Not many rappers can drop references to Adventure Time and Prometheus in their tracks and still sound sincere, but Chicago born, Los Angeles-based rapper Open Mike Eagle can and does in “Very Much Money”, one of the tracks from his new album “Dark Comedy”. (NSFW)
I recently grabbed Mike to chat for a few minutes about comic books, Transformers, and more.
You grew up in Chicago, didn’t you? What was your childhood like? What was eight year-old Mike Eagle like? What about eighteen year-old Mike Eagle? What’s a typical day like for the Mike Eagle of today?
My childhood was sheltered but in the middle of the worst of the crack era, so my grandparents went out of their way to keep me as safe as possible from non-stop madness outside. As an 8 year old I was pretty erudite and lacking in social skills. I read a lot and played with Transformers and watched a ton of cartoons and music videos on cable. As an 18 year old I was learning alot about myself while very nearly flunking out of a state college. I think I was homeless for a bit that year down in school. These days I’m waking up, taking my son to school, then managing my career all day til he and the wife get home.
How did you get into music? Was there a moment you remember saying “This is what I would like to do with my life”?
I started rapping in high school. I read this book called Bomb the Suburbs and I dove into all of the elements of hip-hop that I could afford: namely rapping, graffiti, and breakdancing. So I spent the first 6 years of my rap life just freestyling on stage and rapping on the street in ciphers. I had to write my first song when I had my first show in 2002 and I got paid 230 bucks that night. Thats when I thought to myself that I wanted to take it seriously.
Were I to go digging through your music collection right now, what would I find?
A lot of They Might Be Giants, XTC, A Tribe Called Quest, David Bowie, Hellfyre Club and Project Blowed rappers
What does “art rap” mean, and how did you come up with the title of your new album, “Dark Comedy”?
Art rap is some attempt to describe a movement in rap toward a more open expression and nuanced character. The aesthetic has been around forever. Just finding new ways to discuss it. The title for my album came from the realization that a lot of the tone that I intend for my records to have is that of some of my favorite movie directors. I want to make rap albums that feel like Coen Brothers movies.
Speaking of comedy, you do a lot of stuff with comedians – Marc Maron, Hannibal Burress, Paul F. Tompkins. How did this come together? It seems like comedians and musicians have some things in common in terms of being on the road and speaking truth to power.
I’ve always been a huge fan of comedy and I’ve been able to be a musical guest on some comedy shows at Upright Citizens Brigade and that audience responds to me very well, so I’ve always sought out those types of opportunities
Am I imagining it or are a lot of science fiction references in your work? You name check both Adventure Time‘s Simon Petrikov and The X Files‘ Cancer Man, and mention Prometheus in “Very Much Money”. Rappers are arguably the coolest people on Earth, but you seem to know your way around some geeky stuff. Whats going on here?
I just try to keep my music true to my influences. I’m really interested in the social commentary that drives science fiction. And I’m a huge fan of fantasy when the mythology is well put together. Thats why I’m a huge fan of Adventure Time.
Who are some of your favorite writers of any sort of genre? Who influences you? What about movies and games? Do you read comic books?
My favorite authors are Robert Anton Wilson, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, and James Baldwin. The order changes almost daily. I grew up reading lots and lots of comics and spending many hours in comic book stores. As I got older, I dug into graphic novels. I haven’t picked up one in a while. any suggestions?
“Very Much Money” seems to be about artistic integrity, and particularly hanging on to it in a culture that doesn’t place too much value on that kind of thing. Is that something you’ve got a lot of experience with, personally? Do you get much pressure to change your work in some way?
No, it’s not so much about being pressured to change. It’s more about having a ton of ideas and not being able to afford to produce any of them, so it’s more about economic pressure than it is about music business, pressure, if that makes sense.
You’re a generally creative guy. You have other artistic outlets, right? f you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
I’d be writing. I really want to write comedy sketches. I think that I have some perspectives that might make for some unique comedy concepts.
Are you going to tell me about that Prometheus story?
In person only 🙂
Anything you want to tell our readers?
Listen to more rap music. There’s a ton of it