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May 20, 2010

Open Mike Eagle

Open Mike Eagle

Illustration by Pearl Rachinsky
Project Blowedian and L.A. via Chicago transplant, Open Mike Eagle, has not just released one of the best albums of the year, but one of the best debut releases in ages. I hit up the Swim Team/Thirsty Fish member to discuss his Mush Records released debut album Unapologetic Art Rap and more.

You’ve been living in Los Angeles since back in 2004, what prompted you to leave Chicago?

I was in college at the time. I had done the first year of a graduate program that I didn’t want to be in and I had been in my college town so long that I was living like a corrupt deputy mayor. I could do just about whatever I wanted anytime. And the way that path went, everybody came from Chicago and went back to Chicago after they left that town. I would have ended up running with the same people and living an extended version of my undergrad life in the city. I had a crazy moment of clarity between vanilla Black & Milds and shots of E & J. It felt like a corny part of a coming of age film, but I felt like I needed to hit reset. So I bought a used car with a school loan and drove to California.

What do you miss the most about Chicago?

I miss my network of close friends the most. I traded my support system for these new adventures and I feel their absence in a real way a lot of the time. That’s where songs like “Freak Flag” come from on my album. They’re love songs to people that I used to know.

“The Blowed is like the UCB or the Groundlings of rap. You go there as a student and you hone your skill.”

These days you’re well situated with Project Blowed and your own crews; what was it like first trying to make your way into the L.A. hip hop scene?

That was the easy part. I think that people think its hard to get familiar with the Blowed or get into the L.A. scene. I think you just have to know how to rap. The Blowed is like the UCB or the Groundlings of rap. You go there as a student and you hone your skill. For me it was like rap graduate school. I feel tempted to make a Fellowship/Fellowship joke, but higher-ed jokes aren’t funny in real life.

How does that compare to coming up in Chicago’s rap scene.

That’s just the thing…in Chicago you come up but you never really come out.

You’ve still been keeping your Chicago ties, with Serengeti guesting on your new album and working with Rift Napalm not too long ago. Have you been able to convince any of your Chicago people to join you out west?

Between Rift, Geti, Pugz and Psalm One almost everybody I still work with from the Chi has spent some time on the West coast at one point or another. Pretty soon folks are gonna start having dual residencies. Sometime I wish I had maintained my Chicago rap citizenship a little better.

How did you hook up with Mush Records?

Busdriver got me a meeting with the folks over there and fortunately they felt like they could get behind the music that I played for them. They also signed Dumbfoundead, Psychosiz, and I to do a second Thirsty Fish project thats being mixed down as we speak.

Tell me about Swim Team; is it a crew, label or what?

The Swim Team is an army…better yet a hetero navy. ugh…that was tasteless. The Swim Team is a crew consisting of myself, Sahtyre, Psychosiz, Dumbfoundead, Alpha MC, VerBS, Rogue-Venom, Lyraflip, DozTres, and DJ Zo. When we have a little pocket money…we’re a label. We released Saht’s debut last year and Lyraflip & Real Reid’s EP. We fundamentally represent everyone who was killing shit during a certain era of the Project Blowed open mic. We banded together to swim against other international rap colleges.

Open Mike Eagle - Unapologetic (Feat. Nocando)

Your album Unapologetic Art Rap comes across nicely polished, how long have you been working on this release?

Thanks for that, man. I’m not sure if that’s because I worked on it for a long time…which I did…but I don’t think that’s the reason it sounds like it does. I’m glad you think its polished…but the impression that I get is it that it sounds like its the work of a guy who’s heard a whole lot of rap music in his life. I really try to make music from a place that respects all of the rap history that I’m familiar with. I try to avoid some of the mistakes that my predecessors have made…while there are other mistakes I’m trying my damnedest to repeat. To answer your question, though…it was nearly two years from start to finish.

It’s definitely one of the most well thought out debuts I’ve heard in years. The beats are also really well chosen and consistent, who produced the album?

Thanks sir. The foundation of the album is a set of beats made by Kuest1, Maestroe, and Alwayz Prolific from the production group E. Super. These are the guys that have been working on all of the Swim Team from the very beginning. I also have two joints from Adamatic who I’ve been working with for a while now. Then there’s a track each by Silencio and Exile. The latter did the first single “I Rock”. I made “Pissy Transmissions”…the acoustical emo singy thing.

“…I honestly feel like there are a bunch of really good rappers that are speaking to our real life experience as adults without insulting people’s intelligence.”

On “I Rock” you speak on not being able to make a living rapping. When did you first come to the realization?

*laughs* I think the underground rap economy died in what? 2005? I mean there’s money to be made…but if one’s not prepared to make a product that appeals to a wide swath of people…they shouldn’t expect to…well…that’s not necessarily true…if one builds a market…or attracts a loyal following…they can sustain themselves from art…I’ve got a long way to go, though man. This is art rap for chrissakes. I know the population that I would like to attract, but many of those folks stopped buying rap music a long, long time ago.

Do these target folks still attend shows? Who’s in the crowd at a typical Open Mike Eagle show?

That’s a helluva question there, Dave… I just wrote a song addressing that…in fact its the undercurrent of my next record. My fans…and by fans I mean the people that reach out to me after hearing the music…tend to be folks that stay at home on a Friday or Saturday night…or they go catch a dj somewhere spinning something interesting. They don’t really like rap shows. They may have come to a couple of mine but the venues, the patrons and many of the other acts make it a less than desirable experience for them. My folks tend to be working adults. They’re not into five dudes on stage hollering ‘get your hands up!’

You just described me and a lot of fellow 30-ish year-old music fans. Your song “Art Rap Party” is basically a funny fictionalized version, but do you think rap shows for grown-ups is an actual avenue worth exploring further?

I really think its a necessary reality…the difficult part is having the means to communicate to the rest of us that this kind of thing is out there. “Art Rap Party” is indeed an exaggerated version of it…but I’ve done a few shows and been to a few parties that were the inspiration. I did a little youtube thing about it.

I think its about finding a way to communicate with folks that have given up on this shit. The folks that are sittin’ at home watching VH1 Soul or the folks trying to find a soundtrack to their lives on the indie rock scene. I love rock music, as you can tell from the album. But hip-hop is our generation’s music. We’re the ones that blew it up to where it is right now and I honestly feel like there are a bunch of really good rappers that are speaking to our real life experience as adults without insulting people’s intelligence.

I saw MC Paul Barman mention that he’s going to be working with you, can you tell us more?

I’ve been a huge fan of Paul since his interlude on Deltron. I had that on a tape and I’d rewnd that interlude over and over again. I’d never heard anybody rap like that. I’ve reached out to him via the interwebs and shared some of my stuff with him and luckily he was into it. Now we’ve got some stuff in the works which is like a rap dream to me. I’ve been fortunate in that sense. I’ve been able to work with many of my rap heroes. Busdriver, Serengeti, and Paul are three of them.

Keeping with rap heroes, do feel more honored or annoyed when people inevitably compare you to the original Project Blowedians?

I feel mostly honored and not really annoyed at all. Its only right that the comparisons are there. I really and truly regard the Blowed as my rap finishing school. I went there to learn and the influence is undeniable.

You just wrapped up a big West coast tour with Nocando, Dumbfoundead and Intuition; any other tours coming up in support of the new album?

This July I have a tour coming up with Moka Only and Ceschi Ramos of Fake Four Records which should be a lot of fun. I have a goal set to tour with a certain somebody by the fall. Its still completely imaginary at the moment, I’m using dream magic and persistent phone calls to will it into being.

What is the most ridiculous thing that’s happened on tour so far?

Somewhere…betwixt the audacious metropolis of Seattle proper, and the rolling flats of Olympia…lies the Miraculous Rap forest. That was the most ridiculous thing that happened and also the most miraculous.

I loved your video for “I Rock,” are there any other videos from Unapologetic Art Rap in the works?

There’s at least three more videos planned. How about you tell me which three you think it should be, then we compare notes…

“Freak Flag”, “Unapologetic”, and “Easter Surgery” would be my pics… or “Art Rap Party” would make for a dope video too. So where is the best place for you, pocket-wise, to get people to purchase the new album?

“Art Rap Party” and “Freak Flag” are definitely on the list…2 out of 4 ain’t bad…in terms of purchase locations, the only places that benefit me pocket-wise are Fatbeats L.A. and Amoeba Music in L.A….I consider it an honor if anyone wants to purchase it anyhow. Between you and me, I hear Amazon digital has the whole album for $6.99.

What are the best and worst things about living in L.A.?

The best thing about being in L.A. is the weather. Cliched but true. The best thing musically is that there’s a greater population of artists that have serious careers, prolly due to the proximity to Hollywood. Entertainment capital of the world and all that. That’s kinda what sucks about it too. There’s a lot of fronting. A lot of people blowing smoke up your ass…selling you shit they don’t have.

Any last thoughts, transmissions or shout-outs?

I keep my transmissions pissy so you may want to avoid those… as far as shout outs go, these are the things I want everyone to check for:

Swim Team, Project Blowed, HellFyre Club, The Almighty PDX, the homies Machina Muerte, Oh Boy Films, Knocksteady, the Low End Theory fam, J.U.I.C.E., Philaflava, Galapagos4, Awkward, E. Super and my hometeam Bloody Beta Eta… and please subscribe to my youtube channel.

One more thing. An extra large waterhead shout out to ugsmag for not being snobby rap pricks and posting shit cause its dope, not because of insignificant indie rap politics.


16 Responses

  1. because we’re in the middle Hurtbag……so much influence from all four sides…it’s like living in a juke box…and we all come from house music so it makes for just different shit you know. thank god the air is pellucid…..Open mike got a sick ass 12in with rift napalm from Chicago who rift is held to be the first abstract rapper from the southside…real dope shit…don’t sleep on sketch 185 as well and my brother Vyle. All True southside beasts indeed. Sam I am gets em too homie… SAK/TFD all massive. And oh shit I almost forgot the super crew the “tomorrow kings” extra sick shit!!! Lord 360, Gilead 7, OZONE, Crisis, ill subliminal, wow too many to name. Cop this open mike album though for real this shit is serious business.

  2. Great damn interview. So glad I remembered this site existed, I’m gonna be digging through the archives all afternoon now. But…BIG HELL YES AND THANK YOU for in-depth, non-generic interview content. This was quality.

  3. I love this guy. Thanks to Mike for keeping hip-hop breathing. Art Rap is a fantastic reality, and I’m proud Mike is on the frontlines swimmin around.