Difficulty Communicating: Yaggfu Front and Open Mike Eagle

Stream: Open Mike Eagle “Last Night” ((From Art Rap After Party EP.))

Stream: Yaggfu Front “Left Field”

Rap isn’t all machismo and ice-cold macking. Songs like Gang Starr’s “Love Sick” and Main Source’s “Looking At The Front Door” describe co-dependency in frighteningly specific detail. Pharcyde’s “Passin’ Me By,” and Kurious’s “Nikole” explore the perilous magnetism of unavailable and/or unattainable  women. A Tribe Called Quest’s “Find A Way” captures the frustration that arises when desire is chained to the artifice of social convention. Jay-Z’s “Song Cry” posits romantic regret as a player’s purgatory. Mos Def’s “Ms. Fat Booty” takes us  through the experience of being gasssed up and then unceremoniously dumped.

All of these songs address the difficulties that men face in communicating honestly with their partners (or potential partners), expressing vulnerability and affection, or living up to the responsibilities of monogamy. But these songs also fall short of introspective honesty; their self-deprecation is tongue-in-cheek and consists mostly of decrying shyness as unmanly.Their narrators place the majority of blame for the inconstancy of romantic love or domestic bliss on women, who are reduced to coldly unfeeling or manic caricatures possessing few other reasons for being other than maiming delicate male egos. The fatal weaknesses of men are described but not critically analyzed; the anti-logic of self-destructive patterns are justified by a pretty face and a Coke bottle figure; and questionable actions or words are chalked up to some variant of “boys being boys.” Open Mike Eagle’s “Last Night” is uncomfortably straightforward in comparison.

The song’s narrator, having slept off his drunkenness,  has run out of credible excuses for a series of bizarre text messages that he inflicted on a female friend the previous night. Unlike almost all of the aforementioned songs, the crucial information of the narrator’s mistakes is disclosed in the hook, which begins the song: “Last night I said a whole bunch of dumb shit/ Got drunk and said a whole bunch of dumb shit/ Full of gumption, pushing the send function/ on text messages I should have just pressed ‘End.’ ” The hook, recited in a dry, understated manner that it is a trademark of Open Mike Eagle’s style, ((Open Mike Eagle sometimes raps like a character right out of a Prince Paul skit. That’s a compliment even though it doesn’t seem like one.))  is a statement of exasperation, not irony.

The permanent record of text messages interferes with the healing properties of unreliable memories. The song’s narrator cannot simply wait until his friend’s recollection fades and try to rebuild their rapport. Unlike his predecessors who wrote in the age before texting became a primary mode of communication, Open Mike Eagle does not have luxury of being able to embellish his narrative too strongly in his own favor, noting “I haven’t found a rock big enough to crawl behind.” The age of information is surprisingly inconvenient. The damage to the relationship and any sense of privacy or anonymity he might have enjoyed is so severe that his most dignified recourse  is to let the unflattering truth pour out.

This happens over three verses; the first is an admission that his immature views on relationships and sublimated feelings led to the disastrous texts; the second is an embarrassingly specific account of what went on in his mind that night; and the third is a penitent but pessimistic verse that calls into question whether or not his insecurities stem from some fundamental moral failing. This is heavy stuff, but the buttery smooth production, Open Mike Eagle’s appropriately cool delivery, and the vividness of his narrator’s scathing metaphors — he compares his tragically repressed feelings for his friend as shrooms growing in shit— make all the drama and self-flagellation seem survivable.

By the end of “Last Night” we are left with a narrator who is something of a rake but not completely irredeemable, and his female counterpart, who is quite possibly a wonderful person, especially if she ends up forgiving him. Neither man nor woman is morally compromised or degraded by the experience; the dissolution of the illusory purity of their friendship may very well bring them closer. If not, then this misunderstanding is at least a realer, more intense experience than the deadlock of pointless cryptic flirtation. Playing games can heighten anticipation but irresolute tension is ultimately unsatisfying, and in any event, the song’s narrator could benefit from interacting more directly with an understanding female friend.

“Last Night” is exceptionally honest, but not entirely without precedent. Yaggfu Front’s impeccably layered “Left Field” ((From their 1994 album Action Packed Adventure.)) tells the tales of three men who are respectively too shy, too fly, and too stupid to let down their guards long enough to become emotionally involved with women. The first narrator, voiced by Jingle Bel, is fully aware of his flawed ways and their repercussions: “Sensitivity, is a virtue / And if I don’t show that, I hurt you.” Damage plays the second narrator who finds himself trapped in “the friend zone” because he fears rejection, while Spin 4th voices a wannabe gangster too tough to give a decent woman the time of day.

In assessing reluctance as a character flaw forged out of the codes of  hyper-masculinity instead of an effeminate weakness, the rappers of Yaggfu Front reveal an unfortunate emotional paralysis. But like Open Mike Eagle, their honesty allows them to sketch portraits of women worth changing for in the absence of actualized romance. The literalness and simplicity of the lyrics on both songs suggests that the complex abstraction that is present in so much of rap is sometimes an insufficient tool for exploring the nuances of character related to vulnerability.   — Thun

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