Summer 2008, I was pulling in front of Port Of Call to try out their hamburgers when I got a call. It was about Jada.
The concept album rarely works like it’s supposed to. Usually the story gets lost about halfway through the album or the rapper is so concerned with telling the story that he forgets to, you know, rap well. Lyrical mechanics are usually sacrificed for telling a cohesive tale and it becomes difficult to point a new listener to track five and say, “listen to how he killed this beat.” That’s why what 7even:Thirty accomplished with Heaven’s Computer is so remarkable.
Centering your debut album around a storyline is a ballsy approach that deserves emphasis. When it’s easier to just rap well over a ton of beats and be conservative, the concept album forces the rapper to exert maximum creativity and take some serious risks with his first impression. 7even:Thirty not only pulled off this arduous task, he excelled, making Heaven’s Computer one of the most complete debuts in recent memory and one of the best releases of 2012.
October 2008, I was on a train in in Southborough, Massachusetts headed to my then-temporary spot in Boston. How and why I was living in Boston is a long, mostly uneventful story. But the fact of matter is, I was totally lost during the Fall of 2008 and sinking into a slight depression. When I got a call from 7even:Thirty, I knew he wasn’t in a happy place either. After all, it was only a couple of months removed from losing Jada. We talked about the difficulty of writing with a hazy funk clouding your brain and how life had to keep going. Then he told me the idea behind the project he was working on: a rap album that doubled as a Science Fiction tale that was a metaphor for the tumult his life was undergoing. Honestly, most of his story flew over my head as huge concepts collided with ambitious strategies. I wasn’t sure if a story so vast was possible. If it was, though, 7even:Thirty would be the only person that could bring it to life.
The album’s story revolves around Max Redrum, an alien sent to destroy Earth. He engages on wild killing sprees with wack MCs being the stand-ins for the massacred humans circling life’s toilet bowl until they get flushed into the abyss. Or vaporized. As the story progresses, Redrum finds himself at a crossroads finding himself in love with an Earth Girl, procreating and finding compassion. But all of that hits a snag when their offspring is too powerful for Earth and has to be taken away.
Interesting. I left the synopsis there because I didn’t want to spoil the album’s ending. When was the last time you worried about spoilers for a rap album? That’s a testament to the vastness of the storylines 7even:Thirty creates. Redrum is a fully-fleshed out character, completely awkward and isolated from society. Just listen to his inability to cope with real emotion on “Earth Girl” or the emotionless way he wipes entrails from his windshield as he crashes into an airplane on his way to earth on “Fireball.” While telling the story, the line between Redrum and 7even:Thirty blurs as “Getup” portrays a rapper who’s also alienated from his peers because of his various eccentricities and refusal to relent in his approach.
Erik L and 5-D, who handle most of the production, create a movie soundtrack that sounds more like Akira than an underground rap album. Every beat sounds like a movie score, building in drama and scope with lingering horns, rattling synths and a robustness usually reserved for the Alien franchise.
7even shines on the posse cuts that dominate the middle of the album. He’s particularly strong just jumping on tracks after a gang of MCs have had their way with it, as you never know where he’s going to take his verse. The strongest of these songs is “Space Gangsta,” featuring Coke Bumaye (who drops the best non-7even verse on the album) and Ivisuai. 7even opts to put away the guns, though, and use lightsabers, vaporizers and any other gadget at his disposal. This is space-age gangsterism at its finest.
July 2008, 7even:Thirty and 5th Child performed at a dive bar in the middle of nowhere in New Orleans. They killed but the bar literally had eight overweight smokers in their 40s barely paying attention. Two things I remember about this show: 1) a guy directing us to his car so we could hear his beats he’d posted on Myspace (he made sure we paid attention to the piano keys) when his buddy snuck to the trunk of the car. 7even and I sensed danger so we started to jet only to see the guy pull out a goblet for Courvoisier. 2) 7even, who’s from Jackson, was only in New Orleans for the weekend but he kept mentioning how much he missed his wife and kid. For me, that sounded so strange. Shouldn’t he be glad to be away from his wife and screaming newborn? I never understood how he felt until much later.
Heaven’s Computer takes a dramatic and musically fantastic turn when 7even tells the story of his daughter being born and her heroic quest to stay alive despite a life-threatening fight. “God” is one of those rare rap songs that tells an emotional tale and dares any listener not to get at least a little choked up. By the time he says, “I see you in ICU and I see me in that glass,” Max Redrum transforms into a sympathetic figure and Heaven’s Computer hits its artistic apex. “God” and the following “Heaven’s Radio -Interference” are must-listens for any parent and are as gripping odes to a child any rap medium could hope to achieve.
With Heaven’s Computer 7even:Thirty weaves an enrapturing story about family, loss, perseverance and triumph that parades around as a shoot-em’-up sci-fi concept album any rap fan or Dragonball Z aficionado would gobble up. Rappers speak of creativity but those boasts become whispers under the light of Heaven’s Computer.
March 2008, I met 7even:Thirty for the first time when someone invited me to his house to check out a recording session. That’s when I heard the first sounds of what would be Heaven’s Computer. Sitting in the corner was a small newborn, hanging out in her baby seat in her own musical ecosystem where she’d be 7even’s muse, powering him to make his next song, absorbing the music he’d eventually create and pumping that energy back out for more brilliance to line the walls of that small studio. Even though I hadn’t met this family before it became clear that the driving spiritual force of the music – and eventually Heaven’s Computer itself lay in the heart of a little baby named Jada.