“Don’t turn away from me, look at my eye-hole.”
Open Mike Eagle has returned with a brand new album today, as the talented and unique emcee has dropped Brick Body Kids Still Daydream. The new album has features and production from Exile, Kenny Segal, Andrew Broder, DJ Nobody, Illingsworth, Lo-Phi, Has-Lo, Toylight, Dan Miller, Jordan Katz and others. Purchase from Bandcamp.
With the first song of his 2014 masterpiece, Dark Comedy, Open Mike Eagle reintroduced himself by defining his style: “I’m bad at sarcasm so I work in absurdity.” On that album, Mike deconstructed our overstimulated and over-surveilled society with ease and caustic wit. But what do you do when the world warps and bends into a shape so absurd that it can no longer be exaggerated?
Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is a searingly political record for systolic political times. It chronicles the life cycle of the Robert Taylor Homes, a housing project on the South side of Chicago that was demolished completely ten years ago. Families that had lived under the same roof for three generations were forced to scatter, condemned by bureaucrats and faceless cranes and public indifference. Mike Eagle brings the Robert Taylor Homes back to life–literally, with arms and eyes and a head like the dome of a stadium–and fights until the last brick is made to crumble.
As always, Mike slips in and out of various grey areas; on the opener “legendary iron hood,” he raps, “you think it’s all good, but it’s really a gradient.” The nostalgia (“95 radios”) is a little bit painful, the triumph (“hymnal”) comes through painstaking, incremental work. Everything needs to be earned, even the radio signals that are picked up through tinfoil wrapped on children’s hands.
The thesis becomes fully formed on “brick body complex,” where the hook is a towering statement of identity: “Don’t call me ‘nigga,’ or ‘rapper,’ my motherfucking name is Michael Eagle.” But this is not a departure from the man-as-building conceit–the flesh and blood and brick and mortar are inextricable.
In case there was any ambiguity about the political and cultural forces that lead to the Robert Taylor Homes’ eventual destruction, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream ends with perhaps the most powerful song of Mike Eagle’s catalog to date. “my auntie’s building” is a tour de force. “They say America fights fair,” he raps. “But they won’t demolish your timeshare.” This is the point: the decay and eventual destruction of public housing–and of the physical lives of Black Americans generally–has been normalized in a way that should be grotesquely absurd. “They blew up my auntie’s building / Put out her great-grandchildren / Who else in America deserves to have that feeling? / Where else in America will they blow up your village?”
Production comes courtesy of Exile, Toy Light, Andrew Broder, Illingsworth, DJ Nobody, Kenny Segal, Caleb Stone, Lo-Phi, Elos, and Has-Lo, who produces and guests on “95 radios.” “hymnal” also features a superb turn from Sammus, who maintains the same rhyme scheme throughout her defiant verse.
As grave as the album’s stakes are, it’s still anchored by Mike Eagle’s irrepressible sense of humor. (His live comedy show, The New Negroes, is upcoming via Comedy Central.) “no selling” is a hilarious take on practiced indifference, and “TLDR” bridges the economic gap with withering wit: “If you was rich and ‘bout to be broke, I can coach you / ‘Cause I can show you how to kill a roach with a boat shoe.”
Eagle has earned rave reviews in Pitchfork, the LA Weekly, and wherever brilliant, avant-garde rap is appreciated. Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is his most overtly political work to date, and puts to use all the dazzling technical skills he’s perfected over more than a decade at the forefront of rap’s underground. In chaotic and increasingly fractured times, it has a few crucial things to bring to your attention.