it has to be said, and it becomes evident (most notably on repeat listens) that Esoteric must’ve put a hell of a lot of thought into this project. As the wonderful hardback book accompanying the CD emphasizes, the story is divided up as chapters, rather than tracks, depicting such events as Eso parting ways with his beloved dog, being confronted by gangsters and trying to make amends with his on/off his girlfriend.
Whilst all those stories are great, the album’s main talking point is Esoteric’s liaisons with the music industry. Thanks to some hilarious voice sampling, Cam’ron and the late Guru make appearances throughout the artist’s struggle to get hold of beats, guest artists and the money he’s owed. Masta Ace contributes an impressive verse on ‘Ace’s Take’ (my favourite track of the album), giving some useful advice about the music industry; while ‘I Rap Too Much’ speaks about Esoteric’s obsession with making music, which is even putting a strain on his own relationship.
Esoteric is also in charge of the production on this album and is definitely not subtle when it comes to using samples. Most times this works, other times it doesn’t. ‘No Features’ I think takes things to the absolute limit, with Eso seemingly using voice samples from every rapper under the sun; ‘Take Him To The Bridge’ works better and seems to have some obvious 7L influence. As I said previously, I’m a big fan of 7L & Esoteric’s straightforward boom-bap, battle-rap collaborative work, but the busy production here is, for the most part, experimentally sound.
Egoclapper, Esoteric Vs. Gary Numan, Pterodactyl Takes Tokyo and Serve Or Suffer marked the launch of Eso’s solo career, but SSR, for me, is the artist’s most well-crafted effort to date. The whole storytelling flows wonderfully (I actually listened to the album from first to last track in my car recently, and became so absorbed that I forgot I was driving at one point and almost lost control of the wheel). Not everyone will be blown away by SSR at the first listen; but take your time with it and you’ll find yourself appreciating the album a lot more. That’s what happened with me, now the more I listen to this album the more I want to tell people to go out and buy it.