Jan. 11 2017 11:53 AM

Open Mike Eagle talks quirky titles, writing process and getting started in hip hop

Innovative rapper Open Mike Eagle, real name Michael Eagle, began his career in the mid-‘90s in Chicago, where he developed a punchline style consistent with the region and era. But by 18, he had moved to Los Angeles, where an entirely different, cadenceoriented style of rap was thriving. After years of creating music as a soloist and with his alternative hip-hop trio, Thirsty Fish, Eagle released his offbeat debut solo album, “Unapologetic Art Rap,” in 2010.

Last year Eagle, 36, released his fourth full-length album, “Hella Personal Film Festival.” His Winter Sweater Tour brings Eagle back to the Midwest for a string of three shows, including Friday at Mac’s Bar with local openers James Gardin and Red Pill. Eagle talked with City Pulse by phone from Los Angeles about his style and origins.

You’re really brave coming to Michigan and braving the cold weather.

Also known as dumb (laughs).

Rapper Open Mike Eagle brings his unique brand of hip hop to the Loft Friday.
Courtesy Photo

You often couple humor with serious topics in your lyrics. Is this a style you’ve always gravitated toward?

I wouldn’t say always, no. When I started doing solo work and galvanizing my solo career, I started to lead with more humor, in terms what it was I wanted to say, because I didn’t want to just continue “I rap better than other people” kind of rap. That kind of got stale. Where I chose to go was to lean on the things that tickled me, so I would incorporate more humor at that point.

Speaking of that style, tell me about the track “Split Pants in Detroit (Or Hyrule).” Is that a true story?

I tried to hop up on stage, and my pants exploded. I think I only had one pair of pants, because I was only there for the weekend, and I had to go to my car and drive to Target and find a new pair of pants, with them half on. It was a harrowing experience.

Where did your name come from?

On college campuses, I was always known for hosting open mics and rapping at open mics, so they called me Open Mike. When I first started putting out work, that was my name. But it came to my attention that there were a couple of other Open Mikes, so to differentiate, I just added my last name.

Can you remember you first time rapping?

My first time rapping was in the back of Kentucky Fried Chicken in high school in 1996. Me and my buddy, we were first getting into the hip-hop arts. There was this place in Chicago called ‘the Point’ where people would come together and cypher, stand in a circle and rap, and we would just be standing there amazed but also secretly really wanting to do it. One day after doing it, we went to this restaurant and stood in the back of it and forced each other to rap.

What’s your creative process like? How do you get titles like “A Short Story About a Guy That Dies Every Night” and “Raps for When it’s Just You and the Abyss?”

I have a weird process with titling. Artists like They Might be Giants, Frank Zappa, those kind of artists that tend to have a lot of political satire or have a lot of levels of different meaning in their music, have definitely affected how I title my work.

I’ll write a song, and the song will have a demo title for months. When it’s time for me to really give it a title, I try to understand the most explicit thread, why I put these words together in this way, and that reveals itself to me, because I’m not always consciously aware of that.

Do you get inspired by daily events?

Yeah, I try to get the most that I can, like a simple concept. The easiest way to mine my brain and mine for content is to catch an idea and then stretch it out to whatever conclusions, as far as it will go. I’ve gotten a lot of robust songs that way, and I’ve written a lot of really bad songs that way, too.

Do you turn to music when you’re stressed or anxious?

I don’t turn to music — I’m always doing music, in my head or wherever. I’m always thinking of something. When something goes well, it is the ultimate release.

Open Mike Eagle
With James Gardin and Red Pill
6:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13
$15/$13 adv.
Mac’s Bar
2700 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing
(517) 484-6795, macsbar.com