Open Mike Eagle
Brick Body Kids Still Daydream
Mello Music Group · September 15th, 2017
“Open Mike Eagle delivers an intelligent and refreshing record that tells a myriad of personal stories while also tackling lofty societal issues.”
Listen to Brick Body Kids Still Daydream here:
Open Mike Eagle is not your typical rapper. Long time fans of his will take this as a severe understatement, but if you’re unfamiliar with Mike’s work, this is important to note. If you’re looking for catchy pop-rap hooks, braggadocious lyrics, and party anthems, you’ll have to look somewhere else. Chicago-native Michael Eagle II, better known as Open Mike Eagle, doesn’t deliver any of these on Brick Body Kids Still Daydream. What he does deliver is something much more valuable: an intelligent and refreshing record that tells a myriad of personal stories while also tackling lofty societal issues. Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is a concept album that takes you through the daydreams of Mike’s younger self as he’s growing up in Robert Taylor Homes, a housing complex on the southside of Chicago.
The album is Mike’s shortest full length project yet, but it is also his most ambitious. Open Mike Eagle creates a variety of moods, from sobering to unsettling, in just 12 tracks and less than 40 minutes. The overall sound is hard to sum up, but Mike’s chorus in “(How Could Anybody) Feel at Home” does it pretty well. Over the satisfying and clicky beat, Mike sings in delicate head voice “I done told / Some goofy shit that sounded like a poem.” Mike’s lyrics do often feel like they could be equally at home in a book of poetry. While his singing chops have often left something to be desired, he’s improved his vocal performance since his last project. One track where this is evident is “Happy Wasteland Day,” where Mike sings about the normalization of issues found in contemporary housing communities. The beat might be lo-fi and downtempo, but Mike’s rapping gets more and more urgent throughout the song, culminating in a frantic delivery of the final verse. It’s a standout performance combined with a refreshing instrumental, and is easily one of my favorite tracks.
Contrasting Mike’s intense verses on “Happy Wasteland Day” are his light and airy verses on the following track, “Daydreaming in the Projects.” The chiptune synths are reminiscent of the digital production on Mike’s 2012 project 4NML HSPTL, while the subtle horns throw in a touch of modernity. Then there’s the standout single from the record, “95 Radios.” On this calming track, Mike recalls driving around by himself after moving to a neighborhood where he doesn’t have many friends. He raps about his loneliness, and how he feels as if he developed a sort of relationship with the radio host: “The OGs, I miss my old hood / Miss my homies, is lonely / The radio host is like they know me.” If I could only recommend one song off of the album, it would have to be this one.
Good things aside, the album isn’t without its faults. The track “Wedding Ghosts,” for instance, has some vocal effects on it that are jarring and unnecessary. And “No Selling (Uncle Butch Pretending It Don’t Hurt)” is a great example of lo-fi production gone wrong. Rather than feeling intentionally gritty or imperfect, the song just feels like it needs another mix. In fact, the engineering throughout the album in general isn’t incredible, but I can forgive that since the production is unique and varies stylistically track to track. Although it’s impressive how much lyrical content Mike fits into just 40 minutes, the project feels a bit underwritten for a concept album. A third of the tracks don’t even reach the three minute mark. But besides these few gripes, the album met and exceeded my expectations. It proves that over seven years into Open Mike Eagle’s career, he still has a lot to offer, and I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us in the future.
Normally, an album like Brick Body Kids Still Daydream would end with a song like “95 Radios.” But this album doesn’t have a happy ending, just as the Robert Taylor Homes didn’t have a happy ending. The complex was torn down between 1998 and 2007, displacing thousands of residents, including Mike’s Aunt. So instead of finishing the album on a soft note, Mike opts to leave us with the unsettling song “My Auntie’s Building.” Throughout the record, and even on in the cover art, Mike compares Robert Taylor Homes to his own body, most obviously in the chorus of pseudo-title-track “Brick Body Complex.” He calls back to this concept with a much darker tone on “My Auntie’s Building,” lamenting the demolition of Robert Taylor Homes as if his very body and being were torn down along with the buildings. Nowadays, all that stands where Robert Taylor Homes once stood is an empty lot. Part of Open Mike Eagle’s identity was demolished, and for what? For redevelopment that never happened. As Mike raps on the eerie closer, “They say America fights fair / But they won’t demolish your timeshare.” If nothing else, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream should serve as a reminder that America isn’t always the land of freedom and equality that it claims to be.