There is a new meta-suicidal Drake mixtape out and you’ve probably heard it or at least heard the pundit brigade’s thoughts on it. It’s got a cover that, to paraphrase a remark by The Roots, looks like it was written by one of the Chick-Fil-A cows but beyond that it’s another salvo in hip hop’s sincerity wars. Drake has carved out a neat little niche for himself as hip hop’s humble golden boy, a dude who often has guests stop by on his own songs to remind him how unworthy he is. It’s an interesting break from the standard braggadocio of hip hop (though Kanye’s paradoxical egomania and self-loathing remains its most fascinating case study), but it’s still got this weird fanboyism where Drake sets himself apart from ambitious lunatic peers like Lupe Fiasco by making groveling at your heroes’ feet an art form. When it comes down to the sincerity trip, I’m still far more into the Hellfyre Clube scene, the intellectual OGs of chronic self-hatred and flagellation.
“Art rap” icon Open Mike Eagle opens up his new EP A Special Episode Of… with “Dark Comedy Late Show,” a meta-talk show track that features the line “I graduated college/I purchased all the extra books/I was supposed to be living in a house with a breakfast nook,” a sort of update on his collaborator and mentor Busdriver’s classic “Kids, if you want to piss off your parents/Show interest in the arts” bridge in “Imaginary Places.” The point is that this wasn’t how shit was supposed to go, not for a dude who once co-authored a National Institutes of Health study on brain activity during free styling. All these smarts were supposed to be good for something other than further anxiety.
OME, and his Hellfyre peers, seem a different kind of authentic from Drake, their self-loathing and low self-esteem not so much a case of idol worship gone maxi but an acknowledgment of how useless intellectualism is when it comes to dealing with everyday life. From OME’s perspective, it’s actually a bit of a crutch, particularly in the hyper masculine world of hip hop. So why even fight it? Why not just make fun of it?
That playfulness extends to OME’s music, which is especially frisky on A Special Episode, more melodic than the avant rhythmic exercises that made up much of last year’s Dark Comedy and full of audio jokes emphasizing the lyrical ones, like “Split Pants in Detroit” and its “I can listen to Neil Young and Sufjan Stevens” line getting followed up by “Raps for When It’s Just You and the Abyss” and its Broken Social Scene sample. Where Dark Comedy standouts like “A History of Modern Dance” were pointedly disjointed, on A Special Episode, OME seems more willing to embrace the sweeter end of his knack for sing song flows. That serves to make the awareness of the playful commentary more apparent—OME wants you to laugh with him, so let it all out.
That all culminates in the Gold Panda-produced closer “Ziggy Starfish (Anti-Anxiety Raps),” where OME unleashes a flurry of different cadences and melodies against the repetitive, glitch beat. There is talk of playing Scrabble and having every word be a confession (“a-n-x-i-o-u-s-“) and frank discussion of hangups about not being gangster enough but the focus is on the sheer love of wordplay, of biting into a juicy turn of phrase and feeling gloriously indulgent. “Dark Comedy Late Show” might begin the EP with some meta-analytics of failure and broken generational promises, but “Ziggy Starfish” indicates that by the end OME has worked out at least some of his issues. Put another way, mainstream confessional hip hop is about Drake making it clear he’s awful at relationships and is crushingly devoted to pleasing his idols, while OME is more interested in a different kind of internal truth, one where you realize post-college dreams you had weren’t so true to your own desires and you’re happier with a cutthroat Scrabble game while Illinois plays in the background.
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