Food, Table, & “Screen Play”: Open Mike Eagle & Serengeti are Cavanaugh

The two greatest graduates of Southern Illinois University finally team up.
By    October 20, 2015


Max Bell lives West of Western. 

Open Mike Eagle and Serengeti don’t appear on the “Distinguished Alumni” page of the Southern Illinois University alumni website. They should, but the omission probably hasn’t taken any food from their table. The former Salukis have spent their post-grad years out-rapping peers, pushing the boundaries of their genre, forging their respective fan bases, and earning wider critical recognition with each addition to their discographies.

During a 2014 interview, Mike told me that Serengeti was “probably [his] favorite working rapper.” Still, despite their shared respect, alma mater, hometown, and penchant for absurdist humor, they’ve only collaborated sparingly since graduation (three of said jawns below the jump). Maybe the timing has only worked out on those few but memorable instances. Maybe there is a vault of unreleased demos from dorm days past. Maybe they were waiting until they could record more than one song at a time.

Yesterday, Mike announced he and Serengeti’s group, Cavanaugh, via his Secret Skin podcast. I’m inclined to believe that a bar in the Loop inspired the group name. However, this is the very rare case where the press release tells a far more interesting story:

In a new urban development on the far west side of Detroit, Florida, it’s mandated by a 5 to 4 city council vote that a new housing structure be erected that has both luxury condominium units available for private ownership and section 7 housing in the same building. Via separate entrances the Cavanaugh building services two very different populations. And though the lifestyles of the residents vary, each unit relies on the same system of pipes and wiring and are serviced by the same crew. Mike and Dave have a combined 14 years of experience in Cavanaugh maintenance. They usually work drunk, mumbling greetings to the residents, soaking up all the disdain that the higher and lower income inhabitants have for each other. They talk shit to each other all day. Complaining about their home lives, spinning passive aggressive tales where they pretend to be angrier, stronger, more expressive men. 

“Screen Play” is the first single from Cavanaugh’s forthcoming Mello Music Group debut, which is produced entirely by Mike. The beat drags and swirls, the percussion echoing at an off-kilter clip between airy, almost chime-like chords. It sounds like I imagine that hazy headspace between sleeping and waking might. It sounds like Mike might have another qualifier.

Mike and Serengeti spend the duration dissecting means of self-preservation. Serengeti has been scorned and saddled with an unseemly amount of back taxes. Thus, all finances are guarded from future love interests. Mike inhales loud before meditating on the stoned silence. In the end, he imagines a career in electro. It’s a parody as much as it is an affirmation. It’s what Mike and Serengeti do best.

Both Chicagoans are more cryptic here than usual, and identifying the contents on the table requires an even more careful listen. Yet feeling that they’ve achieved something akin to catharsis remains. So it goes that we are granted access to that feeling in listening. Other than Hannibal, what have any other Southern Illinois alums done for you lately?

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