Every great duo in the history of popular culture has fitted into the same archetypal frame. The duality between the esoteric maverick and the grounded man (or woman) of all seasons. On this collaborative album, Open Mike Eagle and Paul White extend the boundaries of the buddy-cop stereotype through the fourth wall, so much so, that you, the listener, wish nothing more than to be a part of this magnificent fusion.
Open Mike Eagle is a rapper, producer, podcast host and social media auteur. Paul White is a producer, composer and collaborator. But together, as ‘Hella Personal Film Festival’ demonstrates, they sound like close friends above all. The crux of a good friendship rests in the ability to bring out the best in a respective partner and, while the record is heavily invested in the artists’ respective styles, both Paul and Mike are seemingly challenged.
‘Film Festival’ is a stark departure from the clandestine indigo hue of Mike’s previous solo record, ‘Dark Comedy’. The opening track ‘Admitting The Endorphin Addiction’ revolves around this sitcom intermission guitar line while Mike spits steadfast and melodically about the self-help nature of digging yourself out of a rut. Mike’s lyrical technique retains the wide flavour and ostensible simplicity that glides over a cloak and dagger approach to metaphor. It begs for multiple listens to really crack the surface of every line’s meaning. Case and point, ‘A Short About A Guy That Dies Every Night’ is like word-play orienteering as Mike unravels the psyche of a mentally unstable and crushingly pessimistic protagonist.
White comes through to solidify this symbiosis as the stylistic chameleon, showcasing his ability to match a beat to every voice or tone uncannily as proved with the wildly diverse 2011 record ‘Rapping With Paul White’. The glitchy scuttlebutt beat of digital detox plea, ‘Check to Check’ is a highpoint which has Mike dropping golden one-liners with the ready wit of a stand-up routine.
However, ‘Film Festival’ isn’t a record chock full of charming non-sequitur tracks with colourful production. As the world curator of art-rap, Mike lends his voice a myriad of thematics and issues like a rap-game anthropologist. Whether it’s about keeping it real post-adolescence on ‘Insecurity’ or the systemic racism in the ‘post-racism age’ as Mike spins stories of being “avoided like a ghost fart” on ‘Smiling’.
The album as a whole cultivates a diorama of collaborative horsepower. Between underground heavyweight Aesop Rock on ‘I Went Outside Today’ and Hemlock Ernst dropping the most content rich verse of his career on ‘Protectors Of The Heat’, this flourishing environment governed by Mike and Paul speaks volumes on the kindred essence of ‘Hella Personal Film Festival’.
While tracks like ‘Insecurity Part 2’ and ‘Drunk Dreaming’ have universal relevance, what will keep you coming back to ‘Film Festival’ is a profound desire to dissect further, to unpack the lyrical and instrumental proficiency to such a degree you feel so in on the joke that Mike and Paul aren’t just collaborators and flawless music makers to you, they’re friends.
Words: Will Butler
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