A heads up: this post – and the song above – features some strong language.
Elsewhere on Randolph Riot, we have articles critiquing certain songs for their less-than-stellar lyrics. As many have observed before me, a lot of popular rap music seems to be focused on “bitches-and-hoes.” Many of these songs are demeaning towards women. It would be forgivable if someone thought that all rap was like this, but they would be thankfully wrong. Rap can still be about a person’s struggles, and about more aspects of their life than their income or their sexuality.
I present to you Open Mike Eagle, and his passionate, internet-era lyrics. At the top of this post you’ll see his song “Qualifiers.” I’d like to invite you to give it a listen so that we can talk about the lyrics.
Fuck you if you’re a white man that assumes I speak for black folks.
Fuck you if you’re a white man who thinks I can’t speak for black folks.
Let that soak in your rap quotes,
And your head hurt, and your back broke.
Half black soap and half crack smoke,
I admit that it’s an imperfect blend.
Hold up it’s my turn again,
I’m playing thirteen games of Words With Friends.
Lift your hands, lift your head, if your clothes are clean and your kids are fed.
And mine’s potty trained, so if he’s pissed the bed,
Then he can tell I’m heated like infrared, yeah.
So much is going on in this verse, but just look at the key parts: he simultaneously affirms his racial identity and his ability to speak from that perspective, and yet he keeps his individuality. He interrupts his train of thought because of Words With Friends, just as many of us interrupt our own conversations to do the same thing. And then he talks about his son and about the pride he takes in being a caregiver for him–keeping him fed and clothed.
I went to Africa, they played me on the radio.
And did I weird the people out? Yeah, maybe so.
Cause all they knew was jive, and all I do is vibe.
And ‘Bright Green Light’ made the program director lose his mind.
He said “What type of rap is that? Ain’t no bitches, hoes.”
And I ain’t even being funny, homie didn’t know.
Shoulda said “It’s whimsical,
Like Serengeti taught me.”
My thoughts are very lofty,
Response time is very faulty.
Here he points out directly that he’s different. People hear that he’s a rap artist and they’re confused when he raps about fatherhood and smartphones instead of sex. He closes the song with a bizarre, existentialist verse:
I didn’t write the words you hear me singing,
I didn’t sing a line before this one.
And you are not the one I was addressing,
That person took a train to Africa.
And simultaneous events don’t happen,
We are isolated temporally.
And the part is never called the whole thing,
Though it bothers us to know it so.
An artist owning to the fact that they don’t write all of their own lyrics, in the song they’re singing, before talking about temporal isolation and the fact that he isn’t trying to address the audience at all?
Open Mike Eagle isn’t a “rap god” that wants you to know about how extravagant his life-style is. He’s a father who plays too many video games and who worries about the same things that you worry about. He doesn’t aim to objectify women or to demean them, and he seems frustrated that people would even expect him to do that. He’s a human just like you’re a human, not someone special or better than you, and I think that above all else that he wants that to be clear. Perhaps if we had more artists like him then the Rap landscape would look far different than it does right now.