It used to be, back in the day, that mix-tapes were nothing more than cassette compilations of choice cuts from your own record collection, designed to make up for the lack of a full album worth of bangers. Heads would just comb through records and throw all the best stuff on to one tape to bump in the Walkman while riding the train. Playing the role of the pause-DJ, it was a completely personal thing. It represented the listener and nobody else. Then DJ’s got into recording and selling their sets and a whole new generation of the mix-tape was born; one where the skills and the tastes of the DJ were as important as the songs themselves. The mix-tape became a foundation of the street as well as a fully functioning and commercially viable promotional tool. Nowadays, the mix-tape is the periodical literature for what is current and in the forefront of hip-hop culture. The mix-tape has become the daily news as well as the weather report for hip-hop. And while there are those who would argue that the mix-tape is the direct cause of the decline of artists with the ability to create a fully cohesive album, it is still the best way to get the hot shit first and to know what the streets is feelin’.
With the recent popularity explosion of the mix-tape craze, it seems that every half-assed internet DJ and fledgling label owner has some sort of showcase sampler or self-indulgent CD-R of his boy freestyling over some instrumentals disguised in the mix-tape format. Where a lot of today’s mix-tapes are little more than the musical equivalent of microwave popcorn, Vinyl Thug Music presents itself as a precursor for the upcoming 7L & Esoteric LP: DC 2: Bars of Death, featuring a slew of original and unreleased material. Boston natives and long-time underground legends Beyonder and 7L team up to orchestrate what sounds more like an album than a mix-tape. Included here are the latest chronicles of Esoteric’s continuing war-on-wax with several members of the Weathermen and Def Jux camps as well as the newest single from North Philadelphia’s King Syze. Syze’s Big Pun - inspired flow is vicious and hungry on “Machine Gun Rap”. The consistent appearances by the likes of the Army Of The Pharaohs and Demigodz fam over a soundtrack almost completely constructed by 7L himself makes it feel more like a loose, semi-official release. Throughout the record, Esoteric’s very Jay-Z-like presence is dominant and familiar over longtime partner 7L’s tracks, and the two demonstrate the musical chemistry they have created and enjoyed over the years. 7L’s considerable talents are best evidenced in his ability to hang with any emcee he constructs a beat for. His versatility defines him as a producer; whether creating a dark and atmospheric landscape for other-worldly emcees like Shabazz The Disciple and Killah Priest, or lacing straight fire battle tracks, 7L definitely shines throughout. He is a the quintessential “rapper’s beatmaker” in the way he tailors each beat to subtly underscore the feel of the rapper on the track, while always maintaining his original, unique sound. Solid, thumping tracks like the vicious, acoustic string-laced vitriol that is “Mercy Killing” (where Eso responds to the shots fired at him) showcase the duo of 7L and Esoteric at their best. The God Awful teams up with King Syze and Jedi Mind Tricks’s Vinnie Paz for the vicious and violent “Blitz Inc.” while The Demigodz present a revamped killer: “Public Executions” (which contains one of the greatest, classic Apathy lines ever: “I’m not ill like walking through the projects with a nine/I’m ill like moving solid objects with the mind….”). One of the definite standout tracks is the Beyonder-produced banger; “Boondox Saints” and in it we hear the classic Esoteric; rapid-fire battle raps and cleverly thought-out punch lines over a distinctly driving beat. And Beyonder’s beats are not to be slept on, either. “Crab Move” is another Beyonder-touched joint that was originally intended for DC 2. Also included is Beyonder’s re-working of one of Nas’ best tracks; “Last Real Nigga Alive.”
Vinyl Thug Music steps up and delivers what most mix-tapes are lacking: replay value. Long-time fans of 7L and Esoteric will find themselves satisfied to have these new and unreleased tracks all together in one collection, while for those unfamiliar with the whole Brick Records, Demigodz and AOTP family, this will serve as a great introduction to the clan.
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