I am ashamed to admit it, but I have somehow managed to listen to Rhymesayers artists for years without having been exposed to Eyedea. I am not really sure how that happened. Nonetheless, I got into him a little while ago through his pairing with DJ Abilities in Eyedea & Abilities, and their song Burn Fetish. I thought their sound was great, started actively seeking more, and then I finally decided to look Eyedea up on Wikipedia, only to find out that he died in 2010. I’d already been planning to cover him and some other artists in my next big hip-hop article, but in light of my discovery, and the number of interesting things Eyedea brought to the table, I’ve decided to write this one just for him.
Eyedea entered hip-hop through freestyling. His style was unique, and his mastery of the artform was impressive. Here’s a video from when he was 17, to highlight how ahead of the curve he was. He’s got a knack for disses, and he thinks well on his feet. Given that all of this was made up on the spot, he came up with some clever stuff (“you think you’re an Optimus, but after this you’ll be a pessimist”). Fast-forwarding: a clip of Eyedea being called out by Murs. Now, I can buy the argument that Eyedea didn’t win this battle, but I’ll be damned if he wasn’t entertaining as hell anyway (and I’m reading he might have even been drunk?). One last example that stood out to me was this back and forth between Eyedea and Slug (from Atmosphere) on the Wake Up Show, from 2002. Firstly, I think it’s funny that Slug has the cool-switch permanently flipped on. Secondly, I think Eyedea may have whooped his ass. Eyedea (and Slug, to an extent) changes his beat patterns frequently, he changes the tone of his voice, he doesn’t overdo repetition of words, and he doesn’t choke. These are things that make a great freestyler.
If you liked that, it gets better. Eyedea actually had a side project called Face Candy, which is a mixture of freestyle hip-hop and freestyle jazz. All of their tracks are live recordings from their shows, such as this one. I really enjoy the creativity from Eyedea, as well as the other members of the group. Face Candy manages to transcend standard freestyling by adding the band element – at times you really have no idea what they’re going to do next. The Art Of Faking Orgasm is a good example of this. There are a lot of rappers who write great lyrics (and Eyedea was one of them), but not every rapper is good at making up cohesive lyrics on the spot. Face Candy showcased some of the best.
Of course, there is also Eyedea’s solo career, under the pseudonym “Oliver Hart.” To be honest, I don’t feel Eyedea was at his best on the Oliver Hart album. Not to say it’s bad, but his work with Abilities was just more dynamic. The album (“The Many Faces of Oliver Hart”) was done entirely by Eyedea, from writing to production, and despite my previous remark, it certainly isn’t bad. I’m a fan of Bottle Dreams, in particular. Step By Step is also interesting. And I can’t leave the subject of Eyedea’s solo work without mentioning one of his most famous songs, The Weird Side. Eyedea seemed to have a thing for personal tracks, and you can see it both here and in the songs he wrote after the Oliver Hart era.
I said at the beginning that I got into Eyedea through Eyedea & Abilities, and I still believe that this was the best facet of his career. Admittedly, I have not given their 2001 album a full listen, but what I heard from E&A and By the Throat was very good. From what I can gather, Eyedea and Abilities both experimented with various sounds and rapping techniques across their albums. E&A seemed like a more “fun” album, with rhythmic rapping style and straightforward beats (see Act Right). By the Throat was quite serious, with very heavy sounds from Abilities and deeply emotive and personal raps from Eyedea (see By The Throat). I’m partial to By the Throat, but that’s just how I roll.
I don’t know if DJ Abilities saw the same thing in himself, but when I look at Eyedea solo vs. Eyedea in Eyedea & Abilities, I see improvement. For those interested, I found a freestyle with both of them that shows how they worked together. Anyway, here’s one more track to remember them by, before we hit the conclusion of this post.
Was Eyedea the best rapper ever? Probably not. Was the peculiar subject matter on By the Throat made more impactful by the fact that Eyedea died a year later? Probably. The real point of the matter is that anyone who listens to hip-hop, but hasn’t heard Eyedea, is missing out. He is one of the greats.
I have two footnotes: first, Eyedea had a grunge-ish rock side project by the name of Carbon Carousel that I didn’t cover today because I haven’t really listened to them beyond one track. Most of Face Candy is composed of the members of that band. Second, since this post was originally conceived to talk about some good hip-hop I’ve been enjoying lately, I want to quickly mention three artists to check out (especially if you enjoy Eyedea): Kristoff Krane (#1, #2), who was incidentally in Face Candy as well, Mac Lethal (#1, #2), and Cecil Otter (#1, #2).