open mike eagleContributed by: John Feerick.

Artist: Open Mike Eagle.

Album: Dark Comedy.

Release Date: June 10, 2014.

Open Mike Eagle, part of the oddball West Coast hip-hop outfit Hellfyre Club, raised the bar for underground releases in 2014. Having already released a number of critically acclaimed albums as well as working with A-listers in the scene like Busdriver, Kool A.D., and Billy Woods, Mike has been steadily building up hype for this release, and delivered on it. Mike Eagle has never been the kind of guy whose raps are constantly entrenched in the fantasy world of money and hoes; rather than stay rooted in escapism, he is much more eager to talk about changing his son’s diaper, a long and thoughtful road trip during a tour, and his affinity for the world of comedy. That’s not to say, however, that the album is neutered to the point of being more indie than hip hop. Mike happily calls out rappers and hip-hop as a whole when they give him the right material. In “Golden Age Raps”, a track brimming with snark, he tells the listener that “If your rap career ain’t hittin’ you can rap over videos of kittens, it’s the golden age!”

Mike spits off-kilter one liners in a verbose yet down to Earth manner, never overstaying his welcome or barraging the listener but firmly capturing their attention. Quotables are dropped nonchalantly layered with an almost Drake-esque crooning. The vocal dynamics in this album are in constant flux, along with the flows and he does an impressive job of improving that experimental flows don’t only exist in trap. Before listening to this album, it’s important to understand that while the sound is accessible, the artist and his beats do not shy away from abstraction. The production features heavily manipulated sounds with an incredible variety of textures, with drums loops that often seem pulled from a shoegaze song. Mike brings along former Das Racist jester Kool A.D. who contemplates hollow everyday existence with trademark incoherence. Comedian Hannibal Buress also shows up and drops one of the best verses on the album with the confidence of a vet. Sadly, no fellow members of Mike’s West Coast clique Hellfyre Club are featured, a disappointment after the great posse cut Dorner vs. Tookie.

This record is eagerly political and generally reflect his beliefs in his signature comical matter.  In his opener “Dark Comedy Morning Show”, Mike quips “It’s Dark Comedy, I would’ve called it black/ If another dude calls me a racist, I’mma snap.” Later on the track he states, “It’s like the In Living Color cast/ We laugh and try not to wish death on the upper class/ I’d like to run up on the Koch Brothers/ And beat ’em with a garden hose made of old rubber.”  Though for most of the record Mike dances around issues with his wordplay he brings issues to light that are not typically discussed in hip-hop and even claims that he’s “president of the rappers that don’t condone date rape.”  He has stated in interviews that he does not consider his music political or conscious but just a representation of himself.  He attempts to give a completely honest version of his thoughts and any sociopolitical message is simply an extension of his principles and his aim is not to preach, which makes sense especially when one considers his discussion of race.  In a moment of anger, he tells listeners “Fuck you if you’re a white man that assumes I speak for black folks/ Fuck you if you’re a white man who thinks I can’t speak for black folks.”  In the current hip-hop landscape, the most daring thing a rapper can typically do is challenge the authenticity of an Iggy Azalea or Macklemore. Rappers are content to benefit from an industry that often takes advantage of their own people for the sake of monetary gain and glory. Race is an issue often discussed but any academic or thought-provoking conversation is usually absent. With that in mind, we need more rappers like Open Mike Eagle who don’t necessarily make race the focus of their music but allow it to be a serious part of it.

4.5/5

Recommended if you like: Busdriver, Atmosphere, Billy Woods, lyrical hip hop, Broad City.

Soundtrack for life: walking to class, surfing the web, watching Nick at Nite.

Receives airplay on: 7 Heaven on Fridays from 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM.