Q: What do you do if at the age of 22 years old you have already won some of the largest freestyle MC battles but haven’t recorded an album and everyone expects you to make a battle rap record?
A: You make an insightful, beautiful and questioning album.
Q: After you made stoney head music and now everyone expects you to make more indie rap music, what’s next?
A: You make battle rap and tell everyone how dope you are.
Q: Ok, we give up, third album?
A: Holy shit, we can’t even describe that one. Let’s start at the beginning.
First Born is the first album from the Minneapolis/St. Paul duo, Eyedea & Abilities, under the mighty Rhymesayers record label. Eyedea made a name for himself as a battle MC, winning Scribble Jam (1999) and HBO Blaze Battle (2000). DJ Abilities also made a name for himself as one of the most talented local DJs and producers, and managed to secure himself two regional DMC titles in 1999 and 2001. All this before they recorded an album. So round the bend comes First Born, and everyone says, “huh?” It occurs to us that this starts sounding like a movie about a tortured artist?
We will gladly admit, they don’t make it easy. We imagine that after winning all those battles and spending a lot of time talking shit, they felt it was time for something different. We wouldn’t say that they went out of their way to make a anti popular music album, but they didn’t go out of their way to be commercial either. They probably just wanted to make this music, and set out to do it.
First Born is aptly named. It is sprawling, ambitious, heavy and unique. It suffers from some growing pains, but as a first work, it is incredibly mature. It is also a bit indescribable. From the get go, Eyedea does not hide the fact that he was there to talk about some serious shit, and you can stuff it if you like. The first song is an explanation about what is happening, and the second launches straight into an ode to music itself. By the third song, Eyedea is talking about the difference (or lack of) between himself and a fish. By song six, he’s onto a narrative about a man who refuses to dream. He name checks Plato’s cave theory, the Copenhagen interpretation of modern quantum physics, and all sorts of other concepts. He also takes it too far, sometimes it’s simply too much to be able to write about in a subtle manner.
Pitchfork mostly panned it. Critics didn’t really know what was up with it. There was a general lukewarm reception, including from us (forgive us, we didn’t know better). But it’s also because it’s hard to like. You have to want it, or have it catch you at the right moment. Eyedea has something to say, and Abilities has made some crunchy tracks to go along. We can understand the criticism, it’s too nerdy, it’s too indie, too much talk about mental states and insanity and blabety blah. These critics are of course completely right, except those are the things which make the album interesting. The album isn’t a home run either, there are area’s which could be improved, but this doesn’t really matter. It’s an album from a time, and it fits perfectly into that time. That was a time where they were learning about what they wanted to do, and how to do it. We like the ride on the learning curve, because fear clearly isn’t a factor.
This is hard to write, because Eyedea is the one and only musician who when they died, it hurt us. We never been much of super fan types to that degree (even Kurt didn’t hurt personally), but this one was a fucking stinger. Not much is known about what he died of, but it was at home in bed. It doesn’t really matter, we just miss him. Luckily, he already told us about how he would behave on his way out, and it’s gives us hope for the future, everyone’s future.
Step by Step off of his excellent album, The Many Faces Of Oliver Hart Or How Eye One The Write Too Think, we’ll talk about that one later on.
We won’t leave it on this note though, because there is in fact an even better video (and there are a lot online) of Eyedea battling, not because he destroys MURS in this battle (some say MURS in better in this one, we say they both kill it), but because you can simply see how much life and fun were in the guy. Let’s leave it on that note instead.
Pick up First Born through Fifth Element, or those other interweb places you go.
Bonus reading: Sage Francis has written a really good text about Eyedea, read it here.