Album Review of "Brick Body Kids Still Daydream" by Open Mike Eagle

 

When Home is Complex

Open Mike Eagle explores themes of identity, resiliency, and what it means to come from a place "that should never have existed" and doesn't anymore.

Genre: Art Rap

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Album Review Podcast - Show Notes
Brick Body Kids Still Daydream by Open Mike Eagle

Dive deeper! Learn more about Open Mike Eagle, listen to Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, and read additional reviews.

Listen to Brick Body Kids Still Daydream


Album Review: Brick Body Kids Still Daydream by Open Mike Eagle
A Complex Relationship with Home

This is a transcript of Ep. 10 of the What's This Album About? podcast - listen here

Welcome to What’s This Album About?, the podcast that dives deep into the lyrics of today’s best songwriters. I’m Bobby Waller, and this episode is dedicated to Open Mike Eagle’s new album, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream.

Brick Body Kids Still Daydream might get my vote for the best album title of 2017 so far. It’s so evocative. Who are these “brick body kids”? And what’s the significance of them “still daydreaming”?

One of the first places I look for clues to tell me what an album is about is the cover art. On the cover of Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, we see a cartoon image of a sprawling apartment complex, each building sporting the arms and head of a different African-American kid.

Clearly, this image of “brick body kids” is pretty important.

Another place I look for clues—and, admittedly, this is kind of a cheat—is the media. I look to see if the artists themselves have been telling the media what their album is about. And in this case, Open Mike Eagle has been very clear that Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is an homage to Robert Taylor Homes, the now-demolished South Chicago housing project where he spent much of his youth.

So these “brick body kids” must be kids from the projects.

Finally, I look to the lyrics themselves. I particularly look for songs that clearly allude to the album’s title and here again, Open Mike eagle helps us out because Track 7 is explicitly named “Brick Body Complex.” Let’s listen to the chorus:

     ♪  Don’t call me nigga or rapper
           My mother-fuckin’ name is Michael Eagle
           I’m sovereign
           I’m from a line of ghetto superheroes
           I holler
           I got something to bring to your attention
           Attention! Attention! Attention! Attention!

Okay, I’m gonna stop the chorus halfway through to breakdown what we’ve heard so far. Open Mike tells us not to label him. He’s sovereign. See him for who he is. And, along those lines, he has an announcement for us. Here it is:

    ♪ I promise you I will never fit in your descriptions
          I’m giant
          Don’t let nobody tell you nothing different
          They’re lying
          A giant
          And my body is a building
          A building! A building! A building! A building!

I’m too big for whatever label you want to put on me. I’m a giant. And my body is a building. And, just in case we didn’t get the message, he repeats the word "building" four times.

By the way, I love the way “Brick Body Complex” is a double entendre. The word complex here refers not only to an apartment complex but also to a complex in the psychological sense of the word. When we say someone has a martyr complex, we mean that they see themselves as a martyr. So when Open Mike Eagle refers to a “brick body complex,” he’s telling us he sees himself as a building. His identity is inextricably tied up in the Robert Taylor Homes housing project. It made him who he is, and, even though it’s physically gone now, it lives on in him.

     ♪ A giant and my body is a building
          A building! A building! A building! A building!

The phrase “brick body complex” may even be a triple entendre, referring not only to an apartment complex and a psychological complex but also to the notion that identity is complex. Throughout Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, Eagle is consistently and unabashedly proud of his ghetto heritage, but, at the same time, he never over-romanticizes his past and can be brutally honest about the hardships of ghetto life.

In Track 3, “Hymnal,” he states…

     ♪ I ain’t no Chili Pepper
          I ain’t got mama’s gun
          I ain’t in Evanescence
          I ain’t in All-4-One

“I ain’t in Evanescence. I ain’t in All-4-One.” I didn’t come here to sing melodramatic or saccharin sweet love songs; I came here to tell you the hard truth.

And in Track 2, “(How Could Anybody) Feel at Home,” he asserts…

     ♪ We live in a space that should have never existed

“We live in a space that should have never existed.” Make no mistake about it. I love where I come from, but ghetto life is hard and violent and the product of racist social institutions. Track 5, “Happy Wasteland Day” speaks of “zombie sheriffs tryna lynch us” and pleads in the chorus…

     ♪ Can the people get one day without violence?
          Can we get one day without fear? 
          Can we get one day they don’t try us?
          Just like one day the whole year?

There are 365 days a year, can’t we be free from violence on just one of them? 

But for me, the most poignant elucidation of how hard ghetto life can be comes on Track 4, “No Selling,”

     ♪ But I’m no selling
           I’m no selling
           I’m no selling
           I’m no selling

The alternative title of “No Selling” is “Uncle Butch Pretends It Don’t Hurt” because it’s sung from a different narrative voice, presumably that of Uncle Butch, who tells us…

     ♪  I ain’t with yelling
           I ain’t even mad
           I ain’t screaming, catching feelings, and breathing bad, yeah

In “No Selling,” we hear the voice of someone who has, to one degree or another, been numbed by the hardships of ghetto life.

     ♪  My favorite phrase is “So what?”
           I’m stone-cut
           I’m bad to the bone
           No need to blow up
           Calm before the storm or something
           I ain’t cried since ’94 or something

His favorite phrase is “So what?” And elsewhere in the song, he tells us he doesn’t even respond to physical pain anymore because getting emotional doesn’t help. He hasn’t even cried since 1994.

But notice the desperation and frustration Open Mike Eagle puts in this character’s voice.

     ♪  My legs tired cause I been running things
           That shit is exhausting, I'm in a ton of pain
           But I'm no selling, I'm no selling, I'm no selling, I'm no selling

And notice the alternative title of this song—“Uncle Butch Pretends It Don’t Hurt.” If he’s pretending, then it really does hurt, which is understandable because nobody spends a lifetime in the ghetto without being profoundly affected.

But just to be clear, Open Mike Eagle’s vivid depictions of the hardships of ghetto life are not just sour grapes. As I mentioned before, he’s consistently and unabashedly proud of his ghetto heritage throughout this album. Yes, it’s a hard life, but if you navigate it successfully, it makes you hard, in the good way. It makes you resilient. Uncle Butch may be pretending, other narrators on Brick Body Kids Still Daydream seem to handle this hardening process in a healthier, less frustrating way. Take, for example, the narrator of Track 1, “Legendary Iron Hood.”

The narrator of “Legendary Iron Hood” is a kid who sees himself as a superhero. (Recall that the narrator of “Brick Body Complex” claimed to have “come from a line of ghetto superheroes.”) In “Legendary Iron Hood,” Open Mike Eagle identifies the source of his superpowers.

     ♪ I protect my neck with some magical jewels
          Can’t none of y’all take ‘em from me

He has magical jewels that protect him, and no one can take them from him. While his brother Charles turns to drugs and falls in with gangstas, the narrator stays cool knowing that his jewels protect him. He walks around the projects with his head covered by a hood—a “legendary iron hood”—that shields him from the  harmful things that are happening all around him.

     ♪ My eyes glow in my hood like a demon from hell
          My old self locked away, no key to the cell
          They shooting spells at my head, it's up to me to repel

He finds in himself the ability to accept the good and reject the bad—to remove himself from the more detrimental aspects of ghetto life but, at the same time, embrace the ghetto as the shaper of who he is.

And here is where the answer to our question about the other half of the album’s title comes in. We’ve already looked at the first half—the part about the “brick body kids”—and seen that Open Mike is himself a “brick body kid.” The projects made him who he is. But the other half of the album’s title is about daydreaming.

And here, in “Legendary Iron Hood,” we see what that daydreaming looks like.

     ♪ Ain't nothing gonna stop me now

Open Mike envisions himself as a superhero—as something great—because, even in the ghetto, kids still envision themselves as strong, inviolable, and, as Open Mike Eagle puts it, sovereign. Kids in the ghetto, like children everywhere, see themselves transcending the hardships of their circumstances to make something remarkable of themselves. And yet the places they come from remain an indelible part of who they are.

You can demolish the projects. You can displace all 11,000 residents of Robert Taylor Homes. But you can never fully remove the individual from the places they called home. Because home stays with us. It makes us who we are. To use the dominant metaphor that runs throughout this album, our bodies are made out of bricks. And as long as we dream, you can never tear us down.

     ♪ I protect my neck with some magical jewels
          Can’t none of y’all take ‘em from me
          Can’t none of y’all take ‘em from me
          Can’t none of y’all take ‘em from me…

Thanks for listening to What’s This Album About? If you get a chance to like, comment, share, or subscribe, we’d really appreciate. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, iTunes, all the usual places. Until next time, I’m Bobby Waller reminding you to keep on daydreaming. And keep your ears open, because

the more you listen, the more you love.

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