Over the last two years, Open Mike Eagle has released some of the finest music made with rapping in it. He's branded it art-rap, and it possesses almost as much in common with soul, electronic, and art-rock as traditional boom-bap. He uses comedy in his raps to make deadly serious points. He's fairly unclassifiable; the titles of his albums Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes and Unapologetic Art Rap explain most everything.
Currently he's is in the midst of a fundraising campaign to travel to Uganda to teach a youth program about hip-hop, and record a project with Ugandan artists. His traveling partner is the enigmatic astral beatmaker, Brainfeeder-signed, Ras G. In order to help raise awareness and funds, they've released a collaborative song available for free download below. Conceived and developed by L.A. hip hop non-profit, J.U.I.C.E., their goal is to raise $7,000 to match a grant from the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. Thus far, they have raised roughly $2,000; you can donate here.
In the meantime, we spoke with him about Africa, American politics, and his forthcoming new album.
What do you know about Uganda?
I knew nothing about it before J.U.I.C.E. came to me. Since then, I've been reading up on their borders, conflicts, and a little bit of their political history. I'm a novice and am really going into it blindly.
What exactly will you be doing there?
We'll be teaching an MC and production class for the Ugandan youth and recording a project with a Ugandan MC named Mon MC.
You've got a new album coming out later this year on Fake Four. Is there a title and release date yet?
It's called Animal Hospital and it's coming out in June.
Are there any broader themes that run through it?
It's heavy on mental health. Creativity as therapy. I'm really exploring that as a metaphor, but not in the Tyler, the Creator way.
Do you struggle with mental health stuff?
That's what it's about. But look, if you have trouble being a musician, then just get a job. You can't boo hoo about it. But it concerns very particular issues about trying to live as a creative person versus what you put out into the world. The kinds of things that you have to be willing to accept and what you have to be willing to endure to make that happen.
Having to understand marketing to make a living, especially in an art form that doesn't have value in a way that's comparable to say, painting. You can't make a song and hang it in a museum and people will pay you thousands of dollars for it. It's just not that kind of art form, but I feel it's just as valid.
It's about the shit that you have to do to make it lucrative and how it usually ends up devaluing the art in some way. It's about trying to figure it out and not lose your mind. If you're doing it strictly for commercial purposes, it's almost kind of easier. You can split yourself in two and your representative is out there trying to make the money.
Rumor has it, you've been inducted into the indie rap illuminati. Is there an indie rap illuminati?
Yes, there is.
Do you guys stick pins into voodoo dolls of will.i.am. and LMFAO?
Mostly, we just practice Kaballah.
You're a politics junkie. What are your impressions of the Republican primaries?
The real freaks are gone: Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry. There were moments where I was scared that they might get the candidacy. Of course, once the debates started you got to see how ridiculous it all was. Rick Perry looks just like Leland Palmer from Twin Peaks and Michelle Bachmann has starched helmet hair.
I didn't understand how you can have a team running a campaign who lets you go on television with starched helmet hair — it's absolutely baffling. I loved learning about the name that [Dan Savage] coined for Rick Santorum too.
No, they've defined Santorum as the fecal and lube discharge that's often found after anal sex. It's now called Santorum. It's like the second thing that comes up when you Google his name.
Will Herman Cain be on your new album?
I would love to do a song with Herman Cain. He'd have to teach Herman Cain's lessons in pimping and it would work 9-9-9 in. Keep nine hoes on nine avenues at 9 p.m. Every night.