Open Mike Eagle's "Dark Comedy" goes live

Rapper confesses of deep-seated anxieties, passing gas

On Open Mike Eagle's third album, Dark Comedy, the Chicago-born Los Angeles transplant raps of his son's poop and fax machine-sounding farts — necessary non sequiturs given the album's offbeat premise. At the beginning of it all he invokes abstract rapper Q-Tip from "Steve Biko (Stir It Up)," the second song from A Tribe Called Quest's 1993 LP, Midnight Marauders, saying, he's "on that laugh-to-keep-from-crying tip." Eagle performs for both L.A.'s underground hip-hop scene and for larger crowds flocking to see comedians such as Hannibal Buress. While seeking the spotlight seems befitting of only a chosen few (thanks, "E! True Hollywood Story"), Dark Comedy makes Eagle's efforts to be liked, if not understood, feel both singular and familiar. Chief among his concerns: how celebrity can be a drug in and of itself, white men singling him out as a black man, and Facebook tracking his favorite sandwiches. Before his rap-comedy variety show stops in Atlanta, Eagle took a few minutes to chat about that Q-Tip lyric, his brilliant, yet broke, friends, and being an awful driver.

In "Dark Comedy Morning Show" you reference A Tribe Called Quest with the line "On the laugh-to-keep-from-crying tip." Why does that lyric stick out to you?

It was a rare and, I feel, overlooked case of a rapper being oddly vulnerable, and the song didn't have anything to do with that. It added to his presence, you know? I thought it was interesting that he encapsulated it like that, and it always stuck with me.

Kanye West and Drake are often noted for being "emotional." I wonder if that's because of how they perform. Q-Tip was just so casual.

If you want to do anything image-wise in rap that contradicts the standard image, you have to put it in broad strokes. It's difficult to be taken seriously if you're subtle. When people buck against the image, they usually go really hard: start skateboarding. Make mini movies. Everything is taken to such a caricature level with rap, at least in terms of the mainstream.

You've used the term "art rap" to describe your music. Is that term still useful?

It is useful in the sense that I haven't found a better term. I don't use it as much now because I don't think my music is as experimental as that term may call for, but it gives me the freedom to honor my own aesthetic and not have to manage the listeners' expectations. They wouldn't think it would be whatever else is happening ... in the mainstream rap conversation.

So you won't get mistaken for Big Sean.

Right. My whole thing about even saying "art rap" to begin with was because there was art rock. There are different ways to describe rock music: bluegrass, punk, heavy metal. Rap doesn't really have that, just mainstream versus underground, but we can get more descriptive.

Which Dark Comedy song are you most proud?

They're all my children and I love them all, but right now I'm enjoying "Very Much Money (Ice King Dream)." I thought that was an ambitious way to approach writing a song, in terms of the different melodies, but also trying to convey a certain emotional tone that informs how the song is consumed. I try to do that a lot, but I feel like I actually did it there really well.

That song is about knowing these brilliant, broke creatives. Is that a generational phenomenon?

I don't know if it's generational because I haven't met any other generation. OK, this much is: A big part of the problem is now there is a lot less money in the economy than there was when I was growing up. All of these systems have less money, meaning that there's less opportunities, meaning that there's less work that's being valued.

Now it's like, because there's less money in the system, does that mean that my work is worth less? Do I choose to sell my art, for it to be dictated by the price of the CD? I know these photographers that I bet 20 years ago would be getting work all over the place, but there's fewer and fewer magazines. The same digitization of culture that has affected the music industry has strongly affected the writers I know. It's been difficult for everybody to find a sustainable way forward, you know?

You've said that Dark Comedy is you "attempting to giggle at the abyss." Has creating the album made that any easier?

I can't say that it's gotten too much easier. I feel like the work that came from it was a very good way to attempt to process some of the things that I try to process. It was a lot of exploration, but a lot of issues that I have are still there. I do feel better to have talked about some of the things that I did and put some of those perspectives out there. I do think that has been helpful.

What are you currently listening to?

The new Shabazz Palaces Lese Majesty. The new Common Nobody's Smiling. Classic rock like T. Rex, albums that I missed from the '70s usually. The last classic album that I tried listening to was the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St. I actually hated it. It's a mess. It's a lot of hollering and weird song structures. A lot of the Beatles' attention is directed to song structure and melody and doing interesting things with that. The Rolling Stones — I can see why people like them. They had that raw energy.

But some bands balance that raw energy with pop sensibilities, like the Ramones.

That's true. It might just be three chords, but it's a song with a hook, chorus, and verses. It has that raw energy but with more focus.

You recently described dubstep as "cyborgs having rough sex" in LuckyIAm's %22Me & the Mikes%22.

laughs To be fair, I understand there is a form of dubstep that came over and was invented in England. That's actually good, quality music. What I'm talking about is in McDonald's and movie commercials and when you go to a bro party — a bunch of bros on Molly, running into each other over and over again. Dubstep is terribly obnoxious.

What's the last hilarious thing that your son did?

I was dropping him and his mom off at the bus station, near downtown L.A. I go down this one street. I make a wrong turn. I'm trying to get back up the street. I'm trying to make a U-turn, but there's nowhere to do it. I go up this other one-way street and try to turn out of that. I can't, because it's a one-way street. Then I try to cross the train tracks. I don't stop where I'm supposed to stop, so I'm too close to the train tracks, and my son is like, "Daddy! Why are you driving so bad?"