Album Review: Open Mike Eagle – Anime, Trauma and Divorce

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In the pantheon of emotive music out there, none can be as truly devastating as the explicit detail of a relationship breaking down. Such is the pilgrimage L.A.-based rapper and comedian Open Mike Eagle set out to accomplish with his fifth solo album Anime, Trauma and Divorce. The ‘comedian’ tag is necessary to understanding Mike’s style; there are very few songs in his repertoire that don’t include some kind of humor – even if it’s dark or humiliating and degrading. Although, before now his humor came across as softening the blow to his audience, but on this excursion it comes across as a coping mechanism.

The touchy subjects addressed on Anime, Trauma and Divorce are heavier in a personal way than on his 2017 breakthrough Brick Body Kids Still Daydream – a record that took aim at the poor living conditions of the housing projects in Chicago. Here, Open Mike wears the targets himself; close to his heart (“The Black Mirror Episode”), but also smaller targets on his stomach (“Sweatpants Spider-Man”), and his psyche (“Bucciarati”). Instead of critiquing the world around him like others in the game do, Mike is strictly criticizing himself on Divorce, an album that touches on just about every personal trauma he’s endured in the last few years. And, for some, that may seem like a walk in the park, but anyone with half a heart can empathize with Mike here.

Opening track “Death Parade” takes its name from the popular anime, but starts the record on its path of cyclical trauma with “So he fucked her up / Then she turned big / I got chewed up / that shit fucked me up / so imma fuck you up.” This constant rotation of fucking one another up doesn’t end there, as the dark cloud looming over Anime, Trauma and Divorce is that third descriptor: divorce. Running concurrently with the themes dominating the record, his own divorce is the attention-grabbing aspect and it takes on its own guest spot on the album, “May shit speed up / I hate this pre-nup / this shit cost too much / the lift off blew up / the bullshit’s teed up / the heart got beat up.” Mike’s under duress through this writing process, and “Death Parade” spares the pleasantries by just digging the knife in.

“Headass (Idiot Shinji)” seems like a breather, focusing on the positive aspect of the album’s title – anime – but turns out to be another self-loathing cut. The remark ‘headass’ has multiple Google-able definitions, none of which are positive, but all of which focus on the idiocy of the subject. Frequent collaborator Video David chimes in, but the focus is Open Mike twisting the knife further into his gut, “It ain’t a secret / I overthink it / I over-analyze and tweak it / cuz that’s my weakness.” Usually rappers don’t get this self-deprecating, they save that for the white boy singer-songwriters, and while there are several out there who just seem to never overcome their debilitating mental illness, none should shy from admitting what it is about themselves keeps them up at night. Open Mike Eagle chose to write a record about himself, but he doesn’t puff his chest up – instead he exhales a sigh.

On “Sweatpants Spider-Man” he stares into the mirror and contemplates changing himself, either by self-evaluation or perhaps what the scene demands of him – “Start studying Kendrick / start dressing like Hendrix / old chapter just ended / I’m lookin’ over my spendin’ / Gotta start doing it different / review what I’ve written / start thinkin’ about movin’ on.” In the chorus, Open Mike has the humility to point out his vices: “Tattoos / Haircuts / Gold chains / anime.” “Sweatpants Spider-Man” puts the magnifying glass on Mike’s appearance and goals, but it never feels mean-spirited. At some point today you may stare at a mirror and, like him, wonder how to get rid of those love handles (“My belly hanging out like Ralphus”), or why your hair parts a certain way. Mike’s just able to put it out there for everyone else to live through vicariously.

The Kari Faux’s guest spot on “Bucciarati” sets the tone for a lounge cut that swells with exhaustion from Mike’s line delivery. Emphasizing his financial situation and loneliness, he spits “My winter coat has removable linings / Who’s gonna bring me good comfort and tidings / Cuz Santa Claus ain’t coming / he wasn’t invited / I wasn’t expected to need it / was headed in a different direction.” Mike’s reaching out and acknowledging his comfort with despair, coming to grips with his own assuredness. His financial struggles are mentioned again on follow up “Asa’s Bop” when he announces “I don’t wanna log into see my bank account.”

All of this has poured out not even half way through the album; we’ve already touched on his image, his career, his finances, his weaknesses – practically everything – and the lowest points of Anime, Trauma and Divorce come in the second half. This is what makes Open Mike Eagle’s music so much more than the standard; his willingness to point the finger at himself before pointing it at others is a trait very few can dedicate an entire album to.

“It’s October and I’m tired,” he declares on “Everything Ends Last Year”, “just put me on that TV screen / because pop culture is forever.” He runs down all of these friendships and prospects that were dashed quickly after so much work being put in. These career setbacks highlight the Trauma aspect of the album, as does “WTF is Self Care” where Mike despondently ponders the notion of taking care of one’s self via health foods and fancy lotions. He continues his thought exploration into what constitutes ‘self care’, noting smoking a lot of weed and high thread-count sheets as equally valid.

“The Black Mirror Episode” ruined his marriage. There’s no explicit statement about the dissolution of his marriage on this album or otherwise, but Mike holds nothing back and does what many of us do when relationships fail – blame it on something immaterial. Netflix’s popular series was not available for comment, but the idea that a TV show caused the end of a marriage is both darkly hilarious but depressing considering how Mike goes into detail about it. It’s a painful moment on an album full of dark patches. There’s very little light on Anime, Trauma and Divorce; it’s an album written by Open Mike Eagle about Open Mike Eagle, and we’re all just voyeurs along for the downward spiral.

If there’s a bright spot on the album it’s the upbeat and fun “I’m a Joestar (Black Power Fantasy)”, where Mike doesn’t take a break from the assessments on himself, but he and producer Frank Leone sprinkle in some lighter tones. The 180 done here isn’t jarring, it’s a breath of fresh air and a life preserver thrown in at the right moment. “I’ve been waiting for four years and five seasons / Well goddamnit / it’s my turn, it’s my season / In this chapter JoJo is African / And it’s me, Mike Eagle / I’m the protagonist.” He continues “Cuz goddamnit, it’s my turn / it’s my saga.” This track adds a resurgence in energy, giving inspiration and hope, it’s Mike trying to pull himself up and succeeding.

Open Mike Eagle has made a different kind of album. There’s nothing here that acts overly like a catchy single, and nothing here feels like a clubhouse banger. Instead, Mike’s crafted a personal album that pulls no punches – even though the target is himself (and Netflix). He flows from track to track with ease, holding nothing back, aided by the low-key and mellow beats that allow his feelings to be foregrounded. There’s no stone left unturned here as he doesn’t shy away from any subject. Anime, Trauma and Divorce is a self-help rap record that manages to be heart-breaking and humorous at the same time, and never takes its audience for granted, which is a rare find in any medium.