As of October 16, it will have been one year since the passing of Micheal Larsen (aka Eyedea), the rapping portion of hip hop duo Eyedea & Abilities. A member of the iconic Rhymesayers Entertainment label, he was an instrumental figurehead in the underground rap movement throughout the early 2000s. His death came as a surprise to everyone, and the world lost a gem that it had only recently uncovered. I remember where I was when I found out, and I would be hard pressed to forget it. The news came to me in the form of a phone call from a fellow fan. I could barely believe what I was hearing, and sat in a reflective silence for a long while after.
It seemed odd (hell, it is odd) that a strangerâ€™s death would impact me in such a way. The truth is, though, he never felt like a stranger. It is very rare (and by very rare I mean never) that I feel as if I know an artist whom Iâ€™ve never had the pleasure of meeting. They sing their songs and I enjoy them, nothing more, nothing less; a pretty simple formula if you ask me. Eyedea, however, was on a completely different level for this avid fan. Although we had nothing in common, he had a way of bringing you into the music and feeling as if you were a part of something larger. I have never heard someone speak so clearly of their own inner workings through their music. He forced us to look within himself, almost as if to attempt to share who he was, what he was thinking, and where he was in his own life.
Anytime an artists dies unexpectedly it seems that their work is raised to another level only attainable posthumously. Their genius is revered as intense genius and a song that might have been previously deemed mediocre is elevated to a timeless classic. I only say this because Micheal Larsenâ€™s material was not subject to this condition. Prior to his death, he was already seen as a monumental asset to the hip hop community, and people worldwide were amazed at his speed, diction, and flawless delivery.
It has now been a year since his passing, and a pinch of sadness still remains listening through the records. You canâ€™t help but pry through each and every line of lyric, hoping to uncover some of Larsenâ€™s psyche. Each album becomes a challenge, and each track a footstep to a revelation that may or may not even exist. Not all that surrounds him is sad, however. We have been left with a gift. Eyedeaâ€™s tracksâ€”his poetryâ€”are here and always will be for fans to enjoy. From dizzyingly rapid rhymes to philosophical introspections to the melancholy, the material of Eyedea, along with DJ Abilities, is here to stay.
After gaining notoriety from winning the HBO-sponsored Blaze Battle, Eyedea was revered as one of our generationâ€™s most promising rappers. With the public eye now set on his next move, Larsen joined with long-time friend DJ Abilities and began performing under the moniker Eyedea & Abilities. Within the year, this hip-hop duo put out their first record, First Born. Met with positive reviews, their debut record was a strong start to an even stronger career.
â€œAnd I realize that I’m not real, God just imagined me.â€
If only one word was available to describe this record, it would be contemplative. This albumâ€”serving as a narrative of sortsâ€”may seem all over the place at first, but upon second inspection, a strong cohesion can be inferred. The stories throughout the album tend to remain in third-person and dabble in all things surreal and existential. The lyric above is from the track â€œColor My World Mineâ€, a song about a man who had a reoccurring dream of his death, only to find this exact same scene painted at an art gallery. From here the song delves into everyone creating the life of someone else in the world. The protagonist began to paint himself painting himself, possibly to prevent anyone else from changing his life. And for the record, the album doesnâ€™t lighten up from here.
Â â€œNo one really knows exactly what happens when we think.
Therefore we can never really ever know anything.â€
As a whole, First Born is Eyedeaâ€™s platform for personal philosophical rants. In songs such as â€œ…Powdered Water Too (Part 1)â€ itâ€™s almost as if weâ€™re hearing a dialectic debate on what exactly the mind entails. Without a momentâ€™s pause, Larsen references Plato and the Copenhagen interpretationÂ as sources of inspiration in his academic rap. Never has such depth been brought to a genre so often riddled with shallow and demeaning content. Eyedea & Abilities had a vision of what to do with their record and made certain it would be done in a proper fashion.
â€œWho am I’s? What am I? Am I forever?
All information breeds in the shallow dark hells of never.
You can see where it’s leading. You wish you were dreaming.
If the castle crumbles no one’s there to put it back together.â€
Another notable feature of this album is the down-right creepiness of the music (which is a compliment). Whether it is the beats or the story, there is a constant surrealist feeling floating about of uncertainty and uneasiness. The flighty string intro of â€œ…Powdered Water Too (Part 2)â€ could make any pleasant Sunday car ride feel like the final scenes of Lost Highway, and the story told in â€œA Murder of Mysteriesâ€ could make the cheeriest of people take a moment to dwell on the potential effects of war on veterans. Itâ€™s heaviness and aleatoric discordance of a piano part prelude to a later track, â€œThe Diveâ€, another track about paranoia and drowning in oneâ€™s own thoughts.
In the end, the album is solid through and through. It may have lacked a tad in production, but the lyrics were spot on, driving messages home that made even the most simple-minded listener stop to think. These are things that people should reflect on every now and then, and Larsen is serving as a catalyst, a frenzied facilitator of sorts.
Then came E&A, an album that compensated for lack of lyrical digging with incredible musicianship and dynamic beats. Although many of the tracks have a very stereotypical â€˜weâ€™re the best there ever wasâ€™ mentality, both members have the skills to back it up.
The album was an improvement in many regards. While the previous release was criticized for its lack of beat variation, DJ Abilities comes back with mind-melting rhythms that could potentially floor those weighing under 200 pounds. From the sporadic â€œOne Twentyâ€ to the grimey constancy of â€œMan Vs. Apeâ€, E&A arguably takes the cake, smashes it in the criticsâ€™ faces, and proceeds to bake another one for their own eating pleasure.
â€œDie dirty hippy commie scum Christian Muslim Buddhist Jew
Democrat factory workinâ€™ college student youth.
My nervous system don’t take no bullshit.
Been dominating since the day I touched the monolith.â€
Anyone who can reference 2001: A Space Odyssey in their music deserves some recognition, if not a trophy. Larsenâ€™s wit is teeming on this record, as seen in the lyrics above (â€œMan Vs. Apeâ€) or even in the faster-than-a-jackrabbit â€œNowâ€. Itâ€™s easy to catch oneself keying in on solely the words on his records, even if heâ€™s rapping too quickly to discern a coherent sentence.
â€œWeâ€™ve rediscovered the long-lost art of dying.
Only the lonely resent angels for flying.
Addicted, afraid to take control of my own life.
This is paradise.â€
This is undoubtedly the most light-hearted record of three, but we still see some classic Eyedea dispersed throughout with stoic subjects and stories. The track â€œParadiseâ€ (lyrics above) is a story of an obsessive love turned sour from the start. â€œExhausted Loveâ€, although sporting a laid-back and seemingly lackadaisical beat, focuses in on giving up on oneâ€™s dreams. Out of all the counterexamples, however, one track stands above the others.
â€œWhat donâ€™t kill me will just make me crazier.
Iâ€™m so filthy; sorry you had to see me like this.
I sold you a lie, that showed through my eyes,
And told you to cry a stained glass suicide.â€
The final track serves as a prelude for the third album-to-be. â€œGlassâ€ is a solemnly honest song and the first look we get at his emotional psyche. Itâ€™s blatant that something is amiss, but just enough so you know he is searching for something to get out of life that rises above the typical definitions of success.
Last on their list was the third and final album, By the Throat. Due to the use of guitars and an overall emphasis of a â€œrockâ€ feel, the final record was met with rather critical reception. Although many disapproved of Larsenâ€™s new take, I found it a remarkable segue into the lyrical content of the album. By the Throat is teeming with emotion, grittiness, and a melancholy feel without being overbearing.
â€œEmpathy is the poor man’s cocaine
And love is just a chemical by any other name.
I like the way your pheromones make me sleepy.
This far away I still smell you inside me.â€
One of the most gripping tracks on the album is â€œBurn Fetishâ€, a song dominated by themes of hopelessness and negativity. You can hear the painful energy in his voice as he pushes through the chorus (see above) and to the end of the song. A majority of the tracks on this record have the same feel, even to the point of reflecting on oneâ€™s own life.
â€œI want to suck out all of your junk and
Kiss it back into the parts of your heart that you keep locked up.
When you awaken I hope Iâ€™m the first person you call.
Iâ€™ll listen like a pistol,
Itâ€™ll be worse than talking to a wall.â€
In the track â€œJunkâ€, Eyedeaâ€™s issues seem to lash out through a negatively blistering rant about the current status of society. There is even a point in the track where he exclaims, â€˜Donâ€™t fucking push me. Iâ€™m ready to jump.â€™ where if one didnâ€™t know any better, they might assume theyâ€™re listening to the death wish of an artist. But those who are fans know there is much more than meets the eye, and this assumed depression is nothing more than the wit and brutality that characterizes this duo.
â€œAnd I refuse to let past bruises cover the light.
It ain’t all good, but its all good enough,
so I know I’m alright.
Agony is truth its our connection to the living.
I accept it as perfection and keep on existing in the now.â€
Then comes what I consider the pinnacle of Eyedea & Abilitiesâ€™ catalog, â€œSmileâ€. One of only a handful of songs to exceed four minutes, this track turns around and contradicts everything that he has previously said on all albums. Through all the songs that bred negativity and confusion, â€œSmileâ€ is the final culmination that reaches the answer he has been searching for all along. Similar to Siddhartha at the river in Hesseâ€™s novel, Larsen finally hits the nail on the head that heâ€™d been trying to do for almost a decade.
Within this one song, he addresses multiple issues that we previously encountered in other tracks, but then we are given the answer weâ€™ve been searching for:
â€œI can only build if I tear the walls down.
Even if it breaks me I wont let it make me frown.
I’m falling but no matter how hard I hit the ground
I’ll still smile.â€
Itâ€™s truly a gift to see someone who was so concerned with the philosophical issues we all face finally find an answer that transcended the typical â€˜weâ€™ll never knowâ€™ conclusion. I will go as far to say that Micheal Larsen wasnâ€™t necessarily writing for the sake of music or even for the fans; he was writing to find truth. He was a poet as much as he was a musician as much as he was a philosopher, and his outlet was the musical fervor he always had.
Just like in First Born, we feel as if weâ€™re right there beside him, piecing together the clues to figure out what life is truly all about. With each album, the window into Eyedeaâ€™s world progressively got larger, and what was once a tiny peephole eventually became just big enough to get a grip on who he was.
For those of you who know the catalog of this prolific artist, take the time to pry (if you havenâ€™t already) through the lyrics of his music. I have barely scratched the surface with this article, and hope that your interest has been peaked enough to listen for yourself. There are so many areas Iâ€™ve left unturned, from â€œBy the Throatâ€ to â€œVoid (External Theory)â€ to â€œHay Feverâ€, not to mention his solo work and music with Face Candy. An entire novel devoted to his work might not even do him justice, but thatâ€™s what it would take to get a complete picture. One year ago the world lost a gem of a rapper, butâ€“corniness and cliches asideâ€“his music will always remain for all music-lovers to appreciate and pick apart.