Mike Eagle exists on the periphery. He’s part Low End Theory beat family, part Blowdian, part sarcastic Second City native. He’s forever an outsider, a mindset that has helped shape him into one the sharpest, smartest, and funniest observers in the rap game. His satirical on-point perspective of the current rap scene comes fully fleshed out on his latest release, 4NML HSPTL, released on June 26th via Fake Four Records (home to fellow LA rapper Busdriver).
From “Your Back Pack Past” to “The Financial Crisis That Wouldn’t Go Away,” Eagle proves himself to be a highly impressive cultural critic and commentator. However, he’s not alone. “Universe Man” features a great verse from Serengeti and Danny Brown steals the show on “Cobra Commander.” “Free-Writing Exercise” features Nocando at the top of his game, once again proving how great he is in collaboration. But it’s Eagle, who takes what’s best about his adopted hometown and mashes it into a compelling cultural hodgepodge.
He’s as good of a lyricist you can find mind and this record cements his place among the best rappers in LA. Granted, 4NML HSPTL may not get the attention it deserves, but Eagle’s at his best when he’s underrated or flying under the radar. If he ever got too famous it might reduce his ability to be such a keen observer. So here’s to hoping that he continues to fly over the average ear. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help support. Even if you help pioneer contemporary art-rap, you still aren’t guaranteed a lifetime supply of hummus. — Willie Scube
Willie Schube: I see you on the periphery of the beat scene—taking influences from Low End Theory and that scene, yet existing in your own realm more lyrically/melodically oriented. How do you see yourself fitting in with the rest of the Los Angeles rap game?
Mike Eagle: The LA rap scene is broken. There used to be an expansive underground scene that all sorts of folks bought into..somewhere in the early oughts all the beatmakers made their own scene which currently lives at Low End, but doesnt accomodate itself much to rappers. The beats
bang and they’ve made mixing an art all its own but there’s not much room for rap vocals.
Around the same time that started many rappers abandoned beats for the acappella battle format and that shit started a revolution on the Internets. So there was a long time where only
hardcore heads in LA gave a shit about rap music as a united thing. Odd Future rekindled the interest, but they’re so dismissive of everyone else that if you weren;t somehow affiliated with them directly it didn’t affect you much. The TDE cats kept plugging away at it and now they’ve got a strong foothold. Then you got the remnants of the jerkin’ kids and I think YG fits in with that but honestly I don’t know what he does.
So all of that right there that I just laid out..I dont really fit in with any of that. I fit in with Hellfyre Club. Nocando, Busdriver, Subtitle, VerBS, Pistol, Kail, Taurus, Rheteric. We come
from the old world of the LA underground but we like the new sounds. And we’re all adults.
Could you talk a bit about the meaning behind the title of your new record, 4NML HSPTL?
You ever heard of the term “Chapel Perilous?”
Most of the lyrical content on “Hospital” (the track) revolves around your maturation process—in both an attempt to become a better role model and to stop being jealous (“I used to be so jealous hearted/How did he get such a swell apartment?”). Does this derive from actual events in your life? How often are your lyrics true confessions vs. an attempt to entertain through fiction?
On the album and most especially on that song, I went really deep in myself to find the most genuine notions I could, then I satirized the shit out of them. There’s some straightforward shit on there too but the very notion of the HSPTL is that its the place where I have to
deal with all of my insecurities. A lot of them become magnified to the point of ridiculousness on that level. All the monsters look clumsy and dumb under a microscope.
The record was preceded by a few great EPs that either featured new tracks or remixes of old ones. Why did you decide to release so much new free music, when the gap between your full-lengths was only about a year or so?
Mostly because this project was just me and Awkward so there was no room on the new project for a lot of those songs. If I didnt put them out I would have ended up sitting on them for two years. Also..I make a shit ton of songs…I found some songs today that I forgot I made.
Always better to get the work out in my opinion. What do you think about it?
Your track with Serengeti, “Universe Man” seems to take on a rather satirical or ironic tone—bringing in pop-culture references such as The Situation and Mark Ruffalo. What’s the story behind the track and what was it like working with Serengeti, another extremely smart,
We broke down the entire song, layer by layer here.
People should read that after they finish this. Is that an unfair strain on people’s attention spans? I dont think so. It’s just one thing to remember to do while you’re doing something else.
Anyway the song is the ravings of a mad man that reminds people to do all the dumb important shit that they forget to do like read that link after they finish reading this interview.
“Your Back Pack Past” is a hilarious take on the oft-shifting personas of former “back pack rappers.” Did a particular character inspire this portrayal or is it more of a culmination of various artists?
Shit man, it ain’t just the artists…it’s the writers, the consumers,
everybody..I tried to put all of that in there. There’s guys on web forums that have KRS-One names but only like new world struggle rap and the finest of trap music today. Btw, I officially think white people like trap music more than black people do now. It’s official.
“Free-Writing Exercise” with Nocando features the line “Don’t date on the scene/Cuz some of these young groupie girls ate the Blowdian yogurt.” What’s your association with Project Blowed—I know you work with both Busdriver and Nocando, but other than that, do you associate with the crew?
Of course…I’ve made stuff and toured with Aceyalone, Abstract Rude, Ellay Khule, Acid Reign…That’s all my family…2mex randomly hopped in the car with me and VerBS for a vegas show this week.
You went to Uganda with Ras G… How was that? Did it influence 4NML HSPTL at all? In what ways did your music benefit from the trip, and will we be hearing more about the trip in the future?
It was intense. That’s what i’ve decided to say about it. its the best way to encapsulate the range of experiences we had out there. At some points I was bored out of my skull at others I thought I might die.
How did the collaboration with Danny Brown on “Cobra Commander” come about?
He said something nice about me on the Twitter. We started talking that way.
What’s next for you?
Making stuff with Blockhead mostly…and touring lots…All the while trying to figure out this indie rap math problem.