The Open Mike Eagle Interview
Posted by PremRock on Aug 15, 2014 | 0 Comments
The phrase “It” rapper or “It” artist often gets tossed around in the circuitry of music nerds but rarely does it equate to a worthwhile act. In layman’s terms “it” means the artist those in the know are constantly clamoring for it and the product seems to match the hype. Open Mike Eagle is just such an artist. Already a favorite amongst fellow artists in the indy lane as well as a healthy amount of critics, Mike seems poised to take the next step this year and beyond. You’ll be pretty hard pressed to find a person who has a microbe of a bad thing to say about the Chicago native and LA representative, but that really isn’t the point. There simply aren’t many rappers doing rap at as high a level as Mike is. Open Mike Eagle is an exceptional talent and one of the brightest minds in music today. On the heels of the release of the exquisite “Dark Comedy,” Mike took the time in between the road and home to give some answers for the questions burning a hole in my brain. Hope you enjoy.
Premrock: My introduction to the name or brand of Hellfyre Club was your stellar LP in 2011 “Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes” can you speak a bit about the formation of the crew and just how important has its evolution been in your recent work?
Open Mike Eagle: It evolved from a dying rap planet called Project Blowed. Me and Nocando and Verbs and Kail were on one of the escape rockets. James decided to call the rocket Hellfyre Club, then we found Busdriver dancing in another dead spaceship in the dark and we made him come with us. milo was about to build his own ship out of a planet called college. He was going to make it out of cough medicine and hair oil. We made him come with us too.
Premrock: Probably the most impressive thing about you, to me, is your ability to juggle fatherhood, familial responsibilities and the like while maintaining a strong presence on the road and in the press. Would you have any advice for fathers/mothers who wish continue the rough road of being an independent artist but remain a decent parent?
Open Mike Eagle: You gotta have a really solid partner. Mine has been there since the day job days, watching me be depressed and ornery in between artistic opportunities. I’m still depressed sometimes but it’s definitely my fault now. It’s still not easy on the household when I’m gone all the time but now I come back with a couple dollars and that helps cause since I don’t have a day job anymore we always need a couple dollars. So my advice is get good at the internet and youtube and make a big fanbase and then don’t leave your house until somebody pays you a lot of money to.
Premrock: Once in a convo in Williamsburg over IPAs and Gimlets, billy woods said to me (close to verbatim) “It’s funny when someone says ‘Your album changed my life’ because it didn’t change mine.” Can you describe what it’s like to produce critically and publicly lauded art but still struggle? Do the accolades get frustrating when they don’t translate?… Like thanks ya’ll but…
Open Mike Eagle: If i sell ten million copies i’ll still struggle though because being a human is hard the way we’re currently set-up. I’m always honored to have ever touched anybody with anything I’ve done ever. and i think my work kinda does change my life. Like every time I put an artistic statement out there my life changes in one way or another. That’s part of why this is such a unique job.
Premrock: Project Blowed is an institution of top-flight skill-based Emceeing and other avenues of hip-hop culture. From the second hand stories I’ve heard it’s like a dojo of sorts and you must earn your place. Having cut my teeth in the NYC underground we all have a certain respect for talent breeding ground and healthy competition. How did this environment shape your development? Do you feel you held an advantage over other artists who didn’t have to earn respect the same way?
Open Mike Eagle: Yeah what do they say, pressure makes diamonds? Some cliche shit like that but its true. and i’d been on some battlegrounds but never anything like the blowed. First time I got up on that stage I folded like a beach chair. It’s beyond craftsmanship. Rap was literally a martial art there. If you couldn’t do it, you weren’t allowed to do it.
Premrock: Many don’t know the origins of your connection to Hannibal Burress, could you break it down for us? And also, any truth to the rumor he originally served you a bit in a battle?
Open Mike Eagle: It ain’t a rumor. He got me. In a freestyle battle in front a fair amount of people. I thought he was gonna bullshit but he was ready. We were in college at the time and I was his R.A. he kept telling me to go write people up but it was way funnier than that.
Premrock: The first time I met you was at SXSW in 2011. It’s a great opportunity for building in those regards but it certainly has become a different animal altogether in the years since. You’ve voiced some gripes on this subject before, but do you think it’s a lost cause and no longer a indy outlet of viability? OR can we finally share the secret with the aspiring, starry-eyed SXSW romanticizer that it just might not be worth it?
Open Mike Eagle: It can be worth it. It just depends on what you want out of it. You’re not gonna go down there and get signed unless you’re down there doing a bunch of shit next to signed people or in front of people who can sign people. There’s so much going on there that you can go get your name out in the indie scene too. You can go to those same events we went to, prolly get on the mic, and if you’re impressive then at least the other indie rappers and indie fans (usually the same people) are talking about you. and thats worth something. It’ not worth money but it’s worth something.
Premrock: Dark Comedy is one of the best records of the year and has received some favorable press and reviews, with the record review becoming an endangered species as far as media goes, how rewarding is it to see a well-written and comprehensible REVIEW and not a blurb? Conversely, how bad does it suck when they completely miss the mark?
Open Mike Eagle: Thanks man. Reviews are an awful construct really but when somebody gets it and they have a platform to tell other people why they think your product is great then it’s super crazy helpful. It really only sucks if they don’t like it and super sucks if they don’t like it for reasons that seem to defy logic. Like ‘oh, i don’t like it cause he says the word sausage too many times, I only like rap where they say sausage twice’. shit like that i hate. I try not to get too emotionally invested though. I fail all the time.
Premrock: You participated in a study of the freestyling mind for Huffington Post a couple years back, the act of freestyling tends to be more prominent on the West Coast, I have my theories as to why that is, but can you share your thoughts on the matter? Why come you Westers are so nice off the top?
Open Mike Eagle: It was with the National Institutes of Health. Huffpo just reported on it. The theory I heard back in the day from somebody was that when west coasters first heard early NY rap they assumed that it was all off the head so they taught themselves how to rap that way. I don’t know if thats true or not but thats something I heard.
Premrock: Going back a bit, In the song “HSPTL” off of ANML HSPTL, you mention growing in your ability to appreciate other people’s work and not let the frustration of the roadblocks you face color your views of the outside artistic world. I think all artists can benefit from taking this point of view but it isn’t easy. Was there a catalyst for this shift or is it just maturity?
Open Mike Eagle: I hadn’t actually made that shift yet. The conceit of that song is that its a fake breakthrough. It’s like telling your therapist what you think they want to hear. So I still go through that quite a bit.
Premrock: Damn I missed the point there, I feel like Martini learning how to play blackjack. A lot of people look at things when they are built and think “gee that’s nice I want that” but don’t ever put the leg-work in to achieve such things. I feel like there is no greater example than the touring artist. You’ve grinded your way through many tours and along the way I’m sure many sub-par, humbling shows (I mean, I did rock that Tucson show with you). Can you share a major WTF moment from the road with us?
Open Mike Eagle: You should tell them about Tucson. That was the worst show with the best photos ever. I played for 7 people in Little Rock, Arkansas once. They were sitting around a table in the middle of the venue. It was really bad. It’s all math though. Draw + promoter + venue + time/day. It’s real easy to have a bad show if any one of those elements is missing.
Editor’s Note: in Tucson the “promoter” came up to us and said “gee, I hope people know about this!” before our soundcheck.
Premrock: You’ve shared the stage and the song with some impressive acts over the years. Who would you give your right kidney (assuming you’d battle through life and medical advancements would keep you alive and healthy the standard amount of years but you’d have that whole “I only have one kidney” thing hanging over your head) to have a song and subsequent tour with?
Open Mike Eagle: John S. Hall, They Might be Giants, DOOM, Ween, ATCQ, De La Soul.
Premrock: Dark Comedy will probably be the introduction of you to a lot of folks, did this affect your approach at all? Or did you simply execute the existing concept and worry about the rest later?
Open Mike Eagle: Yeah cause from my vantage point there’s no way to tell if thats gonna be the case. or conversely no way to tell if that definitely won’t be the case. I just tried to use the lessons that i’ve learned releasing albums and try to make something thats a fully realized vision. Just try to make sure i heart everything about it and not get so self-indulgent that it becomes inaccessible. I felt really good about this one and it seems like it’s rolling out pretty damned well.
I have to say that I agree. Dark Comedy is another piece in the fantastically blinding rap collage assembled by a man on fire. Open Mike Eagle is one of the best rappers on the planet and it seems the right people are finally catching on. It’s nice to see for those of us who have known now for years but continued growth requires telling the people you know about it. So share the word, this interview, a video, his new record. It all helps. Thanks to Mike to taking the time and thanks to you for reading this.
BUY “Dark Comedy.”