Album Review: Brick Body Kids Still Daydream - Open Mike Eagle
Mike Eagle keeps outdoing himself. Not many careers in rap (or music in general) have been as fascinating as his to watch grow, and what is particularly satisfying about his trajectory is that when he started out, he was already great. Starting with Unapologetic Art Rap and Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes (a vinyl i’ve played so much it’s wearing out), you can look through his catalogue and clearly see Mike evolving as an artist. Each album offers something new, and it’s thrilling to never know what to expect with each release. But one thing we always expect - and always get - is quality. And Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is his best album yet.
BBKSDD is an album fuelled by a powerful theme of gentrification, and that theme is realised beautifully throughout. The tracks are full of lost hope and long-lasting hurt, the pain of the home you knew being destroyed by those that are supposed to protect you. The hurt seeps into the songs to the point that there’s a melancholy underlying the whole thing, a perpetual dream state where you have to stand back from the situation to comprehend it. Legendary Iron Hood is a gorgeous and dreamy opener, with Exile’s reliably excellent production giving the song a golden-hued nocturnal funk. Mike sounds vulnerable and soulful, but with a strength that says he has endured, and will endure. It touches on a sense of nostalgia but without any heavy handed 90′s style production - it’s a song that sounds like it’s from now but about then.
The song also sets up a recurring character in the album, a sort-of everyday superhero who preserves himself by becoming “king” who’s “eyes glow like a demon from hell”. Later in Brick Body Complex, he’s establishing himself as being from a “Line of ghetto superheroes”, and there’s something beautiful and celebratory about being one amongst many; a sense of community that, for better or worse, understands each other. My Dad grew up on a working class London estate and more than anything, what he emphasises about the place was a sense of community. That outside the limits of the estate there were people who don’t care, and who don’t get it. But inside there is a shared, understood experience. This is what this album understands.
And, while there is the aforementioned pain and melancholy, it is essential to read this album as a celebration of the people who live in the projects, the ghettos and the estates the world over. Daydreaming in the Projects is a particularly poignant track that “goes out to ghetto children making codewords in the projects around the world”. The song is exemplary of Mike’s unmatched ability to bring empathy to a song through his voice, a voice which has become one of the most distinctive and enjoyable voices in rap. His style is intimate, and imbued with a human warmth when he sings.
But what makes this album even more of an evolution for Mike is how much he changes that voice for different characters. It’s hard to pick a best song, but No Selling is a tour de force.Mike sounds like he never has before when inhabiting the Uncle Butch character of the song. It is shot through with that trademark OME humour, but here he raps in the cadence of someone angry, desperate and tough as bricks. “Calm before the storm or something/I ain’t cried since ‘94 or something” he says, words intended to prove his strength. This character has to be strong. “I’m in a tonne of pain, but i’m no selling”. There are super-heroic nuances in a person who refuses to hand over their agency, and there is no space in this person’s life for wavering in the face of intimidation - because once the doubt seeps in, he’s torn down like the building he inhabits. The agony comes from the fact that while you might not sell, and while you might never give in, there are forces that can snatch your home and your life away from you.
When my dad showed me around the estate he grew up in, he sounded sad. It mostly still stood, but he remembered where there were playgrounds and old buildings. “It’s gone”, I remember him saying. My grandmother stayed on that estate until she died. She refused to leave, because it was her home. It belonged to her, and to everyone on that estate. It never got enough money and it was always under threat, but it is their home. The pain of that being taken away from them is unimaginable, but Mike knows the pain. My Auntie’s Building isn’t painful, it’s agonising. The song starts with the words “They blew up my Auntie’s building, put out her great grandchildren, who else in America deserves to have that feeling?” and from then on, it’s a straight-shooting plea to the listener to hear these people and hear their anguish. Mike sounds on the verge of tears throughout, like the whole album has been building to this boiling point, but where often we find catharsis at the end of a story, we only find rubble and broken hearts.
What elevates the song - and the whole album - is its on point and furious indictment of how gentrification comes to be, and how those that live in projects, estates and ghettos, those that live on the breadline - will always be the people that suffer most under the remorseless greed of capitalist America. You can have your body, your family and your home taken from you as quickly as the swing of a wrecking ball. “They say america fights fair but they won’t demolish your time share” he spits, the entire verse being maybe the most succinct and viscerally powerful pieces in music about gentrification.
It’s bittersweet. It’s an ode to the people and places of Mike’s childhood, but with that celebration also comes the inevitable realisation that it can be taken away in an instant. On Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, peopleand buildings become inseparable from each other. The building is the extension of the person, a synecdoche for those who live inside it. It represents something bigger than bricks and mortar, it represents humanity. That’s what the album begs for: to give these people their humanity. To look them in the fucking eye and understand what is happening. To try and help to change that. It is a noble intention and executed stunningly. A concept album only works if the songs are there, and man are the songs there on this album. They are 12 deeply re-listenable songs (i’ve played this album in full every day for the past week), the likes of which become a part of your every day life almost instantly. The album has dug into me and I can’t stop thinking about it. As a collection of songs it is terrific, but as a cohesive album, it is Mike’s masterpiece. @mikeeaglestinks, thank you for making my favourite album of the year.