#soundcheck: “art rap” sensation open mike eagle’s 4nml hsptl is as badass as it is hard to pronounce.

August 3, 2012

The coffin’s been closed on the “are synths and samplers instruments or tools?” debate for a while but it’s still rare to hear something that’s primarily electronic that sounds handmade. The beats and glitchy synths on LA’s Open Mike Eagle’s new record by UK producer Awkward are the perfect compliment to self-proclaimed “art-rapper” Open Mike Eagle’s idiosyncratic flow. The difficult to pronounce 4NML HSPTL is definitely not for everyone; this is the kind of record that people either don’t get, or they love.

Opening with the glitch / electrofunk / dubstep / just beautiful ‘Stars’ sets the tone: this is simultaneously new, and now. Sure, this could not exist any time but the summer of 2012, but in 20 years I question how many of Open Mike Eagle’s wobbly-bassed contemporaries we’ll still be listening to. This—I think (hope)—we’ll still be rocking. The difference is Eagle’s willingness to get deeply personal and extremely individual in the pursuit of the universal. The details may be unique to him, but the feeling of being an outsider, of being different, of just not fitting in, that permeate the record are shared by many of us. “I used to be jealous-hearted / how’d he get such a swell apartment? / look at me countin other peoples fans / instead of trying to be a better Eagle man,” Eagle raps on ‘HSPTL’ beneath decaying detuned synths. This kind of open-hearted earnestness is tragically rare in modern hip-hop.

Of course it’s not all dashboard confessionals (get it? Sorry.). Lead single ‘Universe Man’ is catchy as hell it it’s own surreal way. While songs like ‘Debits,’ and ‘The Financial Crisis That Wouldnt Go Away’ are eviscerating takedowns of our imploding financial system. (Not to go all Occupy op-ed on you, but ‘The Financial Crisis…’ should be required listening for all Americans who still think the system isn’t completely rigged against them…) But true to form, Open Mike Eagle brings it personal again with ‘DanceBill,’ a hook-filled song about the millions of tiny social humiliations of being too broke to go out to a club. It’s a situation many of us (ok fine, I’m talking about myself here) are all too familiar with. It’s a brilliantly personal touch, because it’s one thing to rap about the shady/criminal dealings of Ben Bernanke. We know it’s messed up because Jon Stewart already told us 4 years ago. But when Open Mike Eagle gets personal about the effects of the (no-one use the D-word!) recession, suddenly that’s something we can feel.
In his bio, Open Mike Eagle self-deprecatingly says “He’d like to be rap’s Kurt Vonnegut but recognizes that he’d first have to create something as iconic as the four-stroke illustration of an anus.“ But on 4NML HSPTL he actually comes damn close to Vonnegut’s legendary skill at using the bizarrely personal to illustrate the universal. So does that make this his Breakfast of Champions? Maybe.
The whole record is out now on Fake Four. Definitely do not miss this one:

– Contributor: Nathan Leigh