Successful musicians often hit a point in their careers where the more universal feelings that fueled their early work, like desperation and hunger and a need to prove yourself, fall away as they instead reflect on the alienation of fame and the touring life. Open Mike Eagle isn’t a household name yet but his career is at that turning point where he could get all navel gazey and no one would blame him. But OME was never a crowd pleaser to start with, he was always out there on the fringe, smarter than the competition, too weird and anxious to blend in and so his new album Brick Body Kids Still Daydream succeeds by fully leaning into that, detailing what it’s like when your “big dumb brain’s an electrical ocean,” of trying to ensure you’re “never exposed when [you’re] hella morose.”
Granted, Open Mike Eagle hasn’t exactly shied away from that kind of exploration in the past but what separate Brick Body Kids from previous works is OME’s newfound comfort in directly confronting the labels and expectations hoisted upon him. As he defiantly states in “Brick Body Complex,” he’s not “a rapper,” his motherfucking name is Michael Eagle and he will “never fit in your descriptions.” “Brick Body Complex” also has OME declaring he comes from a “long line of ghetto superheroes,” which isn’t a brag so much as an attempt to connect himself to the outsider aspect of super heroics both in terms of readership and the thematic sense of characters like the X-Men, who more or less get an entire tribute song in album opener “Legendary Iron Hood.”
The outsider traits extend to the production itself (though perhaps never quite to the same degree as the atonal blitzkrieg of “A History of Modern Dance”) so you get the smog drenched beat of “95 Radios” and OME and Has-Lo’s silky smooth flows colliding with the herky jerky oddity of “TLDR (Smithing),” where barely there kick-snare percussion stirs Mike up until he’s a breathless mess trying to make himself heard over a mosquito drone guitar lick. Brick Body Kids might not be consistent in its sounds but it is consistent in its approach, always emphasizing the two ends of OME’s aesthetic personality, sing-song melodies on one end, anything-goes, oddball rhythms on the other.
OME admits on “No Selling (Uncle Butch Pretends That it Don’t Hurt)” that his technique is to “just wait a couple seconds then reattempt” even though “that shit is exhausting.” There’s also a self-awareness to moments like “No Selling,” where OME grapples with the logistics of his approach and how it limits his chances for more socially acceptable forms of success as well as the toxic masculinity of holding in all that bitterness and pain. “Stone face, strong jaw shown to my competitors/I tear my ACL and wouldn’t even limp/keep my head up high so I can read the blimps,” Mike says, only to later shout “I’m in pain” and then quickly clarify that he’s still not selling.
There’s a reason why OME’s heroes on the album aren’t hip hop idols but dudes like Charles Xavier, who keep their anguish inside even as they realize that by doing so they put everyone around them at risk. Longtime fans of the X-Men know how that eventually went for Xavier– his repressive tendencies manifested themselves as a psychic monstrosity called Onslaught, who went on to destroy huge chunks of the Marvel universe before Xavier’s friends and family had to rein in him. But for Xavier that weakness ultimately came down to a matter of hubris, whereas for OME it seems to come constant internal conflict between who he is and where he came from.
It’s this aspect of the album that ensures that for as much as Open Mike Eagle may think he can never fit in, that no descriptions can ever suit him, he’s more universal than he gives himself credit for and that the divsions within himself make him better suited to successfully exploring identity and environment in 2017 than perhaps anyone else in hip hop. Navigating his humble origins on “Breezeway Ritual,” OME confesses that there’s “a little bit of ghetto” in everything from his outlook on life to the way he talks, and that “magnet programs baccalaureate” and shifting identities as a “Illinois Texas Californian” won’t change that. More importantly, it’s not something OME believes needs to be changed anymore, the problems aren’t with him but with American society’s use of shame to create “permanent sadness constant mourning” for the oppressed.
Open Mike Eagle’s unflinching self-examination on Brick Body Kids Still Daydream would have been profound and meaningful in any year, but in 2017, it hits like an emotional sledgehammer, imbued with unfathomable pain and sorrow and yet somehow still hopeful and kind. Only an outsider as aware and visionary as Open Mike Eagle could make a work as observant as this, and now it’s on us to take its messages to heart.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover