Review: Open Mike Eagle brings rap and humor to M-Shop

Open Mike Eagle, hip-hop artist, performed at The Maintenance Shop to a large crowd of people on Sept. 23. Eagle played songs off of his new album ‘Brick Body Kids Still Daydream’ which was released about a week prior to his performance.

Jackson Lebedun

It’s not common to see psychedelic artists come to Ames, let alone psychedelic-rap. For Open Mike Eagle, he introduced the subgenre of rap as well as a bit of humor to the Maintenance Shop Saturday night.  

His music, formerly described as “art-rap,” had influences from a wide variety of genres from indie-rock to soul-funk to trap, but there was an underlying theme of psychedelia throughout the night.

Both he and his DJ added random electronic sounds to the beats to create a cacophony of chaos as the rapper recited his poetry, continuously flowing from one song to the next.

Behind them, a projector flashed visuals from rainbow kaleidoscopes and fractal patterns to random scenes of people walking around or a street performer dancing, each scene steadily morphed into different colors and shapes that further enhanced the psychedelic experience.

After each song, they added a booming sound as the audience filled the entire room with applause. Eagle turned their clapping into a running joke, providing some dry humor alongside the dark observational humor from his songs.

“I don’t think they know we’re not the greatest noisemakers in the world,” Eagle whispered to his DJ. “But at least it transitions into the greatest claps ever.”

He continued making remarks about the clapping, congratulating the audience for passing their “Clapping 101” course.  

At one point he paused his set to include an advice column for anyone in the audience to come to him with any issues they had.  One brave audience member raised his hand and asked the rapper how he can get over his love for his ex-girlfriend who recently broke up with him. “Get a new girlfriend,” Eagle replied.

He finished his set with “Dark Comedy Late Show,” a song about a hypothetical late night talk show he would host but mess up horribly on the first day. After, he stood over to the side for a meet and greet where he welcomed pictures and hugs from students.

Eagle didn’t intentionally want a career in rap. He studied psychology at Southern Illinois University with the intention of being a counseling psychologist.  He also wanted to go to graduate school for music therapy, but after finding out he needed a strong background in music theory to have a career in it, he found jobs where he could work with kids in transitional facilities and teach special education out in Los Angeles.

When he was in school, rapping was more of a hobby to him, as he would freestyle and engage in rap battles on campus.  His inspiration for rapping came to him when he stumbled into an underground rap community in the south side of Chicago where he grew up. According to Eagle, the community stressed the importance of participating in hip-hop.

“You couldn’t just wear the clothes and say you were into hip-hop and just listen to the music,” Eagle said. “You had to be rapping or drawing graffiti or DJing, and I did all except DJing.”

He didn’t start really writing songs until he got booked for a show and he was asked to actually write a song instead of freestyle.  Before he wrote for that particular show he had been freestyling for seven years.

According to Eagle, freestyling was his “original hip-hop training.”

While working as a special-ed teacher he linked up with another underground rap community, Project Blowed, where he started rap groups such as Thirsty Fish and The Swim Team. From there, he would release his first solo album in 2010 and would continue releasing albums whether it was by himself or in collaboration with other rap artists.

Eagle also expanded his career to other outlets as well, starting a podcast and a live show that Comedy Central announced could possibly be a program on their channel. He’s also made appearances on Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast as well as “SPONTANEANATION” with Paul F. Tompkins and the Eric Andre Show. Eagle also co-authored and participated in a study with the National Institutes of Health where he freestyled in an MRI machine to see how the brain can enter a “flow state” that allows free thoughts to form in any kind of improvisation.

During the meet and greet, one audience member made a comment to Eagle about the importance of having rappers like him come to Ames and the impact they had on these students.  It brings diversity to Iowa State and shows these students that there’s music out there that’s just as good as any Top 40 song out there, and it’s that kind of music that often goes underappreciated.  One can only hope Iowa State welcomes more artistic musicians such as Eagle to enrich the music scene Ames has to offer.