By Thomas Johnson, October 10 2017 —
Los Angeles artist Open Mike Eagle once coined the genre ‘art rap,’ a loose term used to classify the avant-garde, often challenging brand of hip-hop stemming from fringe beat scenes. The music generally revolves around eclectic and unorthodox production and dense lyricism.
Eagle’s fifth effort, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, is the platonic ideal of an art rap album. It is a labyrinthine sequence of off-kilter sounds and syntax, vividly illustrated and seamlessly wrapped into 12 coherent vignettes. It’s remarkable and utterly genius.
Conceptually, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream revolves around Robert Taylor Homes, a housing project erected in Chicago’s south side in 1962. The 28 buildings sheltered over 27,000 people, well over double the intended capacity. Open Mike Eagle was once a resident, a fact central to the album’s concept.
Open Mike Eagle explores a wide range of perspectives and timelines all bound to the lodging. He even personifies the edifice and at times raps from the building’s point of view.
Though it may be daunting, meticulous attention to detail is rewarded in troves. Listeners are bombarded with ideas at a staggering clip and careful deconstruction reveals brilliance, brick by brick.
Sonically, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is incredibly diverse. Opening track “Legendary Iron Hood” borders on indie-rock with its muffled guitar. The piano and rising synths of “Hymnal” recall gospel. And lead single “95 Radios” may be the prettiest evocation of nostalgia this year.
The rest is difficult to articulate. Most of the album’s beats are skeletal and built off percussion seemingly pulled from a magician’s hat. Cuckoo-clocks, television static and what sounds like a warped Super Mario Brothers sample trickle about. Like the lyrics, these beats yield breathtaking results with repeated listens.
Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is a dazzling piece of world-building. Building 22, the Robert Taylor Homes unit where Open Mike Eagle grew up, was demolished in 2007. Rather than a eulogy, Eagle crafts a vibrant celebration of the structure’s legacy. Long after its halls have been reduced to rubble, Eagle imbues them with life — impressions of children’s laughter, gang violence and the warmth of a neighbour’s boombox throbbing through paper-thin walls. Inspiration outlives infrastructure. Open Mike Eagle ensures those memories will never die.