On a normal day in San Diego, it’s not uncommon to see people driving around in their Jeeps with the top down and surfboard sticking up in the back. Upon spotting several of them while driving around in Pacific Beach, I was reminded of the soft top Jeep’s run as a must-have vehicle for urban artists during the early 1990s and how every album had a “Jeep Remix” to the single. But as the 90s wore on, the Jeeps were out and we’ve since moved on to luxury sedans. The reason behind Jeep’s fall from grace in the hip-hop community? According to my roommate, “The shootings got too hot. You can’t bulletproof a Jeep.”
With the advent of the bulletproof vest as a fashion statement instead of just a safety precaution and the ability to bulletproof the whip, rappers are living longer. Any day now, Too $hort will be contributing guest verses to his grandkids’ mixtapes. Open Mike Eagle, the witty Chicagoan-turned-Angeleno, points out on Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes that despite the heat-clapping, Henny-sipping image that many rappers espouse, the only pills that they’ll be popping in their later years will be Viagra and blood pressure medication. There’s no country for old rappers, and grey hairs and canes of the non-pimp variety don’t jive with hip-hop’s youthful image. The false sense of invincibility that surrounds rappers does not stop with their physical well-being, but also extends to their mental health as well, as Open Mike Eagle explains in “NH2!!! (Grins and Lies)” that while artists aren’t immune from life’s problems, they must still smile for the camera despite whatever is going on in their lives.
Open Mike Eagle and the accompanying production from a bevy of producers led by Project Blowed-affiliated group E.Super have successfully avoided being pigeonholed so far, with an aesthetic that’s different and ventures into quirky, particularly on the Paul Barman-assisted “Exiled From the Getalong Gang”. “Right Next To You” presents Open Mike as the rapper next door who grew up in the projects but doesn’t “glorify stupid shit” and would rather talk Aqua Teen Hunger Force and taco trucks than the life on the corner. Open Mike may be best known for his wit and humor, but the trait that shines through the strongest on Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes is his authenticity, a commitment to show that he, and other rappers, are normal people, too.