This past sunday I learned about the death of a local 28 year old rapper who went by the name of Eyedea.
Michael Larsen was found dead by his mother, no cause of death has yet to be determined. He was 28 years old.
I’ve never been a fan of rap music. I frankly found its gangster imagery, machismo and mysogny to be quite distasteful and ridiculous as it represented a dystopic culture that had no relatable qualities to my own.
I found nothing enviable in its cast of characters and found nothing pleasurable in the music itself and live rap performances would leave me dumbfounded to its appeal. There would be, of course a few exceptions as even I could discern a glimmer of genius in Eminem and in Jay-Z. What can I say, I’m a 40 something white man from the suburbs, deal with it. I was content to live my life comfortably separated from this supposed art form until late one evening I was driving home and happened upon the twin cities alternative station’s all local music show. I happened to catch the program just at the beginning of a block of local rap artists. Rather than immediately reaching for the dial, I found myself strangely drawn in. Instead of the cartoonish cookie cutter rap crap and the simple thub thub thub-thub bass lines I had grown to revile, I was confronted with smart, quick philosophical lyrics and layered diverse and innovated music.
And so it has become a recent discovery to me that Minneapolis has become a forge for a new kind of hip-hop music. Artists with names like Doomtree, Brother Ali, Dessa, Atmosphere, P.O.S. Toki Wright, Psalm One and I Self Devine.
Gone is the puffed-up, crystal driniking mysogynists with mouths filled with gold and obscenities and faces that only a mother could love. And enter the intelligent hip hop artist who’s rhymes and riffs pack more firepower than the glock wielding thugs they’re dethroning. But this isn’t some emasculated rap light.
All of the landmark swagger and muscle is still there but rather than communicating some survival of the strongest darwinistic down beat beating down the downtrodden, this new generation of minneapolis hip hop is open armed welcoming the tired, poor and heavy laden to a party of good will and great beats.
Now I had never heard of Mark Larsen aka Eyedea who along with his childhood friend Gregory “Max” Keltgen aka DJ Abilities, nor of the hard edged rock hip hop music that Eyedea and Abilities created.
But there was something about his early death that pulled me into his story.
It turns out that Eyedea was a rap phenomenon, known for freestlying, this is where a rapping meets stream of consciousness in a seamless flow of rhyme. In fact he won national freestlying competitions and frequently appeared on television. But it wasn’t until I heard the music of Eyedea and Abilities and read their lyrics did I come to know what the world had truly lost. One moment, I had no clue who this guy was and the next I was in deep mourning.
Like his mother, his friends and all those that were close to him and loved him, I too shared their desperate cry of NO and WHY.
Did I mention that I pretty much hate hip hop music? That I’m white, 40, and live in the suburbs?
Maybe this is what art is supposed to do? It’s supposed to provoke you and move you from a place of comfort and complacency and immerse you into the unknown while emotionally agitating and invigorate you.
Some time art moves you and sometimes, it changes you.
Art awakens you to the existence of of unseen beauty and stimulates your dulled imagination.
Maybe too, there was something that I experienced that I hadn’t seen in a long time.
There are rare moments in life where you are able to encounter genius first hand. And when you do you get a glimpse into the possibilites of the world. Perhaps things aren’t as limited, restricted and stale as you had thought they’d become. And then in the rarified air of life, you sometimes get to experience them both. And in that sense of fulfillment where desire overflows with contentment and enlightenment overcomes fear. In that alchemy of discovery and promise, you realize that he’s gone.
You’ll have all there ever will be.
Such art and genius is seen in the song Smile from Eyedea and Abilities 2009 release, “By The Throat”
Eyedea offers these words:This city runs fast, no one has time to sit with themselves, no time to look into our pain
or see the same despair in everyone else its here, its there, its everywhere tears soak each card the dealers dealt
But time taught me how to see every second as heaven even though they’re perfectly disguised as hell And I refuse to let past bruises cover the light
it ain’t all good, but its all good enough,
so I know I’m alright agony is truth its our connection to the living I accept it as perfection and keep on existing in the now 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
But when words like that is all that there will ever be, there’s more than enough. More than enough to keep us all yearning to be moved and ruined by beauty. More than enough to be awakened to be stricken by Genius.
A memorial service is scheduled for next Thursday from 7:30-10 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza hotel in downtown St. Paul. The musical tribute likely will take place at First Ave, and perhaps as early as Nov. 9, Larsen’s birthday.
You can here me live on Sunday mornings playing the sidekick role on the Doug Pagitt Radio Show. 10AM – Noon Locally on AM950 and live or anytime on http://www.dougpagittradio.com