Open Mike Eagle's "Brick Body Kids Still Daydream" is a Colorful Ode to the Community that Raised Him

Open Mike Eagle's "Brick Body Kids Still Daydream" is a Colorful Ode to the Community that Raised Him

In this expectedly vivid album, Eagle softly hums an ode to the Robert Taylor Homes, a since-demolished housing project community in Southside Chicago.

In this expectedly vivid album, Eagle softly hums an ode to the Robert Taylor Homes, a since-demolished housing project community in Southside Chicago.

Text: Justin Ragolia

Amidst the current hip-pop environment where most high play count rap tracks aren’t about much more than money and ass, Michael Eagle has made his name with a quiet, musing style of rap that veers between sober meditation and wisecracking quips on society’s ugliest truths.

On this project, Eagle focuses his wit on themes that orbit the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development’s destruction of the Robert Taylor Homes, the Bronzeville project community where the Chicago-bred rapper was raised. Though gang violence and drug-related crime pervaded the housing project, Mike Eagle wrote Brick Body Kids Still Daydream with the aim of defying and rewriting the often reductive, dismal, and apocalyptic depictions of Chicago’s projects through the eyes of a young creative growing up in one. This isn’t to say that those dangers weren’t actually present in the environment, but Eagle’s latest centers the conversation on the project’s youth, many of which were raised in single-parent, female-headed households in economic distress.

The whole LP isn’t only about his upbringing in The Robert Taylor Homes, though. On the record, Eagle laments police brutality, toxic masculinity, the U.S. government’s mistreatment of underprivileged African American communities, while offering his own prescription on how to thrive in this environment: creativity and self-expression.

Open Mike Eagle doesn’t shy away from overt political commentary on the album, as he opens the first verse on Happy Wasteland Day, a grim description of the current U.S. socio-political climate, with a telling bar, “When the king is a garbage person, I might wanna lay down and die,” and later, “Fuck the king, no command, no chief/ Since the man was crowned we ain’t had no sleep.” It's not hard to guess who he's referring to there.

On this track, he pleads for a break from the incessant occasions of police brutality committed on black Americans across the nation, as the chorus asks, “Can we get one day without violence, can we get one day without fear, can we get one day they don’t try us, just like one day the whole year?” Eagle even highlights the perceived futility of attempting activism, rapping “Zombie sheriffs is tryna lynch us/ Guess I’ll call up my congressman.”

He strikes a similar chord on My Auntie’s Building, which epitomizes the album’s central theme with Mike’s personification of his aunt’s project building as HUD demolished it. Over a techno-dystopian, electronic chords, he asks “Where else in America will they blow up your village?” He ends the track on a dark note, humming, “That’s the sound of them tearing my body down, to the ground” over static buzz and the sounds of a building being demolished.

One of the most compelling tracks on the album, though, veers away from direct commentary on The Robert Taylor homes, instead whimsically remarking on the unachievable, destructive masculinity instilled in him as a child. On No Selling (Uncle Butch Pretends It Don’t Hurt), Mike uses the concept of “selling” your opponent’s moves in professional wrestling (to make them appear more devastating), and molds it into a metaphor to detail how, during his youth, the culture surrounding him forbade him from allowing his pain and emotion leak through to his exterior.

Over the track’s heavy, slow bass hum which simulates a traditionally “hard,” masculine rap beat, Eagle comically raps, “I tear my ACL and wouldn’t even limp/ I keep my head up high so I can read the blimps/ Don’t even scream if something hot burns my fingertips, I just wait a couple seconds then I reattempt.” This commentary oscillates between being dark and revealing, “Had a weird childhood/ My shit was wild hood/ But crying ain’t my style ‘cause I can smile good,” and making downright funny cinema references, “Airplane hit turbulence, shit I’m still sleep.”

It’s a refreshingly playful take on toxic masculinity, which chooses not to condemn it directly, but to personify it via mischievous hyperbole and Eagle’s signature double entendre. This jovially nudges the listener to come to a harsh judgment on the feigned invulnerability that cultures of masculinity encourage, but doesn’t present the judgment on its own.

The LP isn’t all grim images and critical commentary, though. While the album’s mood is dismal, a joyful sentiment is woven throughout its 40 minute play time: that one can rise out of the most difficult circumstances by using creativity and expression as vehicles of empowerment.

For example, Eagle opens Hymnal with, “To thine own self, be felt-tip,” before rapping:

“I was brought into this world with the instinct to back the hell away,

 And the will to write a rap song as long as an Alaskan day

To fight to balance those two feels is a personal passion play,” over a sluggish, but uplifting electronic melody.

This theme receives backup in a verse spit by Sammus, a New York-bred underground rapper with some serious lyrical chops, when she raps, “Take a nap, lie awake in between sobs/ Then I rap and I pray and the griefs stops.”

Here, we see artistic expression being offered as a cure to depression and loneliness. This feeling is echoed on Daydreaming in the Projects, a melodic, nostalgia laden-track that features retro video game sounds and cheerful trumpet crooning. Here, Eagle dedicates the song to the creative, optimistic children being raised in the projects across the globe. He softly hums,

“(This goes out to)

Ghetto children, making codewords

In the projects around the world

Ghetto children, fighting dragons

In the projects around the world.”

This reads as an offering of encouragement for and solidarity with the young creatives remaining optimistic and listening to their imaginations in impoverished, struggling communities.

As a project, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream stands as a rich, thematically-focused entry into Open Mike Eagle’s canon. Both its sound and content hold true to the rapper’s quiet, reflective tone, balancing scathing social commentary with lighthearted wordplay, all delivered in a stylistic hybrid of modern stream-of-consciousness bars and Chicago-bred punchline rap. Its inventive beats and melodies are pared down and simplistic, allowing us to rise and fall with Eagle’s voice as he sings, hums, and raps through a seriously impressive LP. The artist’s tack-sharp wit is employed both playfully and incisively as he cracks a joke in one bar and references a covert FBI program meant to suppress subversive racial groups in the next.

The record is just as colorful as it is conscious; it showcases some of the artist’s best lyricism to date as it memorializes the projects that raised Michael Eagle and offers encouragement to those in similar circumstances. A kaleidoscope of anger, frustration, hope, and nostalgia, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is a masterfully-crafted project that proves the 36 year-old rapper and father still has a lot to bring to the table in projects to come.

Give the album a listen below.


Talking Trans Representation and Fine Art Photography with Sawyer Devuyst