Release Date: Mar 25, 2016
Record label: Mello Music Group
Since dedicating himself to trudging through the murky swampland where art and commerce tend to be at odds, (with the help of semi-prestigious boutique Mello Music Group) Open Mike Eagle’s profile has expanded exponentially. At it for years now, the success of 2014’s Dark Comedy catapulted the Project Blowed alum turned (now defunct) Hellfyre Club offshoot towards becoming somewhat of a counterculture staple. Finding a market for his on-record existential crises, Mike’s firm footing in the business of underground rap coincides with greater visibility not limited to television and an appearance on Marc Maron’s widely regarded “WTF” podcast.
Detractors complain that Open Mike Eagle's lyrics are opaque, tangential and often just plain bizarre, but that's short-sighted. Each of those attributes, instead, make him one of hip-hop's most distinctive voices. Those naysayers may change their minds thanks to Eagle's new collaborative album with producer Paul White, Hella Personal Film Festival.
By 2016, Open Mike Eagle was considered a "slept-on" rapper, one with twice the skills as press coverage and one who mixed all the best bits of Devin the Dude, Q-Tip, Mos Def, Aesop Rock, Drake, and even his good friend, comedian Hannibal Buress. The bad news for all his advocates is that his collaboration with frequent Danny Brown producer Paul White is a humble and restrained blow against the empire, but it is artistically rich and brilliant. The apt title Hella Personal Film Festival gets at Eagle's quest for deep meaning, and his use of literate and hip wit to cut away all the dreck.
Mike Eagle doesn’t rap; he talks to you in rhythmic form, calmly unpacking his narrative as the world around him spirals out of control. Emcees like Eagle, Action Bronson, Aesop Rock, and Homeboy Sandman have this uncanny way of drawing you into what they say, despite unusual references that don’t always connect. Theirs is a conversational cadence full of random observations; and with Eagle, he can discuss wrestler Rick Martel’s cologne and the struggles of being a black man with the same verve, even if those topics are completely dissimilar.
Open Mike Eagle raps what we’re all thinking — or what we’d all be thinking if we weren’t distracted by our inability to snap a photo of our brunch platter just as a ray of sunlight hits that dollop of crème fraîche. The L.A.-via-Chicago MC raps about our Instagram addiction, too, though not within its own bubble. He understands how sepia-tone photos and digital hearts are connected to society’s ills through a web that breaches the Internet’s boundaries.
If the late, lamented revolutionary poet Gil Scott-Heron was a college-bound poet today, he might be writing raps in the vein of Open Mike Eagle. The comparison isn’t so far-fetched; Eagle cuts through pop-culture tropes with a cutting wit and snarky, self-deprecating humor. He pairs satirical broadsides like last year’s self-explanatory “Celebrity Reduction Prayer” with painfully intimate revelations, just as Scott-Heron once shifted from ’60s pop send-ups like “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” to anguished ballads like “The Prisoner.
After developing a friendship with Hannibal Buress, forming notable hip-hop group Cavanaugh with like-minded MC Serengeti, and building an audience for his quirky podcast, Secret Skin, Open Mike Eagle has become a minor thing. That status makes him the focal point of the new Hella Personal Film Festival, a record that more than sufficiently showcases his talents—wry social commentary through snapshot-of-life vignettes, anxiety and self-awareness mixed with stream-of-consciousness irreverence, all delivered with a smooth and relaxed (if plodding) flow. But while Mike’s methods continue to deserve attention, the real standout of the album is collaborating beatmaker Paul White.