June 23, 2011

Album Review: Open Mike Eagle - Rappers Will Die Of Natural Causes

Open Mike Eagle
"Rappers Will Die Of Natural Causes"

Hip-Hop (alternately spelled hip-hop, Hip-hop, hip-Hop, and, phonetically, hiffop) has as many weirdos as any other genre. There's Lil Wayne, who thinks he's an alien, MF Doom, who has sent impostors to do shows in his stead, and of course, the batshit Blastmaster KRS-ONE, who believes Nas needs to talk to NASA about hiffop on Mars.

So, being weird alone will not allow you to stand out. For Open Mike Eagle, this isn't a problem. He's got the oddball part down, but he backs it up with silky smooth flows and wordplay that will make you question if you really heard what you thought you did (yes, you did.)

On "Rappers Will Die Of Natural Causes", Mike brings all of the above in abundance.

If you're not familiar with Open Mike Eagle, and it seems too many people are still sleeping, I'll try to catch you up to speed. Mike Eagle has spent time in different parts of the country, and thus his style doesn't carry any of the expected trademarks of any one region. This allows him to assume whatever style and role a song may require. More than his remarkable flow, double-take inducing rhymes and ear for beats, his dexterity may be his most prized asset.

Mike has built a more than respectable career to this point based largely on his self-aware style. "Natural Causes" continues this tradition of extroverted introspection. Meaning, Mike rhymes about things that clearly have a specific meaning to him, but he never gets so bogged down in the details that the listener feels as if we're unwelcome in his world. It's music that allows space for our own interpretations, while strongly hinting at the intention. A delicate balance pulled off seemingly effortlessly throughout the album.

Guests on a rap album are like jalapenos on a sandwich. They look so tempting, but too many, or even the wrong kind, will ruin the overall product. Again, Mike uses this tool wisely. Names like Paul Barman and POS are well known to people apt to buy a Mike Eagle album, and their appearances don't feel forced or gratuitous. And Eagle's Swim Team mate, Alpha MC, pulls double duty, producing and featuring on "NH2 (Grins And Lies)", a song that's sonically deceptive in its bouncy vibe, which plays off of the more heavy handed lyrical content therein.

Again, this plays into the Mike Eagle aesthetic. He doesn't bite his tongue if he feels the need to address something, he just does it in a way that doesn't make you feel like you're being lectured or ranted to. He might not be breaking new ground with his subject matter (i.e. rappers don't know how to act/rap), but you're so caught up in his presentation that it really doesn't matter.

Rappers have been using harmony in their raps for far longer than most realize, to varying degrees of success/credibility. Mike Eagle has made it an unquestioned part of his repertoire, rather than a gimmicky crutch, as some have done.

If it seems I haven't covered this album specifically enough, it's because it's easier to write about Mike Eagle's style, and recommend his albums based off of that. It can take getting used to, but once you do, you'll marvel at how complex it is, yet how simple Mike makes it seem. The kind of rapper other rappers both love and hate, for that very reason.

My only complaint with "Rappers Will Die Of Natural Causes": the excellent hidden song at the end of the album isn't longer. But if that portends to what the next album promises, then Open Mike Eagle has plenty of excellent material to give us before he dies of natural causes.

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