So tell me a bit about the Uganda trip. That’s coming up in a couple weeks.
Yeah, the plane tickets are bought and immunizations are gotten. The program isn’t fully funded, but it’s funded enough that we’ll get there and make something happen. (Donations for the trip are still being accepted here.)
How did you get involved with the trip?
There’s a non-profit I’ve been working with for a few years — that’s J.U.I.C.E. They saw a grant opportunity for an exchange and they knew about a Ugandan volunteer group.
Have you been outside the country?
I’ve been to Japan for rap. But that’s really the only time I’ve been off this continent.
You’re a former teacher, so it’s great that this sort of brings together that and music.
I’ve actually done some hip-hop education before, so it’s right up my alley.
What have you done before?
There was a program in L.A. called For Real Hop. I would write curriculum for hip-hop — did a lot of media education, breaking down songs. Those kids had grown up infused with rap. I was definitely trying to get them to understand what they were hearing every day.
What are you going to be teaching in Uganda?
It will be real basic in terms of how to construct rap music. I’m not able to do too much preparing because I’m not sure what they know. But we’ll break it down to basics, things like what cadence is and how to construct rhymes. Ras G will teach them how to produce beats. If I’m mistaken and they’re already super into it, we can get into some conceptual stuff and critical thinking. We really have to get there and see what we’re working with.
Yeah, it’s called 4NMLHSPTL. It’s coming out on Fake Four on June 26.
What’s the concept behind the title?
It’s the place where rappers, or any artists, go when they try to know too much. It’s a place you end up at. I decided to call it the animal hospital — you go there when your head explodes.
You’re describing yourself?
I’m describing a whole lot of rappers I know. It can be literary types or creative people. … You can get into this really crazy mental place and end up in this place that’s difficult to describe. I find I always have to go through this before I can make something. Just this last year I got caught up in how to talk about this place.
How about the production on the album … is it handled by multiple guys like you’ve done in the past?
No. It’s all with one producer, Awkward. Me and Awkward had planned to do a record together. He’s one of the few producers who I’ve been able to build a good, strong working relationship with. I tend to make music kind of fast. Not all of it ends up being usable, but the way my process works is hyperproduction, and he’s been able to keep feeding me music so we can keep working. We’ve been able to get to a good place communication-wise.
With him being in UK, it had to be a bit of a challenge?
It was. I never really felt time difference until we were actually finishing things. Little changes … it would be a little thing, but it would be three in the morning his time. But for the most part, everything has gone really well and really easy.
It seems like you’re on an album-per-year pace. Is that a part of being hyperproductive or do you feel like it’s necessary part of today’s Internet age where everything feels so fleeting?
I think there was time when I felt that way, like I had to do that. But I don’t think so much right now. I might come out with an album next year, but at this time last year I was planning on coming out with this album.
I want to let this one breathe. I don’t want to cut off the development of it. I want to let it take its time and see what it can be without the pressure to do something immediately behind it.
Are you concerned that listeners’ attention spans are too short these days to sort of absorb everything from your albums?
I don’t think so. I used to think that would be issue. But I think I have begun to cultivate a kind of fandom that expects there to be layers and I expect that they’ll want to keep listening and keep finding new stuff. People with super-short attention spans are probably not going to like what I do anyway. It doesn’t translate very the well first time, so it doesn’t do me good to try to please them.
And letting it breathe is kind of about me, too — me wanting to take my time and just see what happens. I definitely feel like these first three records are an arc. Maybe next time I’ll feel like I want to do something different. But I don’t want to get so much into habit of a project a year that I miss a turn to explore some other avenues.
In the same regard, you’re a pretty accessible guy who’s on Twitter and Tumblr. Is that something you enjoy or also just a necessary product of being an independent musician?
I don’t know. I don’t always enjoy it. I have a pretty good understanding of what the level of acceptable realm of things to discuss and not to discuss is. That doesn’t cover all the thing I want to talk about all the time. I end up in places psychologically or emotionally where I can’t exist in that realm when I’m going through certain things. I’ve seen some people have rants on Twitter and go back and delete it. But I’ve never been comfortable sharing past a certain point of what tact level is. So I treat it like it’s part of the job, but I do have fun doing it and engaging people.
To me, there’s psychological space that I haven’t figured out how to deal with it. I post stuff and run away. I don’t read my Facebook timeline. Twitter, to me, is a little more informative and a little more entertaining, despite the nature of it. Facebook is kind of other people’s business I don’t want to know all the time.
I know you’ve spoken highly of Has-Lo. What drew you to his music and had you guys talked about arranging a tour like this?
He was the kind of person where, before I heard any of his music, I could tell by how people who knew me talked about him that he was making something interesting. … I heard his album and it just blew me away. It felt like it could have come out when I was the biggest hip-hop fan I’ve ever been, like in ‘96. But it didn’t feel dated, like someone trying to turn back the hands of time. It was just genuine, expressive and really dark in a way I hadn’t heard. It’s not over-the-top dark, just someone trying to work through something. It was refreshing for me to hear.
Then I met him in Philly when I was on tour last November and all our touring partners, like Zilla and Castro, hung out and it felt like a natural extension of people I hang out with here in L.A. It became apparent that we have a lot in common personality-wise.
You’ve been to Phoenix quite a bit in the past couple of years. Have you seen enough to develop any thoughts on our city?
I feel like I should have (laughs). I’ll tell you the truth: There’s some markets where you keep going and seeing the same people. With Phoenix, I feel like every other time I come, it’s a completely different group I’m in front of. Maybe it’s just working with different promoters. I haven’t figured out how to get that consistency …. it hasn’t happened mathematically like it should,
But it seems to be a combination of who I’m playing with and who I’m working with on the ground there and what else is going on that night. For the Southwest, Phoenix is a pretty big spot and there seems to be a lot of rap shows and a lot going on there.
You have a 3-year-old son. Does he have a general idea of what you do?
Yep. When his mommy asks what I do, he says, ‘Goes on tour, making the music.’
It sounds so easy.
It’s a pretty accurate assessment. At least it’s half of my job.
Does he listen to your music?
Yeah. He knows some words to some things. He’s pretty attentive listener. He’s big fan of guys I consider peers. He might like Serengeti more than he likes me. He likes Busdriver. He likes Billy Woods. He’s really into Shabazz Palaces. Also, he’s really into Yo Gabba Gabba.
Changing topics here, we’ve played some pretty intense Scrabble matches. Do you play Words With Friends as well?
I keep trying. I had it on my phone for a while, but the board was weird. I felt like I was scoring 1,000 points every time. When I play on Facebook, it’s not so bad. But I can barely play all my Scrabble games right now. I’ve probably got a shit-ton of Words With Friends games people are deleting.
Do you have least favorite letter in Scrabble? I can’t stand “C.”
I don’t like C’s. K’s I can deal with. The reason I hate C’s is because there’s no two-letter words. If someone ends word with a C, that whole area is fucked. I don’t like U’s and I don’t like I’s. But, yeah, C’s are terrible.
So you won’t be writing a song incorporating all the two-letter Scrabble words?
I tend not to write like that (laughs). A band like They Might Be Giants … they have songs that are just plain writing exercises. I can’t even think to do that.
Paul Barman is probably a guy that could do it, the way he plays with words.
He’s the first guy that made me realize I can’t do that. I wouldn’t even know how to start. It’s pushing the art form for sure. I’m a little stupider than that.
Something I’ve been meaning to ask you about is how you sing a hook on “The Processional” that came from Busta Rhymes’ “Abandon Ship” from The Coming:
That’s one of my favorite albums of all-time. For my money still and the more I learn about him, Busta Rhymes is one of the most talented rappers of all-time — just his rap ability and skill is ridiculous. … There’s like six or seven songs (on The Coming) that are just so incredible.
So it’s kind of like a personal homage?
Yeah. I mean, there’s weird rules in rap about things which you can and can’t do. The moment I realized that a lot of things people would say in rap would borrow from older rap songs I hadn’t heard simultaneously weirded me out and opened my head. They’re reinterpreting lyrics. It’s a whole sampling culture. The new album has four or five instances of pieces of other songs as hooks or bridges. There’s They Might Be Giants, Ben Folds Five, Sly Stone.
I was 9 the first time I heard one of their songs. It was “Birdhouse In Your Soul” … I just saw the video from when I was super-duper young. As far as I was concerned it was perfect music. Just the songwriting … and I’m a huge melody fiend. There’s these huge, sweeping chord progressions in that song. … I got that album a year after that and was in love with them ever since.
Are people surprised to hear you like that band?
I love rap a lot, too. But it’s becoming hard to love the genre that I’m in just because I’m just hypercritical of everything. So listening to some jazz or rock just gives me distance to appreciate something and not be picking it apart.
Help Open Mike Eagle and Ras G teach hip-hop to Ugandan youth
Zilla Rocca: Full Spectrum 2 (feat. Has-Lo and Open Mike Eagle)
110 Percent: Open Mike Eagle talks Bulls, Bears and an intense hatred of LeBron
Open Mike Eagle: The Processional, live on Knocksteady
Open Mike Eagle: Nightmares
Awkward: Advice (feat. Open Mike Eagle)