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Humor can conceal and alleviate the pain of trauma, but no joke will erase it. Even Wu-Tang Clan told you that tears come after laughter. Relief comes only from opening every emotional and psychological wound.
Open Mike Eagle spent the 2010s finding comedy in rap music and American nightmares. On albums like Brick Body Kids Still Daydream and Dark Comedy, he delivered hilarious socio-political insights via half-sung verses laid atop progressive production. Acclaim from publications like Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and NPR coincided with headlining solo tours and top-billing at events like Adult Swim Festival. Between studio sessions, Eagle co-founded The New Negroes, a standup-meets-music variety show that explores perceptions of blackness. He and co-founder Baron Vaughn brought the show to Upright Citizens Brigade, Comedy Central, and venues around the U.S. Since founding his record label Auto Reverse Records, though, Eagle has scaled back the jokes. He’s finally unpacking his traumas and acknowledging their impact.
With over a dozen solo and collaborative projects to his name, Eagle has spent his career redefining and expanding the parameters of “art rap,” the term he coined as a shorthand for leftfield and avant-garde rap music. On Dark Comedy, which Pitchfork called “one of the most compelling indie-rap listens of ,” he chronicled everything from smartphone addiction to the realities of being an indie artist in the streaming era with self-deprecation and side-splitting absurdity. 2017’s Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (Mello Music Group) marked Eagle’s shift toward examining trauma. Here he waded through the rubble of Chicago’s demolished Robert Taylor Homes, where several family members once lived. Part documentary and part tribute, BBKSD blended powerful fantasy and grim reality. It illustrated the strength and vulnerability of a community afflicted by institutional racism and the enduring pains of life in the projects. There were few jokes but decades of survival. Anime, Trauma, and Divorce is Eagle’s first full-length album on Auto Reverse and the most personal project of his career.
On the verge of middle age, reeling from the collapse of his marriage, he probes the darkness of his past and searches for lights to guide him forward. This is the sound of a broken man sifting through the pieces while trying to rebuild, the struggle to self-critique while practicing self-care. Do you disassociate by envisioning yourself as the lead in your favorite anime, or do you reflect on your headass behavior? Tattoos and beer or push-ups and smoothies? Executive produced by renowned rock producer Jacknife Lee (U2, R.E.M.), the album’s few features include Auto Reverse artist Video Dave and Eagle’s son. Anime, Trauma, and Divorce finds Eagle virtually alone, doing his best to reject the humor that will not cure his ills.
All is not well, but he’s never been better.