4NML HSPL is easily, the self-proclaimed art rapper’s most inaccessible and ambitious record to date. For those that missed his previous handful of albums, Unapologetic Art Rap & Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes, Open Mike Eagle’s rise to alternative hip-hop notoriety came from a willingness to experiment. Whether that’s lyrically, by combining informed observations on political affairs or hip-hop with his quasi-depressed nerdy self-reflective flow, or production wise, with a heavy reliance on synth-laden electronic beats.
For the most part he sticks to the same formula here – although it isn’t filled with the same level of informed statements that Rappers Will… has nor does this recapture the catchy hooks from UAP - and the result his is most successful overall LP. Everything feels really tightly brought together between emcee and producer. This is probably mainly due to UK electronic producer Awkward doing the entire album’s beats from start to finish. On Rappers Will… he started to play around with the kind of sounds found here, but not to this extent. Apathetic sounding lyrics sludge through hazy synths, occasional glitchy bleeps and reverberating drum beats. Not many are doing this, but Mike has the personality to pull it off.
Lyrically, Open Mike Eagle tends to be on point with his more observational and conceptual tracks. On “Your Back Pack Past” – a play on the Ben Folds Five track “Your Redneck Past” - Mike lampoons the exhausted sub-genre by jokingly suggesting that struggling back pack rappers should start producing R&B and grow handlebar moustaches. In more serious and politically charged tracks, he tackles the financial climate on both “Debts” & “The Financial Crisis That Wouldn’t Go Away” from incredibly different angles, both to great results.
You can have it all, you can get the girl, and if you’re short, be the tallest midget in the world / It’s your orchard, no self-torture, hold head high like the guy on The New Yorker / Though that guy reminds me of slavery, I’ll let that inspire me to bravery
Elsewhere though, I found a lot of 4NML HSPL to be more abstract with its content. When compared to his previous work, there are less whole tracks based around a single observation. Rather, these more abstract tracks are peppered with individual witty lines and thoughts. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just Mike is one of the best in the game at taking a highly complex subject and boiling it down into a great four minute hip-hop track, and more of it, the better.
There are also occasional hints to a story of him being trapped inside a recording studio but it’s far from a concept album. Which is a shame because with a strong idea behind it, an Open Mike Eagle concept album would be enough to make any hip-hop fan drool.
But it would be harsh to hold these issues against 4NML HSPL, because that would be a great disservice to what is another proficient electronic art-hop album by Open Mike Eagle. It might be inaccessible, it might be too ambitious and strange for most but in freeing himself of the shackles of broader appeal and just going for a specific direction, Mike Eagle has found his most competent and complete record to date.
Open Mike Eagle’s 4NML HSPL was released on the 26th of June