Open Mike Eagle is in a slump, but his music isn’t


Melissa Joseph

Open Mike Eagle finds ways to heal on “Anime, Trauma and Divorce.” But it turns out that moving onto a new stage in life might involve recontextualizing the most essential parts of ourselves.

The indie rapper hailing from Chicago, Open Mike Eagle, has returned with “Anime, Trauma and Divorce,” further solidifying him as one of the most consistent hip-hop artists in recent years.

As the title may imply, Eagle is going through a lot. While the core inspiration for the album is the somewhat recent divorce from his wife, it is clear that the title is more than just dark humor at his own expense. “Anime, Trauma and Divorce” is a grieving process.

When something as important as your marriage crumbles before your own eyes, how do you process it? What are the moments in life that you cling to, that you linger on? As awkward as these details may be to discuss, Eagle lays it all out for everyone to see.

With songs such as “Everything Ends Last Year” and “The Black Mirror Episode,” Eagle reflects on the worst of it. On the former, Eagle’s refrain of “It’s October and I’m tired” encapsulates the start-up and eventual discontinuation of his Comedy Central show and the pain of letting a once in a lifetime opportunity slip between his fingers, along with the tension placed on friendship when working together in the music industry.

“The Black Mirror Episode” is both sonically and thematically the most dread-inducing song of the album as Eagle accuses the Netflix show “Black Mirror” of catalyzing the end of his marriage. Many episodes explore issues involving technology in relationships, and apparently there was one particular episode that caused some revelation about their own.

With a yelled hook “The Black Mirror episode ruined my marriage” and lines like “Happy home go to hell cause of tech sh**/well my sh** went to hell cause of Netflix,” Open Mike Eagle manages an equally depressing and oddly hilarious look into where it went wrong. It’s the type of situation that no one would ever want to go through, but when you hear about it, you can’t help but laugh at how ridiculous it is.

Along with his divorce, it should be expected that anime is a recurring theme throughout many of the songs. But the endless “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” and “Neon Genesis Evangelion” references are more than just a way for Eagle to sneak in nods to his favorite anime series. They are an essential piece of who he is, and act as a coping mechanism. Anime is more than a comforting escape from the real world; Open Mike Eagle sees himself in the characters.

“Head*ss (Idiot Shinji),” “Bucciarati,” and “I’m a Joestar (Black Power Fantasy)” place Eagle in these character’s shoes, Shinji and Bucciarati being some less than favorable depictions. “I’m a Joestar (Black Power Fantasy)” is a cathartic track in which Eagle imagines himself as a member of the Joestar family from “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure,” transforming him into a muscular dream version of himself.

“Anime, Trauma and Divorce” has a transitional, almost purgatorial feeling to it. Open Mike Eagle is still making sense of the mess around him, doing his best to keep his head above water. The realization of not knowing what to do with oneself is covered on “Sweatpants Spiderman” and “Wtf is Self Care.” 

Eagle is almost 40. He isn’t the same person he was before all of this. These songs articulate this fact in the smoothest, funniest, and bluntest way possible. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, and is proud to admit it. These songs, along with the rest of the album, present a man thrown into a foreign world. The awkwardness of these tracks perfectly captures who Eagle is, or at least who he presents himself as.

While “Anime, Trauma and Divorce” is emotionally potent with it’s honesty and raw nature, the closer hits in a special way. 

“Fifteen Twenty Feet Ocean Nah” is a live recording from when Open Mike Eagle was performing for a cruise line, and contains a feature from Eagle’s son, Asa, or as he is known on the album, Lil A$e. While Lil A$e performed the hook on an earlier track, appropriately named “Asa’s Bop,” he performs multiple verses in this live performance. The song retells a traumatic snorkeling incident they had the day before, with the song being written in a day.

On top of serving as an earnest and endearing send off, there are some deeper layers to the seemingly simple track. While not directly related to the album, “Fifteen Twenty Feet Ocean Nah” gives way to some thematic through lines. 

“Yeah I’m being brave, I don’t have to be/I don’t care if the whole ship laugh at me.” This simple couple of lines presents a parallel between Eagle coping with the end of his relationship and floating in the ocean fearing for his life. He doesn’t care if people see him as weak, he just wants to be comfortable.

“Anime, Trauma and Divorce” is an easy album to listen to. The production mixes an easy going and relatable front with a looming sense of exhaustion and dread, exactly as it should given the content. Open Mike Eagle is upfront about his intentions across the 12 songs and delivers in spades.

The album may just be about anime, trauma and divorce. But the bigger takeaway is how these three things interact and relate with each other. With such a concept, it is immensely impressive that Open Mike Eagle turned it into some of the most impactful and universal rap of the year.

Recommended listening setting: In a rut.

Rating: 9/10

Thomas Stremfel can be reached at [email protected] or @tomstremfel on Twitter.