Elevator 22: Open Mike Eagle

15openmikeheaderThere’s something very satisfying about buying a cd from the recording artist him or herself straight out of those 25 units cardboard boxes. A smiley Open Mike Eagle sold me his 2011 album Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes.

I was buzzing having just witnessed an evening of LA indie hip-hop collective Project Blowed performances at the House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard. Afterwards outside the venue a river of hip-hop artists exited laughing, congratulating each other and making plans. It looked like a true community, one in which you’re allowed to be yourself.

And thanks probably in part to Project Blowed’s license to be yourself Open Mike Eagle has had space and encouragement to develop and experiment.

Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes is his 2nd full-length release and it is very nearly a flawless album.

It is arty but it’s not pretentious. In fact it feels candid even exposed. Mike is dead smart. The title track of this record is quite profound and sad and funny and understated.

The track ‘Nightmares’ is well-executed stream-of-unconsciousness rap with wonderfully sparse phrasing and an unforgettable hook.

The track ‘NH2 (grins and lies)’ which splashes through some sensitive racial issues concludes with an Obama impersonator critiquing Mike. On ‘Why Pianos Break’ featuring P.O.S. we hear Mike’s signature sung rap vocals used to hypnotic effect. I, for one, am not AT ALL partial to sing-songy-raps. In fact they tend to make me wince in pain. ‘Sung rap’ is frequently twee [or cutesy], not in key, trite and/or boring. When Open Mike Eagle finds the right melody it is like Ready Brek for the soul.

Since ‘Rapper Will Die…’  Open Mike Eagle has put out an album called 4NML HSPTL via the Fake Four label and a number of E.P.s, which are available here – ‘Middling’ on the free E.P. ‘Sir Rockabye’ is worth a listen.

Here’s brand new track ‘Qualifiers’:

Here’s a new interview with Mike and fellow art rapper Milo.

Open Mike Eagle is a rap elevator: he’s soulful and cerebral, he’s experimental enough to actually fall flat on his face musically at times, he’s self-deprecating and honest, he’s earnest and ironic. And for visionaries that want to change the world little by little, hearing Mike’s voice somehow makes you believe that you’re not crazy – you’re on the right track.


Elevator 2: Propaganda

I first came across the music of L.A. rapper Jason Petty aka Propaganda in 2004. I saw his CD and realized he was a member of the rap crew Tunnelrats, who were all sharp-witted, spiritually earnest and lyrically acrobatic. And sure enough Propaganda displayed all those qualities.

The best California rappers have the ability to draw you in with the warmth of their humor and slang and then blindside you with tragic tales, uncomfortable imagery or challenging ideas. Yes, Propaganda has it too.

His ‘Excellent’ album and his subsequent records are not easy listening. They’re BBQs and barbed wire, they’re theology and cultural criticism, they’re activism and fatherhood. His versatility is a wonderful thing, but ultimately it’s his prophetic edge that makes him such a vital figure in contemporary culture.

He brings up uncomfortable truths about America’s ugly history. He dares his rap contemporaries to lose the whole world and gain back their souls. He candidly shares his own brokenness and his fierce allegiance to Jesus and his Upside Down Kingdom. His words point us towards revolution, repentance, forgiveness and joy.

Here he introduces himself and his ‘Excellent’ album:

and here’s the title track:

I’m very grateful for Propaganda. Through him the Divine has spoken to my spirit. May God bless his socks off.

Here’s ‘Redefined Cutter’, an emotive autobiographical rap attack – beautiful stuff:

‘Crimson Cord’ gives us a good sense of his depth, his theology and his willful musical left-fieldness:

April 2020 Update
These last 7 years have been busy ones for Propaganda. As well as a many collaborations including ‘I Am Becoming’, a photojournalistic poetry book with Oakland-raised Kristopher Squints and The Red Couch, a hard-hitting, super honest podcast with his wife Dr. Alma Zaragoza-Petty, he’s released three more albums:
Crimson Cord (2014)
Crooked (2017)
Nothing But A Word (2019) (with Derek Minor)

As an activist he continues to speak out on numerous hot button issues including culture appropriation and the toxic nature of colourblindness.

Check these songs: