Open Mike Eagle has thrived during the tectonic shift of what it means to be an “independent rapper.” Ten years ago, that term was solely aligned with a rapper on a label like Stones Throw, Rhymesayers, Def Jux, Anticon, etc. Today, “independent” is Chance the Rapper, who is managed by the same agency behind Tom Hanks and Derek Jeter. Open Mike Eagle is on Mello Music Group, an indie-rap haven inspired by Rawkus, but he’s also friends with Paul F. Tompkins and Hannibal Burress. He’s “independent” because he’s not on a major label, but he’s about to have his own TV show, The New Negroes, with Baron Vaughn on Comedy Central. Where rappers in the past kept their friendships with comedians to a few skippable skits on CDs, Mike Eagle dropped the backpack and entered the world of comedy as unique specimen: the rapper who was both funny and lyrically sturdy, a performer who can play with Aesop Rock and Peter Sagal, a student of comedy who mastered Twitter while freestyling off the head better than almost anyone.
The former school teacher from Chicago—who just seven years ago released his debut album, Unapologetic Art Rap, on Mush Records—brought the worlds of indie rap and comedy together after dozens of cross-country tours listening to comedy podcasts and stand-up routines to pass the time. Prior to the release of his newest and most highly anticipated album, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (and the premiere of the aforementioned New Negroes), the Open Mike Eagle discography wrestled with sadness, race relations, lack of wealth, and growing up weird in the ’90s. But after first self-classifying his style as “art rap,” and then now as an auteur of his own “dark comedy,” he’s deftly created a universe where Eric Andre and Danny Brown make sense together.
As Mike stated on his masterpiece track, “Dark Comedy Morning Show,” he’s bad at sarcasm, so he works in absurdity. Because we live in absurd times, this playlist of choice cuts from Open Mike Eagle’s earlier work feel prophetic, with beautiful melodies, glitchy neck-snapping beats, and odes to data mining, hustling to pay rent in gentrified hotbeds, and our collective addiction to smartphones.