Open Mike Eagle seems like a really relaxed dude.
His music is fantastically easy. It’s comfortably and unpretentiously self-aware, with thoughts commenting upon themselves in a conversational style. Eagle raps in a way that reminds you more of conversations with your friend from college than of hard-hitting battles of words. He talks about small-bore problems and big-deal concepts in the same laid-back mutter of calm introspection. He references pop-culture, not as a means of impressive arcanity, but of low-key relatability. Dude has a freaking Adventure Time podcast as a side project.
Listen: “Admitting the Endorphin Addiction” – Open Mike Eagle & Paul White
Eagle’s 2015 EP, A Special Episode Of… was an excellent showcase of his greatest strengths that I worried also might be the limit of them. In their frank and vernacular directness, his raps lured me in. They were comfortable. They were easy – sometimes too easy. I don’t always have to be a pretentious asshole, but listening to Eagle rap about speeches on The West Wing and his frustration with Spotify’s pay scale made me want to be maybe just a little more challenged by his music.
While he is certainly a rapper with impressive mic skills, Eagle’s music doesn’t stem from the rap tradition as much as from that nebulous zone of alt-rap that might just be people who like the concept of rap more than its practice. Open Mike Eagle would never compete for “Best Rapper Alive,” since it seems like too much effort. It’s profoundly enjoyable music, but it feels like falling into a bed of squishy cushions. It’s not that there’s nothing there, but it feels like lying on air.
Open Mike Eagle’s new album, Hella Personal Film Festival, which came out March 25 (via Mello Music Group), fixes most of my issues with his music, without fixing what wasn’t broken. It’s still profoundly relaxed. But by teaming up with producer Paul White, he finds a more old-school hip-hop sound of soulful live instrumentation and watery reverb. It’s not the relaxation of collapsing on the couch. It’s the sound of a sunny day in spring, not too hot, when you can sit on the patio and chill.
The album’s lead single, “Admitting the Endorphin Addiction,” showcases this in the best of ways. Over a blissed-out guitar loop, Open Mike Eagle takes his downtempo speech patterns and keeps them even more low-key, letting the beat do much of the speaking for him. He is his usual introspective self, but he takes on a little more of a high-minded issue — the way that little bursts of endorphic pleasure can distract him from bigger desires that might matter more.
It’s this lyrical bent that makes this song transcend for me. Eagle addresses exactly the aspect of his music that had once frustrated, talking about how a momentary easy pleasure can often leave one feeling hollow. He proves himself to be among the most thoughtful rappers in the game, by examining the thoughts he has even as he thinks them.
Rap music has ruined me
I always want to loop my favorite part
There’s all that, but there’s also that incredible beat by Paul White. Even as Open Mike raps about the fleetingness of endorphic pleasure, he creates it with his music. As this year’s lazy winter morphs into a spring I’m all too ready for, “Admitting the Endorphin Addiction” is the soundtrack to a great day.