Open Mike Eagle Brick Body Kids Still Daydream

[Mello Music Group; 2017]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: lowercase raps, how to kill a roach with a boat shoe
Others: Busdriver, billy woods, milo

There’s a thin line between being underground and keeping your head in the sand. As the world of rap expands, its margins necessarily become more far-flung; amidst the genre’s expansion beyond the confines of a singular identity, its warring factions have increasingly defined themselves against, rather than alongside, one another. In refuting the notion of mainstream appeal, the personality and idiosyncrasies of the artist take priority — a victory for the individual, but also an easy path to excessive self-indulgence. It should come as no surprise that those most likely to rap about postmodernity are prone to replicating its solipsistic tendencies.

Brick Body Kids Still Daydream does no such thing. Rather than losing himself amongst abstraction, Open Mike Eagle’s work is rooted plainly in lived experience, cultivating an accessible appeal while clearly remaining a world apart from the listener’s own rapping abilities. Avenues for experimentation and rule-breaking are well chosen: Open Mike Eagle navigates the space between rapping and singing to far more pleasing effect than an attempt to push either to an extreme, and the production fully explores the possibilities of 4/4 time rather than doing away with it entirely. The “No Selling” beat recalls The Wu-Tang Clan’s “7th Chamber (Part II)” just enough to clarify the album’s position as a fresh entry along the linear progression of hip-hop rather than an outright rejection of the form.

The success of Brick Body Kids is that its world is not populated by its creator alone; Mike Eagle manages to balance the sense that he is speaking for many with the certainty that no one else could do it quite the same way. It’s a rare feat to be able to take a verse in the direction of “I’m grown so I’m always disgusted/ All these discussions online is mayonnaise versus mustard/ Mayonnaise people think French can’t be trusted/ Mustard people think eggs is all busted” (from “Daydreaming in the Projects”) and maintain the listener’s attention, let alone their credence. Yet, throughout the album, Eagle manages to inject novelty into 2017’s most worn-out declaration: things suck right now.

In fact, as the album goes on, one could be forgiven for escaping the present moment a bit. Lead single “95 Radios” is a wholesome, charming reflection upon simpler times with video to match (watch above), an easy jam that can turn any mood into the warm comfort of nostalgia. It doesn’t last. Immediately afterwards, the album closes with “My Auntie’s Building,” a dissonant moment of sublimated rage at the destruction of the Robert Taylor Homes, a federal housing project that serves as a setting, both implicit and named, for much of what Mike Eagle reminisces about in the album’s lighter moments. It’s the perfect end to the album, in the sense that the album’s end was inevitable; it’s the sound of waking up from a daydream and remembering that, yes, that bullshit is still going on.

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