2018 In Review

Open Mike Eagle Reviews 2018

The beloved underground rapper on Avengers, Kanye and Trump, and his love of Toto

Right now, it certainly seems as if Open Mike Eagle can’t be stopped. Since he got started in earnest at the beginning of this decade, he’s never really taken a break from releasing projects in various forms. His run of albums and EPs since 2014, in particular, has shown the arc of an artist getting better and better. And while Open Mike Eagle has been an underground name for many years, he’s finally beginning to get more recognition with each one.

You’d think he might want to take a break after 2017’s dense Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, but the independent hustle doesn’t end. Instead, he followed it with the directness of this year’s EP What Happens When I Try To Relax. Offering six near-impeccable compositions, the collection garnered OME another wave of buzz and landed on our list of 2018’s best EPs. And in a year in which the distinctions between EPs and LPs got murkier than ever, What Happens When I Try To Relax was one of those short-form projects that felt like a more complete story than longer, more “official” albums by plenty of other artists.

The name also definitely seems to be an accurate representation of Eagle’s work habits. As if this guy didn’t seem busy enough, he’s also been filming his new Comedy Central show The New Negroes, a stand-up and music series. When OME and I chat, he’s on his way to a pre-production meeting for the show, but you wouldn’t guess that he’s bouncing around between so many endeavors. In conversation, he’s amiable and dryly funny and as open and matter-of-fact about the realities of his career as his reputation suggests. We caught up on his year, but like our talk with Snail Mail, we also discussed all sorts of events and pop culture from the last eleven and a half months. Below, check out our 2018 exit interview with Open Mike Eagle.

STEREOGUM: You’ve been working at a pretty good clip for a while now, most recently with an album last year and your EP this year. It seems along the way you’re getting more and more attention incrementally, but the EP also addresses people’s perceptions of you and your career as well as the economic realities of being an independent artist. Is it starting to feel different for you with the EP’s release at all?

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: I think what you’re touching on in terms of going through the releases each year — and let me also say, also had an EP in ’15, an album in ’14. [Laughs] All of that. Just about every time I release something there’s a little bit more movement. Depending on various factors, various levers of the world, sometimes there’s a big push forward, sometimes it’s an inch forward. The way my career has gone anyway, it’s all made up of these tiny drops in the bucket. There’s no real watershed kinda thing. So, yeah, like, the bucket’s pretty big now. There’s a lot more water in it than in 2010 when I started. I can definitely look back and see that there’s differences.

STEREOGUM: Do you just work quickly or did you have a particularly inspired run these past several years?

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: When I came into this, I was told specifically by people, like the Low End Theory cats, you want to do one a year. That’s working. That’s the foundation of my work ethic. And because of that I’ll feel hella guilty — I shot a whole television show this year, and after it was over I was like, “OK, but I have to put new music out, and I feel crazy.” That was one of the impetuses to put out the EP.

STEREOGUM: Right, I was going to ask about the show. You’re churning out all this music and then you also have that going on. How is it going? Do you have a premiere date yet?

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: Not one that is announced. It’s all done, it’s all in the can. We’re just waiting for the various machinations to finish machinating.

STEREOGUM: Has that been interesting to switch between TV production for Comedy Central vs. independent album releases?

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: You know, it’s crazy. There’s a couple things. One, a thing that’s really been on my mind lately with regards to that: This will be the first time a corporation has ever told anybody to pay attention to me. In that way, I guess it’s like if you’re on a major label or whatever. The other thing is just the difference in scale, the difference in the amount of money. Not just in the amount I got, but the amount that’s spent every day. The difference of scale in that, vs. at least how I’ve done music, is insane.

STEREOGUM: A friend of a friend is a recurring character on a small show and she gets like, $15,000 an episode or something like that? And I think that’s normal?

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: [Laughs] Do you know how much music I would have to put out to make $15,000? It’s insane.

STEREOGUM: Let’s talk about some general 2018 stuff. Are you a comic book movie fan? Did you see Avengers or Black Panther?

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: I saw both of those. Black Panther feels like it came out five years ago. I can’t believe that was this year, that is insane. I saw Avengers, too. I loved everybody, you know, spoiler alert, I love that they took it to that level. It was just very unexpected in a big budget movie franchise like that, to have that kind of ending. I love Marvel, I will not watch DC movies.

STEREOGUM: Because they’re so bad or you just grew up a Marvel guy?

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: What was the last one I saw? I think it was Superman Returns or something like that? I was like, this is just not … fun. It’s gotten to the point now where I just don’t like the way they’re color-corrected. They’re all dark and shadowy. Until somebody tells me one is just incredible, I’m just not gonna bother.

STEREOGUM: What were you listening to this year?

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: There’s two sides to my brain, there’s the indie side and then just this year being what it is, and every rapper having released music in the same six months — my favorite wide release music project was probably Jay Rock’s. I listened to his album a lot, I think it’s really interesting. Just a combination of his sensibility and the musicianship that TDE is carving out as its style. I think it’s a crazy good album. On an indie tip, Pan Amsterdam’s The Pocket Watch. That’s my jam right there.

STEREOGUM: Weezer covered “Africa” and got their first #1 hit in years.

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: That’s insane, I heard about that but I didn’t actually hear the song. I feel like I can imagine it very well. Toto’s dope though. I’d like to cover “Georgy Porgy.”

STEREOGUM: Why?

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: Because it’s an amazing song!

STEREOGUM: “Africa” has had this weird hipster youth culture, whatever you wanna call it, rebirth. But I haven’t heard someone go to bat for Toto in detail.

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: Toto’s tight. It’s weird. They did a bunch of different styles in the ’80s. It’s kind of like Fleetwood Mac. It’s similar. When you think about Toto you think about — pardon me for saying this, but really kind of white. Like “Africa,” really? But they got some jams, man. “Georgy Porgy.” Faith Evans and Eric Benét covered that song in the ’90s. That’s how much of a jam it is.

STEREOGUM: Did you watch Beyoncé’s Coachella set?

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: I didn’t. I’ve never seen a Coachella set. I don’t know, man, I have to come to terms with this: I have very intense professional jealousy. Even for people who I have no business having any sort of jealousy of. I think when it comes down to it, I make music for a living, and I have to love something to watch it in concert. Beyoncé’s great, but it’s not my favorite shit. Professional jealousy goes like this: “Oh, is somebody getting attention?” [Laughs] I would like attention, so I’m not going to pay attention. It’s really petty.

STEREOGUM: I’m almost afraid to ask the next question now, given professional jealousy. It’s been a saga this year, but did you have thoughts about the Kanye-Trump summit?

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: Aw, man, dude, I’m worried about him honestly. That’s the other side of the coin. On one side I have the jealousy/petty brain and on the other side I have deeply humanist, trauma-based true empathy. What is going on there? You know what I mean? I think it’s a really unhealthy situation, the kind of thing where I wish there was a way I knew that I could help. I think, like most people, when it started I thought it was a troll thing. But, you know, my last interaction with it was listening to when he was in the White House talking to Trump. And he’s not well.

STEREOGUM: It didn’t seem like it. It has been weird where everyone’s rightfully frustrated with how he’s using his position, but that’s the other side of it, being worried.

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: I think we gotta be, man. I think we gotta start looking at some celebrity outbursts as legitimate cries for help. I think we need to figure out how to help people. The modern iteration of fame is just too much. It doesn’t seem like anybody’s really handling it particularly well. Somebody like Kanye, he’s spent his whole career putting his chips on his own ego. When you look back at him interrupting Taylor Swift’s Grammy speech, it’s like oh, OK, we’ve actually seen this coming.

STEREOGUM: Like with anything regarding digital culture, it seems played-out to dissect it or whatever, but at the same time I don’t think we fully understand the true ramifications of it still. And with celebrity, people are famous in a different way than they were 20 years ago.

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: Absolutely. And there’s no road map. It’s too much, it’s too vulnerable. I think too much is expected.

STEREOGUM: Does your professional jealousy extend to the Walmart yodeling boy too?

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: Uhhhh — yes. [Laughs] Even though I’ve successfully avoided it. Hearing about shit like that … but I also get it.

STEREOGUM: Are you familiar with Gritty?

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: Absolutely, Gritty haunts my nightmares. But I think he’s the embodiment of our time.

STEREOGUM: Why do you think that?

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: Because he’s a freakshow with a big smile. That image, that mascot, that design, had to be born like a modern pop culture thing come to life. And it’s Gritty. You know?

STEREOGUM: It’s funny you say that. Because he got embraced as like an Antifa symbol, I saw a poster online that was like the Goya painting Saturn Devouring His Son but it was this monster-sized Gritty biting Trump’s arm off. So it kinda mutated beyond the Flyers or whatever, but the funny thing is, I was reading this article about how it could’ve easily gone the other way. That could’ve been a Trump-esque creature, this leering orange thing.

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: Sure! I guess that’s the thing with memes now, who gets it first. All the pop culture imagery is up for grabs.

STEREOGUM: Speaking of memes, are you familiar with the concept of Big Dick Energy?

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: Yes. I had been — I’m so glad I didn’t do this. I had been cooking this tweet in my brain for months, or weeks, around the peak of that, about there being a sale on Big Dick Energy Panels at Costco. And I’m so glad I didn’t do it. In the end, tweeting’s about word economy, and that’s just too many fucking words and it would’ve come across as trying too hard to be in the zeitgeist. But I can’t tell you how long I was thinking about that.

STEREOGUM: Do you have your own definition of Big Dick Energy?

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: Ummm, nope! Not at all. [Laughs]

STEREOGUM: You spent all this time thinking about it!

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: I was just thinking about the tweet. Every time I see that phrase I have this moment where I’m like, is that ok? I guess ultimately I don’t know the origin of it, but on one hand it could be this crazy misogynist thing, and on the other it could be co-opting of an energy that’s free from gender? But I don’t know, so I kind of just don’t bother with it.

STEREOGUM: I think it became the latter. It originated with this viral tweet where somebody was talking about Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson, describing him. And it turned into this meme, but yeah plenty of people were applying it to like, actresses they found badass.

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: Right, how weird is that!? You’re describing a powerful woman using male genitalia, you know what I mean? I always had questions about it, and because I had questions about it, I left it the fuck alone.

STEREOGUM: Probably the right move. Would you vote for Oprah if she ran in 2020?

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: Sure! Why not?

STEREOGUM: [Laughs] Like anything’s better at this point.

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: Right. But I also hope she doesn’t, because … what I feel like the psyche of the country needs is any kind of return to normalcy. That’s what I think is needed. I hope this doesn’t completely jump the shark and become whatever celebrity decides to every year. We all know that’s kinda what it’s always been in a sense. I think … we need to be lied to again. The old lies. The stump talk thing? We need that. We’re experiencing trauma right now. We need just a little bit of comfort food.

STEREOGUM: I remember seeing someone tweet like, “There were times in my life where I could wake up and forget who the president was for a minute.”

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: Yup, yup. I like to think about a few years ago where the worst thing a president could be is like “Oh, he’s a Skull And Bones!” [Laughs] Like, what? That was great! Skull And Bones was fucking awesome compared to rich, racist — you know, let’s do secret societies, let’s do Yale, let’s do the elite.

STEREOGUM: Sometimes I wonder if it’s gonna take some 10 or 20 year cycle to slowly build our way back to some sense of normalcy or if it’s possible to just flip it back.

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: I think a little will go a long way. Because this is just crazy what we’re dealing with right now. It’s just crazy. We can’t even keep up with the scandals, and on top of the scandals there’s just crazy shit every day. We’re not even equipped to handle one, and it’s every day.

STEREOGUM: I was thinking about when people inevitably start making movies about this era, how would you even pick the 10 things to focus on as your major batshit or dramatic moments? Even on the first two years.

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: It’d have to be a whole miniseries.

STEREOGUM: Did you eat any Tide PODS this year?

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: Was that this year!? That’s insane. If you had asked me if Trump was president during the Tide POD challenge I would’ve said no. That’s how long ago I thought that was.

STEREOGUM: Well I think we’ve all aged more years than we were supposed to in 2018 and 2017, so. Did you see A Star Is Born?

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: No, that’s a professional jealousy for me. There’s no way. There’s no way! Somebody would have to tell me that shit would change my life.

STEREOGUM: What’s the cocktail?

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: It’s like, here’s a fucking Lady Gaga vehicle, like she needs another vehicle! That type of shit. Come on. I get it, I’m gonna be on TV, I understand. But is she gonna watch my show? I don’t know.

STEREOGUM: Well after your TV show takes off maybe you can remake A Star Is Born too.

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: And then I’ll talk shit about anyone who’s professionally jealous of it.

STEREOGUM: You made your wrestling debut this year.

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: I did. And my retirement.

STEREOGUM: So you’re sticking with that decision.

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: Unless David Arquette wanted to. I’d bust David Arquette’s ass.

STEREOGUM: You’d wrestle him?

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: Yeah, of course! I’d wrestle the shit out of David Arquette. I’d do all kinds of moves I don’t know yet.

STEREOGUM: Why him?

OPEN MIKE EAGLE: Because, man, if we’re starting a league for non-wrestler wrestlers, I’m with it, let’s do it. I got your number, David.