Private Playlist: Open Mike Eagle on dark purple jams and musical velvet paintings

Open Mike Eagle. Photo by Emari Traffie

Private Playlist is a listening session with Southern California’s most notable musical figures in their private creative environments. 

With more than a dozen solo and collaborative projects to his name, Leimert Park’s Open Mike Eagle has spent his career redefining and expanding the parameters of “art rap,” the term he coined as a shorthand for leftfield and avant-garde rap music. He spent the 2010s finding comedy in rap music and American nightmares. On albums like ​”Brick Body Kids Still Daydream” ​and ​”Dark Comedy​,” he delivered hilarious socio-political insights via half-sung verses laid atop progressive production. More recently, he's made a shift toward examining trauma: his own and his community's. And on his brilliant new album, "Anime, Trauma, and Divorce," he probes the darkness of his past and searches for lights to guide him forward.

For this edition of Private Playlist, Open Mike Eagle shares dark purple jams from The Breeders and a musical velvet painting by DJ Jazzy Jeff among his recent favorites.

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Open Mike Eagle: I think we can all say that 2020 has been trying. I came into 2020 having experienced some personal calamities that didn't put me in the best position to deal with the global thing that we're all dealing with right now, so a lot of 2020 for me has been about anxiety management. A lot of my "go-to" songs put me in a happy place, so the songs I've chosen are ones that consistently do that for me. 

SERENGETI

Serengeti is one of my favorite rappers. He also happens to be a friend and a collaborator, and somebody I'm in a rap group with sometimes. Serengeti is from Chicago; he's most widely known for a Chicago sports anthem called "Dennehy" that he does under an alias, Kenny Dennis. But his music as Serengeti is moody, beautiful, and, by his own words, whimsical. I think being moody and whimsical at the same time is a challenge in most media, but I think it's especially challenging in rap music. There's an expectation of certain sorts of postures and braggadocio and bravado: talking yourself up and your circumstances, regardless of the actual state of them. I've always found it especially rewarding when I find rappers who are vulnerable enough to connect to something moody or whimsical, because they're tapping into their imagination, which is not something that a lot of rappers are encouraged to do. And Geti has always been really good about that balance. I think it's just because of who he is as a person: he is a moody person and he is a whimsical person, and all of that is very present in his music, and why I've always been drawn to it.

THE BREEDERS

"Night of Joy" is this moody, minor-chord, dark purple jam. It always lives in the back of my mind, and it's something that I always go to. The song sounds almost French; it sounds like a French cafe at night. If I could talk to Kim or Kelley Deal, I would love to know what their inspiration was. It doesn't sound like any of their other songs. There's something about it that feels like an old jazz fusion record. Not that it has that same sort of instrumentation, but about how it's living in this kind of dirty loop. They're creating that loop with their own guitars and drums, but it's got the feel of a song that I would come across and want to loop and rap over it.

JUICE WRLD

This is a song that my son brought into my life. He'll be turning 12twelve soon, and he's gotten deeply into music over the last two years. After raising him on a steady diet of alternative rap like Shabazz Palaces, MF Doom, and my own music, he took a left turn a few years ago and got really into commercial rap. And one of the artists he's been into, who I really found very compelling, was Juice WRLD. Unfortunately, Juice WRLD passed away last year, but "Armed and Dangerous" is such a beautiful piece of modern rap. To me, it feels just as moody and whimsical as Serengeti, even though Juice WRLD was coming from a completely different perspective. 

THE BLOW

I've heard "True Affection" play in a lot of different situations where I've put it on and it stops the room every time. People are like, "What is this?" and everybody goes to look it up. The two women in The Blow both have really pretty voices, and the way the song is constructed, it feels like an alternative/indie-rock song. It also has a synth line that sounds so much like early 2000s club rap, but their approach to it vocally, and the song they sing over it, is so catchy and affecting and feels very emotionally true.

DJ JAZZY JEFF Featuring RHYMEFEST and DAYNE JORDAN

To me, there are few songs whose title so perfectly encapsulates everything that the song feels like. I know the joy people feel when they're skating around in circles like that, with the speed and the grace. And Jazzy Jeff's instrumental is so funky, but the chord progression is somehow made more subtle by going over a beat that almost feels like disco. You feel like you start at a skating rink and end up in space. By the time this thing is over, it feels like one of those 1970s velvet paintings come to life. When there's the Black-people shuttle going into space, they can play this one for sure. Maybe I can DJ the Black shuttle space trip and I can put this in my set. 

MAC DEMARCO

I've always really enjoyed Mac DeMarco. I don't know what it is about his approach to singing and songwriting, but there's this kind of smoky haze to it. And I can tell he's a young person, but the music feels so classic. I was in Montana earlier this year on tour before everything shut down. And I was afraid in Montana, because we were in a small town that I hadn't heard great things about. Me and my tour partner were trying to find somewhere to eat and grab a drink, and we found this little bar. The music they were playing was so good. And this song came on, and I had to ask the bartender, "What is this?" And she pointed towards the phone that was playing through the speaker, and it was "Nobody" by Mac DeMarco. I'm determined that I am going to rap on this song. I'm hoping I can do it legally, but the song has a perfect groove, and it makes me want to say things that rhyme over it.

Check out KCRW’s other Private Playlists:

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La Santa Cecilia's La Marisoul finds hope for the future in music
Bob Mould seeks artful inspiration from Janelle Monáe, Elliott Smith, and the Byrds
San Cha believes we can create, no matter our circumstances
M. Ward is listening to music by his influences’ influencers
Alice Bag is doing the live music withdrawal dance
Madame Gandhi on Fela, feminism, and the bravery of Brian Eno and Jon Hassell
Aimee Mann looks past the snark to appreciate Steely Dan’s craft
Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad on finding solace in Gil Scott-Heron
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TOKiMONSTA is rediscovering her love for the guitar
Jeff Parker is busy studying music in hibernation mode
Dorian Wood is walking a tightrope and trying not to look down
Thundercat on the importance of albums as a journey
Neon Indian shares music for your inner monologue
Mia Doi Todd recommends space-age sounds and Brazilian tunes
Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy offers an earthy soundtrack for the homebound
Chris Cohen shares Algerian synth funk, avant jazz, and more far-out sounds
Inara George shares tips for raising music-literate kids during quarantine
Go Betty Go’s Nicolette Vilar shares her love of Mazzy Star, Dusty Springfield, and more
Mary Lattimore is communing with musical kindred spirits
Ndidi O selects music for a melancholy autumn
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Playlist
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