ALBUM: Dark Comedy
ARTIST: Open Mike Eagle
Rap is a far more open-ended and boundless genre than most of its players will let on. Even outside the mainstream sphere's seemingly shallow pool of subject matter, underground rappers are as likely to cover but a handful of topics, despite the format and word count of hip-hop allowing for lyrics about anything imaginable. When Open Mike Eagle devoted a song to doing the dishes on 2011’s Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes, it was clear this dynamic was on his mind. Hailing from a crew (the indelible Hellfyre Club) that's devoted to branching out stylistically, he's already proven to be an original songwriter in terms of both flow and narrative, but his latest album Dark Comedy expands still further. Eagle can express great depth with an understated flow, and there are plenty of moments here that are remarkably full in their rendering.
Where the aforementioned freedom of expression can lead to cultural references and cadence territory that may not connect with those who lack an ear for art-rap, this album primarily uses it to its advantage. The strength in the writing can reveal itself both in individual lines and over the course of a full song. Topics like drunk driving, the meaninglessness of money, the culture of dance, and booking fantasy shows are dealt with considerable attention to detail. There are a few songs that might have you taken aback if you're listening closely enough, but the melodic and clever stylization will catch your ear regardless. There is wry humor everywhere, with verses from comedian Hannibal Burress and joke-cracking rapper Kool A.D. accentuating the comedy mentioned in the title, and the unconventional approach plays impressively universal.
It's a back-to-back strong album, warranting return listens thanks to complex lyrics and appealing harmonic raps. Open Mike Eagle's is a style that pulls inspiration from a myriad of points but comes across wholly unique. It's less abrasive than some left-field rappers, poppier than most underground, and better written than anyone who tells you explicitly how lyrical they are. You're unlikely to hear a rapper tackle an album with this much breadth, and this definitely stands out as one of the year's best realized projects. It's a powerful example of show-don't-tell, where less space is given to fluff and aggrandizement than is devoted to legitimately connective words. No one in rap approaches the craft quite like Open Mike Eagle, and he proves it yet again by pulling off an album unlike anything else out there.
"I'm bad at sarcasm so I work in absurdity"