Open Mike Eagle - Dark Comedy

Jack Spencer reviews Open Mike Eagle's dense, affecting fourth album.

Additional Info


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"

1. Dark Comedy Morning Show
A good introduction to a record that doesn't imply a particular direction, Open Mike Eagle talks about his own writing, saying he's "bad at sarcasm so I work in absurdity". The beat is a little car commercial cheery, with a nice hook from producer Toy Light, that compliments the situation comedy vibe the laugh track provides after key lines. Juxtaposed against both bad jokes and heavy truths, the positive tip employed here and elsewhere is played both irreverent and ironic. He trails out by shouting out his crew Hellfyre Club one by one, saying they know what he's laughing at.7.5
2. Qualifiers
The rarity of rapping about getting shit on your hands while changing diapers is not lost on Open Mike Eagle, who pointedly references that his left-of-center reference points has left him flat broke. One of the highlights of the Hellfyre Club posse album Dorner Vs. Tookie, it sits well on an album with comedy in the back of its mind, with a truly excellent chorus that regularly elicits a chuckle.9.0
3. Thirsty Ego Raps
An ode to the ego, this cut is one of the album's most fun, as Open Mike Eagle takes the opportunity to go full Stevie Wonder on the hook. The verses work but make use of obscure references and self-aware nods in a way that doesn't stand out like some of the later songs.8.0
4. Golden Age Raps
A quirky look at the modern moment's artistic landscape, a world where rapping over cat videos and rampant unemployment are an everyday reality is certainly rife with punchline possibility. It's an amusing track with some great lyrics but not as tightly realized as the album's highlights.7.5
5. Very Much Money (Ice King Dream)
Starting off with a Simon Petrikov simile, "Very Much Money (Ice King Dream)" can veer into esoteric territory but the concept becomes grounded with the introduction of the struggle between artistic pursuits and the persistent need for money. The creative class should especially connect with this song, a somewhat solemn but reverent diatribe about undervalued skill sets.9.0
6. Doug Stamper (Advice Raps)
Comedian Hannibal Burress makes an appearance to help Open Mike Eagle give advice, including which cars to avoid purchasing and that grown men should wash their hands after peeing. Name-dropping stoic assistant Doug Stamper from House of Cards, the song's hook is an example where gravitating away from his standard melodic voicing could've made for a stronger song over a beat as grimy as this, but the memorably jokey verses here are some of the albums peaks.8.0
7. Jon Lovitz (Fantasy Booking Yarn)
Open Mike Eagle spins a tale of being asked to play the perfect show, with a large cash advance and on the fucking moon, only to have to turn it down because it's his wedding anniversary. It's playful and devastating, with a strong concept and drifting beat that sonically translates the song's fantasy element.9.0
8. Idaho
Popping up in songs by artists like Snoop Dogg, T.I., and Schoolboy Q, impaired driving is not an untouched topic in rap—but the sobering reality of being high behind the wheel is never exhibited with this kind of stark candor. Possibly the most affecting song on the album, Open Mike Eagle takes you into his addled head as he drives intoxicated, fearful of making a wrong move and ending the lives of himself and his passengers. The looming specter of death becomes more present with every line, eventually emphasized with dark synth washes overtaking the previously bare backing beat. It's well-written to the point of being frightening, with a lilting soft melody that belies the impending end.9.5
9. Sadface Penace Raps
Cut off at the end by a faux malfunction, this is a decent track that could've gone further with the idea ("Nobody in the world gets what they want and that is beautiful", goes the would-be chorus), but still pulls off the rare task of being an engaging throwaway.7.5
10. A History of Modern Dance
Jeremiah Jae's beat is Public Enemy-tense and Digable Planets-smooth simultaneously, and Mike rides it with a wholly distinctive groove that accents his lyrical focus on movement. A dance song about actual dancefloor dynamics is surprisingly rare, impressively executed here with a flow that glides across the beat with ease. One of the album's lead singles, it's a great representation of the directions it goes in as a whole.9.5
11. Deathmate Black
Raps spit with a tinge of melody gives way to actual, anthemic R&B-appropriate chops as this song progresses, and Open Mike Eagle proves he can handle a song that is 80% singing. Lyrically tricky and clever R&B is forever something to get behind, and this song makes you want to re-listen both for the thought-provoking words and the earworm vocals.8.0
12. Informations
There are several moments on Dark Comedy that seem influenced by Kool A.D.'s lazily delivered punchlines, but when the man himself makes an appearance, Open Mike Eagle winds up channeling Turf Talk. Kool A.D.'s near-whisper bars pale in comparison tonally to the big sound of Mike's adventurous sci-fi technophile verses, some of the most infectious of the record; the guest presence could've been used on a beat that took advantage of the stylistic similarities the pair of MCs share.8.5
13. Big Pretty Bridges (3 Days Off In Albuquerque)
Explicitly emphasizing the seriousness he lends his music and the audience who often treat rap shows as escapism, Open Mike Eagle closes out his album with some honest thoughts over an ethereal piano loop. The slow, lullaby feel is contrasted with assertions that "this is not some shit I'm sleepwalking through", and though the song plays lighter than air his words pack a punch as always.9.0
Written by Jack Spencer
A freelance music writer from Minneapolis that has been featured in the City Pages, Bitch Magazine, 2DopeBoyz, The AV Club, Consequence of Sound, Thought Catalog, and more.

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