Since his early days, Chicago rapper Open Mike Eagle has made it his mission to conserve the abstract, artistic merits that have made hip hop so compelling in the past. He’s used uncommon sounds and off-kilter rhymes and flows in his music, but on new EP ‘What Happens When I Try to Relax’, he puts his own thought process at the forefront, making the voice you’re listening to, the abstract, and the art.

‘What Happens When I Try to Relax’ is Mike Eagle at his most neurotic. He translates his self-aware neurosis into his lyrics impeccably and immediately, laying down the obsessive-compulsive law on opening track ‘Relatable (peak OME)’, wailing out the words “when I get nervous say something relatable, I’m hella relatable”. He goes into gobs of detail about his inner thoughts in the song, about his fears and others’ various perceptions of him, and echoes similar sentiments on ‘Microfiche’ – “might not wanna hear it, but the truth hurts / my pot belly getting big, need some shirts”.

Mike delves into a few more of his favourite lyrical subjects – pop culture references (“I’m coming off the top at the Hammerstein / I won’t even stop when it’s hammer time” – ‘Every Single Thing), political matters (“some songs just more for the headphones / fuck the NFL, fuck the redzone” – ‘Microfiche’, and surrealism, mostly covered in ‘Single Ghosts’, a song about conversing and trying to form a relationship with a ghost.

Working with multiple producers (Nedarb Nagrom, Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez, DJ Nobody, Mono/Poly, Dead Boy Yo), alongside multi-instrumental Jordan Katz, the beats and atmospheres of ‘What Happens When I Try to Relax’ aren’t too dissimilar from last year’s ‘Brick Body Kids Still Daydream’. There are a few chilled, synth-driven instrumentals, like on the emotional, but laid-back ‘Southside Eagle’, and the eerie, distress of the keyboards in ‘Single Ghosts’ are appropriate for the song’s subject matter.

While some tracks are typical Open Mike Eagle, ‘What Happens When I Try to Relax’ is easily one of the rapper’s best, most refined projects. From start-to-finish, we get the biggest dollop of Mike’s super-interesting personality possible in such a short duration. An unreal combination of Mike Eagle as both a creative and a human being, ‘What Happens When I Try to Relax’ is what happens when one of the brightest hip hop artists of today bares his soul for twenty minutes.

‘What Happens When I Try to Relax’ is out now via P + C Auto Reverse

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