Mello Music Group
Mello Music Group

Conceptual rap albums may not be as in vogue on the mainstream level, but artists on the independent circuit strive to keep that aspect of hip-hop alive, resulting in some of the more sonically and topically-groundbreaking long players in recent years. Rapper Open Mike Eagle, who has built a reputation for himself as a rap vanguard with oddball tendencies, comes through with a conceptual contribution of his own with his latest album, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream.

The project is largely inspired by his experiences at Chicago's notorious Robert Taylor Homes. A housing project known for poverty, drug activity and gang violence, the last of the Robert Taylor Homes building was demolished in 2007, displacing thousands of residents and serving as yet another sign of gentrification of the area after decades of neglect.

Open Mike Eagle paints a picture of life as a Robert Taylor Homes resident on the album opener "Legendary Iron Hood," on which the scribe depicts himself as a superhero, rapping, "I'm big as hell, I can't fit in my fit, my sleeves ripped/I'm a king so my ring is legit," over a rollicking guitar riff provided by Dan Miller of They Might Be Fucking Giants. Produced by Exile, "Legendary Iron Hood" is a bluesy number that makes note of the gangs and dilapidated conditions that plagued his former stomping grounds with couplets like "Can't stop, can't stop, but I'm not just boasting/I had to ’cause home’s overcome by roaches." These rhymes speak to the grit and perseverance born out of his environment by necessity.

"Everybody’s secrets inspire all of my scenes/I write in all of my fantasies and I die in all of my dreams," Open Mike admits on "(How Could Anybody) Feel at Home," a jittery, mid-tempo affair from Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, which serves as an early highlight and captures the Project Blowed alumnus in cruise control. An avid wrestling fan, Open Mike Eagle leans on the antithesis of the theatrics that power the entertainment value of the sport on the Illingsworth-produced "No Selling (Uncle Butch Pretends It Don't Hurt)," a selection that touches on how life in the inner city forces you to attain an invincible disposition, which in actuality, is all but a facade. "I tear my ACL, and wouldn't even limp/I keep my head up high, so I can read the blimps," Open Mike Eagle muses in between chants of "no selling," which can be equivalent to challenges of a person's manhood or courage in environments like the Robert Taylor Homes.

Dusty percussion and horns are employed by Illingsworth on the Brick Body Kids Still Daydream number "Daydreaming in the Projects," on which he reminisces on his formative years, while also examining the dynamics of social media outrage. "All these discussions online is mayonnaise versus mustard/Mayonnaise people think French can't be trusted/Mustard people think eggs is all busted," he reasons on one of the more sonically-enticing backdrops on the album. Open Mike Eagle infuses his quirky musings with a dosage of perspective and insight that serves as food for thought, a common denominator throughout the indie maven's latest collection.

The project or hood mentality is often seen as a complex in the negative connotation to those unfamiliar with the terrain, a topic that is broached on the Lo-Phi-produced "Brick Body Complex," with the Chi-Town spitter demanding, "Don't call me nigga or rapper, my motherfucking name is Michael Eagle," a proclamation that's delivered with palpable conviction.

Collaborations are few and far between on Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, with only two guest appearances throughout the album's 12 tracks, one of them being Philly rep Has-Lo's contribution to the album's lead single "95 Radios," which the rapper also co-produced alongside boardsman Toy Light. "Hard to express when the world is listening/Hard when you're sure that the world is not," Has-Lo laments on the song's opening verse, while Open Mike Eagle tackles the hook and spills off an off-kilter flow during his own stanza.

Brick Body Kids Still Daydream concludes with the heartfelt closing out cut "My Auntie's Building," a track that fixates on the demolition of the Robert Taylor Homes and the ripple effects that came of it. "Where else in America will they blow up yo' village," the Mello Music Group signee ponders as he memorializes one of his hometown's most polarizing landmarks that is no more, ending his ode on a bittersweet note.

Brick Body Kids Still Daydream continues Open Mike Eagle's ascent in the realm of independent hip-hop, where he has become one of the more promising soloists to come to prominence in recent years. Whereas his previous album, Hella Personal Film Festival, saw him teaming up with a lone producer (Paul White), Brick Body Kids Still Daydream offers more of an array of sounds and backdrops, which Open Mike Eagle does justice with his steady, measured style of lyricism.

Egregious blunders are non-existent on this outing, however, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream doesn't particularly leave listeners in a state of awe or marvel, making it a worthwhile addition to your playlist, but not one that breaks the mold. Overall, Open Mike Eagle puts forth an admirable effort with Brick Body Kids Still Daydream and adds to his catalog of music that is equally thoughtful as it is imaginative.

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