In an interview, Open Mike Eagle talks a little bit about himself, off the mic but still on the record: “I grew up in a, in a, basically in old folks’ homes…I grew up when crack was being introduced into the inner city…and I think I grew up watching too much cable TV.” One wonders if, among all those biographical details, Eagle’s fledgling years spent so near to those in the twilight of life had a direct effect on the title of his new album, Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes, given that “natural causes” is a term that refers to the least unsavory way to bid adieu the known world. Whether or not that’s true, Natural Causes is an interesting LP for inquisitive folks open to cruising Open Mike’s world, which appears to be far from the dead-zone.
The L.A. rapper by way of Chicago begins Natural Causes by putting something to rest on “The Processional (The Funeral March),” produced by E. Super. Far from emanating an obituary’s finality, the song is a good introduction to Eagle’s conversational flow and the gritty, dirty-sounding, clean-engineered beats that come across like a more melodic and chill variant of Saul Williams’s grippo-sound that featured so prominently on his eponymous sophomore disc. There’s not only a glitch in the matrix; the jumpy, warped effects featured on Natural Causes recall the level in Sonic 2 where things get slowed way down; it’s the hedgehog’s worst dream come true.
Likewise, on the excellent “Nightmares,” produced by Willie Green, the drums hit you at about the same time Eagle’s words do, as does the stretched out doowap sample that ooo-wah’s its way into the ears, like what a merperson’s song is supposed to sound like underwater (Potter, anyone?). Here, listening feels like leaning an ear to process the nostalgia-laced dream Eagle relates, his telling without any of the fogginess that accompanies revisiting the state of rapid eye movement and apparently, just as rapid pensiveness. Open Mike dispenses: “I met some old friends recently/They on a whole new frequency/I made some new friends the other day/But they was talking bout color-ways/ You can’t rock clothes like Kanye/And go home to frozen entrees.” And then, a grim vision: “The written life strictly synthesized/And tricks the eye like lower-thirds/I see the future for city niggas/Gangbanging with samplers on MIDI triggers.”
“Rent Party Revolution” finds Open Mike adorning his self-proclaimed “art-rap” house with a few humorous lyric-streamers such as these about the school system: “They taught me all about metaphors/And other shit to make me smart but extra poor/Like which rivers flow through Ecuador/I got a high IQ but a low credit score.” “Exiled from the Getalong Gang” is the only track that feels a bit off. “Dishes” finds the emcee sharing his life’s fears while completing the most mundane of tasks.
Maybe that’s what this release, and its title, is about. Subduing the hubris that seems to come with signing a record contract. Reminding folks about life through vague mentions of the great equalizer, one that doesn’t discriminate based on who got a deal at what label and for how much. The emcee’s name is less true to the first half of his moniker, offering a really captivating set of songs that offers a fresh take on what it means to be a rapper post- damn near everything, save for ordinary, everyday life.