Off the Record: Esoteric

This past week the Cynic had a chance to catch up with Esoteric, the rapper from one of Boston’s premier hip-hop acts, 7L&Esoteric. 7LES is known for its consistently innovative records, (DJ) 7L’s flawless production, and Esoteric’s bullet-proof Beantown flow and high energy performances. Whether freestyling, doing a live show, or recording tracks for their records, 7L and Esoteric don’t disappoint. The group has been nominated for best song, best local act, and best live act in the Boston Phoenix Best Music Poll. You want tight beats? You want lyrics that are good enough to force you to hit rewind to give them a second listen? You want something original? Want interesting concept songs, but also in the mood for some hard-hitting rhyming on a few vicious battle tracks? Then listen to what my man Esoteric has to say about hip-hop, and then do your ears a favor and pick up one of his records.

VC: First off – What’s your name, your group, and where are you from?

Esoteric: 7L & Esoteric. Boston, Mass.

VC: How did you meet up with 7L and how did you guys decide to form a group?

Esoteric: I met up with 7L in like 1992. I was a deejay at a college radio station out here, at Salem State College. [When I was] on the radio show, he would call up and make requests. You know, listen to the show and everything. He would call up and make requests. He requested good stuff, like Lord Finesse, Big L, Main Source, stuff like that. We kind of developed a little bit of a relationship on the phone… we had a mutual appreciation for that type of hip-hop. He mentioned that he made beats and he heard me freestyle on the radio, and, you know we took it from there. But that’s how we initially hooked up.

VC: What did you grow up listening to and who do you think influenced your music the most?

Esoteric: I grew up listening to EPMD, Eric B. and Rakim, Boogie Down Productions, Gangstarr. I’d say some of my biggest influences lyrically were people like Kool G Rap, Big L, Lord Finesse.

VC: Yeah, yeah, D.I.T.C. definitely. Alright. Your dad is an English teacher right? Do you think that made you interested in words at all, and in any way influenced your decision to start rapping?

Esoteric: Maybe so, I mean I don’t know if it really influenced my decision to start rhyming, but I mean I definitely had an appreciation for words and everything. And, I was kind of surrounded by books and everything when I was growing up, so I guess, yeah. My father’s got a pretty big vocabulary, so he kind of pointed me in the right direction, I guess. That’s the type of stuff you don’t really notice growing up. It hits you after you age a little bit, you know? I look back at it and I think… Him being an English teacher kind of shaped me up as far as my understanding of words and their usage and everything.

VC: Why rap? You say you “didn’t breeze through school, well actually [you] did, you breezed through campus and went back to [your] crib.” When did you decide to make a career out of rap, and did you ever have any back-up plans?

Esoteric: (laughs) Not really, I mean I always wanted to be an emcee and everything. My freshmen year in college I didn’t really give a shit about school I just gave a shit about deejaying on the radio station. It just became evident that that was what I wanted to do with my life. I wasn’t really driven by anything else, so that’s where my passion lies, as far as a fall-back plan, I ain’t really got one. But, we’ll see what happens.

VC: Tell me a little bit about your on-mic feud with basically the entire Def Jux roster. How did that get started and can we expect more records on that in the future?

Esoteric: They can keep making records as much as they want. They seem to be really obsessed with me and I’m just trying to move on. I’ve said everything I have to say about those guys. I could word it different ways, but it’s pretty much a dead issue to me. It got started with the EC guys and got carried over to them [Def Jux], I’m not really sure why… They’re all kind of affiliated. It’s really nothing to me right now.

VC: There’s a lot of promotion of beef records today in general. Do you think this is good for rap and good for people’s careers?

Esoteric: For the people who come out on top, I think it’s a good thing. Especially when you have two talented MCs going at each other- like Jay-Z and Nas. I don’t think it did any damage to either one of their careers… it brought Nas back out in the limelight a little bit. And… It keeps your name in people’s ears.

VC: I read an interview like five years ago in Stress magazine, or something, that talked about your work with Wu-Tang’s Inspectah Deck and gave you credit for really putting Boston on the map. Do you feel you still carry that responsibility today?

Esoteric: Of what? Of putting Boston on the map? Not really, Ed O.G is the guy who put Boston on the map in the first place. So, he’s the guy that really put it on the map as far as on a bigger scale, and that was in ’91. I don’t feel any responsibility to do that, I rep where I’m from. You can tell from my accent, there’s no other way around it. I’m from Boston and that’s how it is. But, I think that people look to the Boston scene. There’s a certain handful of artists that they recognize. People [out here] are putting the culture to the forefront.

VC: Even with a lot of Boston rappers coming out now, what do you think about people like Ray Benzino moving to New York? Do you think that hip-hop culture is under-promoted at all in Boston? [Editor’s note: Ray Benzino is a Boston rapper and co-owner of the source. Ray moved to New York and in several interviews and articles cited a conspiracy by city officials to suppress hip-hop culture in Boston as one of his major reasons for leaving.]

Esoteric: Uh…. No. We definitely have a handful of shows. We’ve got a show tonight with Jedi Mind Tricks… There’s haters out there, but there’s haters everywhere. I mean you can’t really get away from that. I ain’t really mad at Ray-dog, at Ray Benzino, for moving to New York or anything like that. He moved out there, the Source Magazine’s out there. I don’t really give a shit about that at all. If he’s going to move out to New York, that’s fine with me. I don’t really hold a grudge against anyone that does that.

VC: On 7L and Beyonder’s Vinyl Thug Music, you say that “you studied from the Blueprint, and don’t associate with the nerd rap movement.” 7LES has evolved a lot since the days of “Protocol” and the Soul Purpose LP. A lot of people might say that your music has become less, well, esoteric, and is kind of heading in a new direction. Do you think this is true? What can we expect from your next album?

Esoteric: I don’t think it’s true at all. As far as the actual definition of the word esoteric I think a lot of the stuff I still reference is esoteric to what you might consider our fan base. If I make a reference to like Rodney McRae, a basketball player from the early eighties, it’s still esoteric to a listener of a younger generation. Esoteric doesn’t just mean big words or shit like that. It just means if I’m saying something that the average listener can’t really grasp, and they don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about. (Laughs.) What I’m doing is lyrically being true to myself and what’s in my mind. I’m kind of a nostalgic dude, so I reference the old school a lot. I definitely don’t really see any change lyrically. The new album is… It’s the esoteric stuff people want to hear. I don’t think it’s simple. Get the album you’ll understand the complexity of the lyrics, the punch lines, the conceptual tracks. If you liked Dangerous Connection, you’ll like this record. If you like Strontium 90 and all that shit you’ll find something you like on this record, too.

VC: You’ve talked about more older rappers like Diggin in the Crates crew, Big L, those guys. But what do you think of the state of hip-hop today and who do you think are the hottest rappers in the game right now?

Esoteric: Right now? Let me see… tough question. Right now… I don’t know, I like the people I’m affiliated with, Apathy, Celph Titled, those are the people I listen to. I don’t really have a lot to time to listen because of all the shit I’m working on, so the only thing I really make time to listen to is my fam’s music… As far as major label dudes, I can’t really give you a good answer. I like the game, I like Lloyd Banks, I like Jay-Z of course, but that’s an easy answer.

VC: This doesn’t even have to go in the interview, but do you know anything about this guy Graph who’s on Black Hand Entertainment?

Esoteric: Yeah, yeah. He’s pretty dope too, right? I’ve heard him on a couple tracks, he’s pretty dope. I can’t really remember too much about him, but he definitely is hot. I actually think him and Celph and Apathy did a track on some mixtapes.

VC: By the way, congrats on signing with Babygrande. Can fans expect future collaborations with your new label mates like Canibus and Jedi Mind Tricks? Or do you have anybody else with whom you want to work?

Esoteric: Most definitely man. All that shit is coming in the future. The album was done before we signed to Babygrande. This LP is this LP, but we got another record coming out after this, you’ll see some collabos, but we’re gonna take it as it comes.

Esoteric can be heard on his groups’ highly acclaimed most recent release Dangerous Connection. Stay tuned for a review of his upcoming DC2: Bars of Death. He and 7L will be doing a show at Castleton State College on April 24th.