With his current label-home in hip-hop cozily tucked in that bohemian indie wonder-org around the foothills of southern Arizona (Mello Music Group), Chicago native turned L.A. artiste Michael Eagle, or Open Mike Eagle as his rap moniker goes, is on an “on-a-roll” honor roll in the field, but all jokes aside, he really is worth his salt in the booth, with four fine studio LPs to date, now on his fourth release with Mello already. Hella Personal Film Festival as it’s titled, is a full collaboration album with British producer/instrumentalist Paul White – art rap plus art beats. It moves relatively smoothly, never loud, harsh or clunky, and atop White’s adventurous pieces, Mike brings some sung harmonies and of course bars-a-plenty concerned with a lot of keen, interesting observations regarding modern society, especially in the first half. The second half is in a way mono-themed, providing less variety than the top half, but it never seems to let go of our attention or imagination completely. It just loses a little steam towards the end. That’s all.
To switch things up a bit, let’s look at H.P.F.F. from a nonlinear reverse approach and examine the latter parts first; save the best for last why not? This section begins with “A Short About A Guy That Dies Everynight.” Notice it’s already intriguing with this long, casual, cavalier song-title. From here on out, the main mood is winded despondency, except in the upbeat, rap-acrobatic show of “Protectors of the Heat” and in the fuzzy funny drinking stories of “Drunk Dreaming,” which are more light and much less sad. The rest, which would be “Insecurity Pt. II,” “Dive Bar Support Group” and “Reprieve” are all more or less devoted to downbeat guy talk and mixed feelings about the vague state of being that would seem very pretentious in their nerdy artfulness if they weren’t so darn sad. After all, you shouldn’t kick a guy when he’s down. Overall, these ending six songs each lack their own specific unique talking points one by one in favor of a single (unifying?) theme of uncertain sullen ambivalence.
Yet the above descriptions do not apply to the first eight songs, which are much better. Over a psychedelic classic rock sample, Mike sings softly of vulnerability and humanness in “Admitting The Endorphin Addiction,” wraps that up, and then raps a lot of obscure pop-culture grabs old and new with delightfully expanded vocab in the nice “I Went Outside Today” with playmate Aesop Rock. Then, “Dang Is Invincible” is one of Mike’s whimsical nights out set to electric rock. Technology and smart phones take a hit like they oughta in “Check To Check,” Bush II and the obsession with credit are focal points in “The Curse of Hypervigilance,” and genuineness rules the day in “Insecurity.” Maybe the best song, in close competition with “Check” and “Curse,” “Smiling” picks on unfounded white paranoia and white insecurity towards blacks, and later, Mike asks us not to be a-holes in his special way in “Leave People Alone,” a song that is very much or a little too much like “Insecurity.”
Mike undoubtedly exhibits much wisdom, and his knowledge and skills are undeniable. Paul White has shown great sample choice with some quirky yet creative sounds, hip-hop music that is good to sit back to and study but not necessarily to dance to. Had it not been for the dragging bottom half, H.P.F.F. might have been a very solid EP, but Mike and Paul have stressed quantity over quality with what they’ve given us here: just a solid enough full length. Technique and abilities aside, for some it might very well get a little tiring listening to Mike deal with the ordinary everyday drab with his semi-nerdy laid-back casualness, in the final stretch. The very important messages Mike sends here, that must be heeded by all, should arguably have been dealt out with much more ferocity and stated more plainly. Similarly, White’s end-of-song sound clips and sound bite pulls tend to lose effect and seem somewhat pointless in parts. Hella Personal Film Festival (March 25) is good, with some major relevance to everyday life and curious-making music, but it is not without its flaws.