• Danny Dodds

Open Mike Eagle - 'What Happens...' EP Review

'I won't even stop when it's hammertime' is a bold claim to make in 2018, but Chicago art-rap pioneer Open Mike Eagle doesn't seem to care on his new EP, What Happens When I Try To Relax, a project that combines lackadaisical flows with cloudy, dreamy instrumentals to create yet another fantastic piece of work that shows off the impeccable wit and precise wordplay that makes him one of the most unique hip-hop artists of this decade.

After dropping one of my favourite albums of last year Brickbody Kids Still Daydream, Open Mike Eagle turns it down a notch on What Happens When I Try To Relax as he drops the high concept, narrative driven approach to make way for a more low-key and minimal style that perfectly matches the short and sweet length of this project. At just under in only 6-tracks this EP can easily be compared to his fantastic 2015 project A Special Episode Of and honestly i'm glad, after the emotional ride of his last album, it's nice to get a digestible slice of Open Mike Eagle, as he still manages to pack in just as many brilliant and quotable lines, while also touching on some of the political messages laced throughout his last few projects.

What Happens When I Try To Relax sees Mike ranting and venting over a set of bubbly and synthy instrumentals that allow his flow to take a more conversational approach, even more so than usual. The hypnotic 'Microfiche' is a perfect showcase of this as his stream of consciousness style of rapping perfectly suits the muffled and sleepy beat. Jumping from vampires to a conversation with a sofa-salesman, Mike seamlessly flows from topic to topic in a way that should be frantic and disorientating but ends up sounding calm and effortless. This also gives a good indication of the humour scattered across the album as his 'stream of conciseness' style that I mentioned earlier ends up becoming the basis for a lot of the punchlines and jokes spread across the 6 tracks. One of my favourite jokes on the whole album is in the song 'Single Ghosts' in which Mike spends 3 verses talking about going on a date with a ghost with the sole intention of setting up the finishing Ghostbusters-based punchline: 'Who you gonna call? Probably not you.'.

As with every Open Mike Eagle project however, there is a darker underside to his jokes as is clear on the fantastic opener, 'Relatable (Peak OME)'. In a song that satirises the current trend of corporations trying to appear 'relatable' to younger generations, Mike vents his frustration on how he's expected to act amongst his peers both as a celebrity figure and as a black man in America, expressing that whenever he's nervous he just 'says something relatable'. Mike's verses are comedic at heart but his tone is angry and resentful, and the song stands as a powerful statement on how we expect others to act in today's mass media and celebrity culture.

There is very little to fault here, as Open Mike Eagle proves once again that he is one of the most insightful and charismatic voices in hip-hop, and while it's a little more low-key than his previous project, he still leaves us with a lot to think about, along with another bag of memorable one-liners.


Listen to the album in full below:

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