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OPEN MIKE EAGLE
Humor can conceal and alleviate the pain of trauma, but no joke will erase it. Even Wu-Tang Clan told you that tears come after laughter. Relief comes only from opening every emotional and psychological wound.
Open Mike Eagle spent the 2010s finding comedy in rap music and American nightmares. On albums like Brick Body Kids Still Daydream and Dark Comedy, he delivered hilarious socio-political insights via half-sung verses laid atop progressive production. Acclaim from publications like Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and NPR coincided with headlining solo tours and top-billing at events like Adult Swim Festival. Between studio sessions, Eagle co-founded The New Negroes, a standup-meets-music variety show that explores perceptions of blackness. He and co-founder Baron Vaughn brought the show to Upright Citizens Brigade, Comedy Central, and venues around the U.S. Since founding his record label Auto Reverse Records, though, Eagle has scaled back the jokes. He's finally unpacking his traumas and acknowledging their impact.
With over a dozen solo and collaborative projects to his name, Eagle has spent his career redefining and expanding the parameters of "art rap," the term he coined as a shorthand for leftfield and avant-garde rap music. On Dark Comedy, which Pitchfork called "one of the most compelling indie-rap listens of ," he chronicled everything from smartphone addiction to the realities of being an indie artist in the streaming era with self-deprecation and side-splitting absurdity. 2017's Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (Mello Music Group) marked Eagle's shift toward examining trauma. Here he waded through the rubble of Chicago's demolished Robert Taylor Homes, where several family members once lived. Part documentary and part tribute, BBKSD b lended powerful fantasy and grim reality. It illustrated the strength and vulnerability of a community afflicted by institutional racism and the enduring pains of life in the projects. There were few jokes but decades of survival.
Anime, Trauma, and Divorce is Eagle's first full-length album on Auto Reverse and the most personal project of his career. On the verge of middle age, reeling from the collapse of his marriage, he probes the darkness of his past and searches for lights to guide him forward. This is the sound of a broken man sifting through the pieces while trying to rebuild, the struggle to self-critique while practicing self-care. Do you disassociate by envisioning yourself as the lead in your favorite anime, or do you reflect on your headass behavior? Tattoos and beer or push-ups and smoothies? Executive produced by renowned rock producer Jacknife Lee (U2, R.E.M.), the album's few features include Auto Reverse artist Video Dave and Eagle's son. Anime, Trauma, and Divorce finds Eagle virtually alone, doing his best to reject the humor that will not cure his ills. All is not well, but he's never been better.
On Sad, Fat Luck, their second collaborative full-length, rapper/singer Ceschi Ramos and producer Factor Chandelier have condensed three years of heavy touring, profound loss, and late stage capitalism polemics into a 13-track album.
While driving on the autobahn manically throttled on espresso during a tour with cult rapper Serengeti, Ceschi put on a beat that Factor had sent him out of the blue. Factor has a history of gently nudging a vocalist towards a specific sound he’s after, and this was one of those cases as Ceschi found inspiration for the title track flying solo 200 km/h across the German highway.
Sad, Fat Luck was the song, and album, he had to make in the wake of the type of high-grade personal hell that makes you wonder if you’re living in a simulation. “They’re watching me hang myself for rounds of applause,” he laments over a pristine, propulsive Factor beat.
Early in his career, Ceschi’s band Toca was signed to Snoop Dogg’s management team. He learned a bit about how to navigate cutthroat Hollywood and its bullshit lunches and empty promises. During a meeting with an L.A. agency rep, Ceschi was asked to describe his music concisely. Knowing that the breadth of his influences is too wide to properly digest, Ceschi blurted out something like, “If Kendrick Lamar met Elliott Smith in a psychedelic limbo. If Kurt Cobain’s brain blown ghost met Frank Ocean.” And the man got it - right away. No talk of Freestyle Fellowship, Neutral Milk Hotel, My Bloody Valentine, Silvio Rodríguez, or the vast, less marketable influential giants to Ceschi.
A student and peer of the ‘90s California underground scene, Ceschi flips multiple styles and cadences, often moving from chopping verses to spoken word-adjacent raps in the same track. He is also a gifted guitarist, inserting his warm minimalist balladry (“Daybreak”) into the tracklist as a sort of palate cleanser amongst heavier, wide-eyed productions (“Lost Touch”).
When seven friends die in a seven-month span and you exist in an epoch of normalized tragedy and injustice - calling to mind Drew Michael’s notion of depression as a condition where you see the world as it is - where do you turn? For Ceschi, a seasoned indie rap and folk-punk veteran, artistic expression has always kept the gears turning. And Factor has been along for the ride for quite some time now, intuiting Ceschi’s heart through dense, bright productions, and coaxing it out of him when it’s buried just beneath the surface.
Familiar Ceschi themes of death, depression, and despair are at war with the type of blistering hope and joy that Herman Hesse spoke of in Steppenwolf, the improbable moments of tranquility puncturing the sea of suffering. Ceschi encapsulates this sentiment in concise turns of phrase on “Middle Earth”, rapping, “For the minutes we have on this planet we’re seeking love, and that’s more than enough. Call it what you want. Call it God. Call it your freedom. That connection between living beings is a powerful thing, and that’s real to us.”
Sad, Fat Luck came together between 2015-2018, conceptualized partly on the road and realized fully in New Haven and Saskatoon studios. Its title comes from a joke photo Ceschi sent to Factor of himself shirtless in a penthouse Jacuzzi above Times Square that was kindly secured for Ceschi under questionable circumstances by a hacktivist friend during a particularly unstable stretch for the musician. Astronautalis and Sammus provided guest verses on the album, while multi-instrumentalists such as Danny T. Levin, Jane Boxall, and Child Actor helped flesh out the overall sound.
“Sans Soleil”, a late addition to the record, stands as its emotional core. “This has been an awfully costly trip,” Ceschi relays on the chorus, hinting at what he’s endured in a lengthy battle with depression and processing loss. The outro features a voice memo from the late producer Sixo, a close friend of Ceschi’s and integral part of the Fake Four family, who died in a freak motocross race incident in 2018. Sans Soleil is also the title of a Sad, Fat Luck companion album born out of the Saskatoon sessions set to drop in July 2019.
Ceschi founded a label roughly 10 years ago, at a time when beloved indie labels like Def Jux were folding in response to music becoming “free.” He wanted an outlet for him and his friends, and the long road ahead was never viewed as untenable. He grit his teeth, signed artists, made music, booked tours, and continued moving forward amongst shifting terrains. All roads of his past decade have led to this album, and a vocalist couldn’t ask for a better co-pilot than Factor. Sad, Fat Luck is suffering as grist for the mill, and the skeletal framework of what that mill can produce when manned by an unflinching sense of hope.
pink navel— aka cookie the bookkeep, dot dev, running laps— hailing from plymouth county massachusetts, the first and last art rapper of suburbia— pure queer whimsy and clandestine bop born from after school blocks of billy and mandy, etc. musician and youtube expert— representing the almighty Ruby Yacht Poet Gang for now and always.