Open Mike Eagle has described his brand of hip-hop as “art rap,” while typically being classified as an “alternative rapper.” While the art rap stamp rings true, I would beg to differ that what Eagle brings to the table is “alternative.” Or, if it is, everyone else needs to change the way they think and talk about rap moving forward because what Eagle offers should be the norm. What you get from Mike Eagle is everything rap ought to be: witty intelligence, great flow, comedic value, punch lines that make you think twice, and good supporting beats.
Normally I hate describing certain music as “smart” for the same reason I detest describing people as “nice.” More often than not these terms are lacking. However, since the word “smart” means “Having or showing quick witted intelligence,” there really is no better way to sum up what Eagle brings to the table. Clad in earth tones and a turquoise wood medallion, unassuming, thoughtful and reverent to the rap task at hand, Open Mike Eagle began his show at Columbia City Theater last Saturday night by
wafting scented oil into the air tracing an unknown word in the air while holding a figurine, facing East to pray, and passing around a golden crown for the audience to touch before starting his set. This was a dope way to establish energy in the room while also alerting the audience to just how important his particular craft is to him.
Eagle has a smooth voice and cool delivery, and he clearly loves performing his well-crafted bars. Not one to move about on stage or call too much attention to himself, he leaves room for what is most important: his raps. He made intense eye contact with the crowd, was very personable, and not over-confident, even though his skills justify any bragging he might do about his own dopeness. Instead of all the bravado that rap is accustomed to, he just stood and delivered, song after song. Eagle pulled off something rare by making heavy social commentary without sounding like a show off.
As Open Mike worked his way through a nice chunk of his most recent album, Dark Comedy, with challenging songs like “Golden Age Raps” (which calls into question what that oft-used phrase even means in terms of music and innovation), it became clear to me that his talent was next level. Sticking true to his comedic roots, he used part of the show to give the audience some jocular advice, a precursor to performing the Dark Comedy single, “Doug Stamper (Advice Raps).” The track is gritty and hilarious (and maybe the closest thing trap enthusiasts can relate to).
“Qualifiers” was the hit of the show. Everyone was excited, their heads bopping; this joint even got people to dance. “Qualifiers” best displays all of the wonderful adjectives that sum up Mike Eagle as an artist. The song is great because it’s a look into who Eagle is, and, in the context of his live performance, highlights his aesthetic appeal. The cherry on top is that the track features Eagle’s better-than-average singing as he also provides the catchy hook. Mike is a one man show who really needs no qualifiers. His music is good enough to stand on its own.
The show ended with a head-banger about spending time in a hotel room away on tour, which was both clever and timely. It was a great performance. It’s fairly clichéd to say an artist is underrated, but I will say he should be better recognized; he lived up to his namesake in how he flew above other rappers when compared bar-for-bar. Open Mike Eagle soared above overused rap clichés without being pompous or preachy. He just rapped well, had a good time, and made everyone in the audience want to go buy his latest album — if they hadn’t already.
Zac Davis is a photographer and social worker in Seattle. He went to college with the owner and editor of this blog, and once got lost in the Bellingham wilderness with only a camera and his wits to survive. View his portfolio of photography, here.