Open Mike Eagle – Component System with the Auto Reverse (Review)

The art rap scene has always existed nebulously in the grey area between hardcore, old school rhymes and deeply personal allegory. From an early barrage of flows and smack talk by Del the Funky Homosapien, to the nigh indecipherable concepts of Busdriver, there was an underlying vulnerability unique to the subgenre.

Open Mike Eagle became the face of it all by peeling his lyrics back to their most accessible form, bleeding his heart on every track, owning up to his shortcomings, celebrating what matters, and being unapologetically himself. The run of 2014’s essential Dark Comedy to Brick Body Kids Still Daydream and Anime, Trauma & Divorce chronicled suffering despite their playfulness, opening the door for Mike, both musically and personally, to create out of passion rather than necessity.

Component System with the Auto Reverse lives up to its name through the relatively casual patchwork of themes and styles Mike brings to the table. While he might be a baby of the likes of Busdriver and Aesop Rock, he came up just as much with the Main Source’s or the Jay-Z’s; Component System brings back that feeling of buying a tape on the corner, not knowing what soon-to-be classics might be coiled within, and learning every word as you play it out to your next allowance. It’s not a revival of a lost art, but rather a nod and evocation to what birthed a generation of hip-hop heads.

I think the quick turns ruin us
I used to love Big Bird, then I saw his n-word supercut
and Kanye gets to me, and then I watch his documentary

Mike’s raps, while inherently personal and inseparable from his experiences, are focused on technicality over feeling for the first time in years. The themes that do shine through, such as loneliness on “Peak Lockdown Raps”, or industry frustrations on “I Retired Then I Changed My Mind”, feel secondary; it’s as though he set out to rap and they’re what he accidentally wrote about in a fugue.

Component System is Mike with his armor on, toughing it all out and doing what he loves without worry over his head for once. “Crenshaw and Homeland” is one of the album’s most striking moments, especially following what might be the best MF DOOM tribute, as Mike descends into madness and involuntary hermitage, surrounded by the city’s hustle and bustle in the wake of his divorce and the pandemic.

“79th and Stone Island” is signature Open Mike Eagle, from the lullabye hook and poignant humor to underlying frustration with the American rat race, but there’s more of a stream of consciousness, battle pattern to his writing. This hardcore approach is most evident on tracks like the Diamond D produced “I’ll Fight You”, or “Burner Account” with Armand Hammer, where the dissonant electronic sample and nonsense drums give the sense that Mike is stepping out of his usual element.

Open Mike Eagle – “I’ll Fight You”

Tracks like “Circuit City” feature old friends Video Dave and Still Rift, bearing the album’s namesake through his label Auto Reverse. Bearing what might be the best Madlib beat of the year, with a peerless ear for progression, from victorious horns and such organic drums to a more downtrodden, cinematic electric guitar. Mike collects other backpack legends and close collaborators such as Aesop Rock, and reuniting with R.A.P. Ferreira on “Multi-Game Arcade Cabinet”.

With how many talented MC’s Open Mike Eagle has always surrounded himself by, it’s a welcome change of pace for him to flex his lyrical muscles for a full album. Component System encapsulates all of his best qualities – the melodies, the storytelling, the humor – and brings it to a brand new aesthetic and side of him we haven’t seen. Paying tribute to a broad range of influences, emulating them tastefully, and transporting you back to a golden age of record spinning, Open Mike Eagle remains the quintessential modern backpacker.

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