Whether you call it experimental, exploratory or just regular ol’ backpacker hip-hop, the Chi-town MC Open Mike Eagle clearly represents the kind of hip-hop that pushes boundaries. With Awkward handling production duties solo, Open Mike Eagle’s third LP 4NML Hsptl takes a non-contemporary approach.
The majority of the production on 4NML Hsptl pulsates with raw electronic energy and some beats are just plain corky. While these aren’t the kind of beats that rate high in danceability or catchiness, they are propulsive. Open Mike Eagle dives into each song with a slightly monotone pitch that tends to get lost within the booming production. But even when the beat is not distracting you from hearing Open Mike’s rhymes you may still walk away wondering what the hell he was talking about.
The most appealing aspect of Open Mike Eagle’s lyricism is that (when you can hear him) he seems to have no problem being candid. On “Hsptl” Opne Mike–perfectly in tune with the thumping track behind him–opens up about drug abuse and alcoholism in a self-reflective tale that is one of the most notable tracks on the album. Other standout songs like the sing-songy “One Day” is easily listenable but beyond the chorus leaves little for the listener to indulge in as Open Mike’s rapping is mostly drowned out and incoherent. On the flip side, a rare gem on the album is “Universe Man” featuring Serengeti, a spirited melodic tune where Open Mike exchanges engaging fast-paced verses with Serengeti. Even if you don’t quite understand the point of “Universe Man” on the first go-round the track feels good. Also worthy of note is “The Financial Crisis That Wouldn’t Go Away” where Open Mike delivers a fanciful diatribe on the real estate and subprime lending crisis. Mike isn’t preachy and the beat provides just the right amount of bounce and animation to make this track interesting.
Where 4NML Hsptl misses the mark are on cuts like “Bad News Brown (Gamin Journal)” featuring Matt Gamin, “Starz” and “Self Medication Chant”. These are all tracks that could’ve been more memorable; Open Mike’s rhymes fall flat and the beats become a concoction of experimental sounds that do little to keep your attention. Without lyrics captivating enough to make you want to listen and beats lacking a catchy melody, these fizzle out pretty quickly.
Despite the missteps of 4NML Hsptl, Open Mike Eagle is a rapper that does show glimpses of potential. Unfortunately, 4NML Hsptl falls just short of making a real memorable impact.
-Andrea D. Wilson