I can only build if I tear the walls down
even if it breaks me I wont let it make me frown
I’m falling but no matter how hard I hit the ground
I’ll still smile
Dear Twin Cities,
It goes without saying that the glowing artistry in the Cities is dim tonight, in spite of the ripples and bubbling creative flow reaching the alleys, bars, venues and bedrooms of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Your artists-be it music, painting, poetry, etc.-have always served as an inspiration from afar as a beacon, a golden standard imprinted on anyone who has spent time, living or passing through, by sheer openness and collaborative support to each and everyone’s dreams. Be proud, especially now, of what you’ve created. Micheal Larsen would be-I would imagine, had I known him more than just through concerts, albums, and a few lucky friends who knew him personally.
So on my way back to Madison, I have to admit for the first time in my life I actually was struck down by the news that Micheal, also known as Eyedea, had passed away at 28 years old. Prior musicians, well, didn’t tug my heart past the floor mats and through the asphalt below. This one, coupled with my passion for where I spent my formative, impressionable youth, hit. Even since I moved away long ago, I still returned to your cities several times a year, spending summers there with my sister, biking around your lakes, and enjoying those locales that were forbidden due to age restrictions in the past years. You’re home, even though people say I’m from Illinois. Home is where your heart is, no matter what people say.
With laptop in cohorts with my engine, “Spin Cycle” tipped over the scales, spilling balance and composure. Eyedea was one of the earliest rappers that got me into hip-hop, just following Atmosphere, Typical Cats and Heiruspecs. November 22nd, 2004 at The Rave Bar was one of the first ever hip-hop shows I attended. In fact, it was likely the second given my meticulous records (following Atmosphere at Warped ’04). I distinctly remember driving from Chicago to see him and Abilities, awed at both wordplay and turntabilism. You see…Eyedea grabbed me, first, as the idea of him battling other emcees, but when I discovered his lyrics they were more philosophical manifests than burning emcee effigies on stage. “Birth of a Fish…” utterly shattered my preconceived notions of this aforementioned foreign genre of music…
He said, You live inside a head that reminds me of my glass box
And everyone’s the same; all brains are contained by your reality framed
And chained, to with the rain, its trained hard not to change
And once you see what I’ve explained you hit the jackpot
And at that very moment it was like my eyes really opened
The air that previously surrounded me was now an ocean
Still totally invisible except for minor pieces of debris
Then Mr. Fish pushed up to the glass and he looked just like me
You see? I thought rap was about girls, drugs and guns. Radio told me. MTV told me. People on the street told me. The news told me. Atmosphere, well, was about girls but gave me hints that there may be other treated topics to discover. Eyedea confirmed it. It was about then I discovered how he could rhyme faster than those other preconceived, pre-constructed notions with “Weird Side”. And joke about it at the same time.
2004 was when Eyedea & Abilities released E&A, which would not be followed up until By The Throat in 2009. “Now” was the sole single that drew me to The Rave Bar that evening. Until then, I had little interest in hip-hop shows; watching people rapping into a mic held little concern to the guitarists and bassists I was used to seeing. At the time, I was relatively decent at guitar after rapidly taking over bass (I learned on a fretless before moving to Red Hot Chili Peppers/Rancid bass lines over a few years), and thus that was all I could focus on. Abilities’ cuts and turntables was, as on “Now”, a deciding factor in absolutely having to see Eyedea & Abilities on stage. November 22nd was also the first night I saw P.O.S., a rapper I only knew due to his rhymes on Heiruspecs’ “Commonwealth”. He, like Eyedea, has a talent for sending words with hyperspeed quickness. With Eyedea & Abilities along with P.O.S., hip-hop concerts became acceptable in my musical mindset that was previously dominated by local and Chicago punk shows with an occasional jaunt into indie rock.
Between 2004 and 2009, that album release drought made me fearful that that may be the last the world would hear of Eyedea as Eyedea & Abilities. Unbeknown to all, a new album was in the works. The reveal was unconventional in the form of live videos from an unorthodox performance at Intermedia Arts. You see, instead of just going into the music, he explains the song to the crowd with a calm and candor you could not imagine based on my limited 2004-2009 knowledge. What caught me was this collaborative effort Minneapolis/St. Paul excels at. You see who’s at the table? Michael Gaughan, who’s sister and I were great friends in high school, painting a watercolor during the performance. Unorthodox, creative, and yet another preconceived notion shattered.
Five years later, “Junk” hit. I swore it felt like Nirvana tearing through vinyl. I was excited because the song had no equal, other than perhaps “Star Destroyer”. Eyedea not only came back, but came back strong with an album that challenged everything that I had learned, listened to, enjoyed in five years of listening to hip-hop. It was as if all those years training my ears left me completely unprepared with what this Minnesota emcee was about to release-and I was not prepared. By The Throat was brash, and seemingly angry with beauty shadowed within the lyrics. “Hay Fever” started by Eyedea, a heavily fuzzed bass giving into bare and exposed drums. It was a shock, you see, because it is Eyedea AND Abilities…and the latter didn’t seem to appear until “Spin Cycle”. Seeing this in preparation for this extremely anticipated album not only reassured me, but drew countless nostalgic memories to that November night.
Minneapolis/St. Paul, I show my neverending love for you and all you’ve done to me in telling anyone who will listen to me about your citizens. In June 2010, I saw Eyedea & Abilities were coming to Chicago, my residence at the time in July. It was to my dismay that I could not attend as I had a work commitment in the city that could not be moved, shifted, avoided, whatever have you. As a consolation, probably to my inability to go, I worked on making sure Chicago knew they were coming in organizing an interview for fellow Radio Free Chicago writer, Emanuel Vinson. He nailed it out of the park.
So back in the car this evening, returning to my current abode, I could only imagine what my friends and cities must be going through tonight, tomorrow and in the future. Eyedea not only broke down reinforced, long-resistant barriers in music on a personal level, but somehow, through him, he brought me back to the Twin Cities every time his and Abilities’ music came on, as everyone at Rhymesayers Entertainment does, back to those summers when my family and friends were not split apart by six hours and 350 miles.
My prayers and thoughts go out to his family, his friends, and his state. Eyedea, you are already missed.
November 18th, 2010
Star Tribune: St. Paul rap star Eyedea dead at 28
Note: November 18th. I added the video of the Celebration of Micheal Larsen below.