New album, evolving style, powerful values: An interview with Open Mike Eagle

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Open Mike Eagle has taken to the road, on tour promoting his new album Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, an album inspired by the demolition of the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago.

The album exchanges Eagle’s classic humorous lyrics and jovial energy for strikingly raw lyricism and a nostalgic sound that reflects the gravity of the inspiration. While the album’s release was meant to spark a conversation about aid for struggling communities and a controversial public policy decision, the tour as a whole will not be as heavy.

Eagle has a lighter goal in mind for the tour. “I just want to give a good show and let people have a good time,” Eagle said in an interview with The Daily Californian.

In a concert, Eagle values clarity of vocal performances and clean audio, but more importantly, he wants a show to be an interactive experience for both him and the crowd. He reflected on a Prince concert he attended and remarked that a good show is one in which the audience feels as though they have a role in the performance, in the vibe and ambiance of the set. Showgoers can expect the signature Eagle wit and lighthearted joke interludes that he uses to connect with his audience.

As Eagle addresses in his values for a good show, audiences and listeners are not passive participants when it comes to the consumption of music. The way audiences interpret the music performed and whether they feel a connection to it is what makes or breaks the success of an album or concert.

Eagle hopes that when listening to Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, the sentiments promoted will help humanize the people living in these projects and help give way to consideration of these struggling communities in the eyes of the public. This goal is reflected throughout the album’s shocking, heart wrenching tracks — all emblematic of the individual and communal stories of Eagle’s former Chicago community.

He has created a voice for the projects and championed this institutional problem — not born from Trump but from much older systemic corruption.

The signature Open Mike Eagle sound is not as dense and heroic as that of this new album. Eagle’s career was ignited by the release of Unapologetic Art Rap in 2010, where he pioneered a new genre of rap. Art Rap is a marriage of spoken word and classic rap styles, and, in Eagle’s eyes, was meant to acknowledge that artists create music from their own musical values.

While his earlier career was deeply ingrained in this idea of Art Rap and its differences from typical styles, Eagle has strayed from that campaign.

“I’m not sure I really associate with the term Art Rap anymore,” he says, when explaining how his style is evolving. He recognizes that Art Rap wasn’t really a style as much as a concept and a way to label his work for his consumers. He claims that his style has not changed drastically, but as a more experienced rapper, his music has taken on a more mature and polished sound that isn’t identifiable in his first few albums.

Brick Body Kids Still Daydream sounds effortless, with jazzy tracks smoothly tracing into percussion-heavy songs, and tied neatly together with a socially conscious theme reminiscent of the fathers of smooth rap, A Tribe Called Quest.

The album itself seems flawless, but the production process was not without struggle.

While Eagle didn’t have any particularly destructive challenges with this production, he did grapple with decisions about content. The biggest challenge developing this album was deciding whether or not it would only contain content related to the demolition of the Robert Taylor Homes or whether the content could be broader.

Ultimately, Eagle decided that the demolitions would serve as a central theme but not every song needed to be directly connected to that narrative. This decision lends to a more varied album, promoting a powerful theme while avoiding repetition which, in turn, keeps the listener on their toes.

Eagle has an intricate set of priorities when it comes to music that have helped guide his decisions through his career, whether it be to coin the term Art Rap or to move away from it, to create an intense, real album or to hone in on his fun energy during concerts. He values profound lyrics and clean beats. He values narrative and expression. Above all else, Eagle requires that his music speaks a truth that listeners need to hear.

The verses Open Mike Eagle spits are not of imaginary scenarios and crass nights out, but of the realities of circumstances and the troubles of life. His music is not just music but a record of history and the painful realities of society. From this tour, from this album, from this artist, we can expect nothing less than the truth.

Contact Maisy Menzies at [email protected].