Let’s be honest. As much as we praise it, being hard-working and persistent just isn’t as compelling as you’d think. Look at the words used to describe good material in this genre we call hip-hop: effortless, fluid, with ease, breathlessly. People just like envisioning the artist grinning behind some sort of mythical haze in the studio rather than someone rapping his ass off on the verge of popping a blood vessel. Look at how easy blogs were willing to pass off Simbaa (the kid who rapped for Kanye West in that TMZ video) as a struggle rapper; nobody has time to look at the struggle.
The allure of effortlessness even works in comedy. How many times have you seen Louis C.K., one of the best working comedians, break his deadpan delivery? So it stands to reason that using this aesthetic for a comedy/alternative rap album like Open Mike Eagle’s Dark Comedy should work. But it doesn’t. Well, not as much as it should.
Dark Comedy is an inviting listen, but there’s no sense that it’s trying to keep the listener invested for its sub-45 minute length (which is alarming; that’s too short of a timespan to be running into that problem). A big reason for that impression is how its off-color sensibility doesn’t necessarily hide how monochromatic it comes off as. Dark Comedy is too invested in its wryness and eccentricities, and there are various moments where it feels like losing the listener is but a minor casualty.
While mundane, the production manages to become the core summoning power of the album with its interesting, but not overdone variations. It’s sometimes eerie, but as the album slugs along, it has the same earworm quality as shifting morning radio stations — except with a slight dose of adrenaline. There’s a surreal feel to it with instruments slowly fading in and out of memory. Background vocals twist gently in the background on openers “Dark Comedy Morning Show” and “Qualifiers.” The trance leaves for more percussive instrumentals on the following two tracks — “Thirsty Ego Raps” and “Golden Age Raps” — to make that switch from elation to urgency. There’s no sturdy footing with the beats, but that’s fine in this case.
Open Mike Eagle, though, feels as druggy and disoriented as the production. The most blatant example of this is his oft-employed sing-song rap style, a coo he reuses in “Dark Comedy Morning Show”, the twinkling “Jon Lovitz” and “Very Much Money”. Another is his overly lackadaisical flow, which never hits harder than a playful nudge. It’s indeed a playful album in concept, so pointing this out as a flaw may seem absurd. Delivery is key, however.
The listener is too often left reaching for those punchlines instead of vice versa, which is unfortunate because there are some gems here and there. A rather witty flip on excess and cars on the Hannibal Burress-assisted “Doug Stamper (Advice Raps)” (Priuses are pretty affordable) shines, and Open Mike Eagle cynically muses about having a crew of broke superheroes on “Very Much Money (Ice King Dream)”. Elsewhere, on “Information” Kool A.D. pulls out a hilariously free-associative verse (“Somebody run me down the basic premise of Thundercats/It seemed somehow relevant to the conversation”). Other times, it seems like Open Mike Eagle is grasping for those lines that will stick, like in “Sadface Penance Raps” (“Train for the pain so my chain keeps my next strong/Ouch! My neck’s mad brittle”).
Although the project is ultimately an average but well-intentioned listen, there’s a certain type of middle ground quality that makes Dark Comedy somewhat infuriating. It’s easy to like, but like the production highlights, the album gradually fades out of mind upon multiple listens — possibly before the first one’s over. Eagle’s album may be likened to the pleasantries of being asked to keep in touch with an old classmate after some surprise, random meeting, but with the nuisance of actually following through. Eagle falters not because he’s a bad guy, but just because of disinterest.
3 out of 5
You can purchase Dark Comedy on Amazon.