Micheal Larsen -- known to the hip-hop world as Eyedea -- was one of the greatest talents to ever emerge from the Minnesota music scene. An exceptionally prolific writer, he lent verses to dozens of artists and DJs, all the while performing as Eyedea, Oliver Hart, and Michael Larsen, and as part of Eyedea & Abilities, Sixth Sense, Face Candy, Guitar Party, Carbon Carousel, Puppy Dogs and Ice Cream, and the Orphanage.
Mapping Eyedea's discography is a daunting task, one that several determined fans have undertaken, all imperfectly. And these don't even attempt to chronicle the celebrated battle rapper's many freestyles.
And more Larsen cuts keep worming out of the woodwork. A collection of his demos and rarities was released at the end of March and, last week, Blueprint confirmed there's an unreleased Orphanage album that may surface. This Saturday, Rhymesayers is re-releasing Eyedea & Abilities' classc E&A as a gorgeous double picture disc. Beyond all that, 2015 is both Rhymesayers' 20th anniversary and the fifth anniversary of Eyedea's death.
With all the hype and nostalgia swirling around, now seems as good a time as any to comb back through Larsen's scattered catalog to see if we can unearth some of the hip-hop titan's most esoteric highlights.
See Also: Slug's 10 Best Deep Cuts
10) "Pill" From This Is Where We Were by Face Candy (2006)
Originally billed as Eyedea & Friends, Face Candy originally alienated audiences who weren't expecting such imperfect material from the typically composed emcee. In hindsight, the collective's two releases actually house some of the best insights into Eyedea's creative process -- listening to his mind unravel around concepts on record is astounding, especially on "Pill". On the song (which is the only freestyle or live cut on this list -- that could constitute a whole other list), Eyedea purges the throbs of his breaking heart with a rawness that only gathers momentum as he shares more and more of the specifics.
"Dat Shit" From Now You Know by Unknown Prophets (2002)
Eyedea is mostly lauded for his lyrical acrobatics on the battle stage. His recorded work (especially later releases) are usually more brooding and abstract, but that isn't always the case -- "Dat Shit" being a perfect example. Over a funky, whistling beat, Eyedea races with bouncy punchlines reminiscent of his turns on Scribble Jam and the Wake Up Show. In bringing his off-the-cuff delivery to a scripted verse, we see a young Larsen gaming his peers and proving the depth of his talent.
8) "Always Better Sorry" From The Some of All Things or: The Healing Power of Scab Picking by Carbon Carousel (2006)
Many indie rap purists were disappointed when the typically hip-hop-minded Eyedea dropped his EP with alternative rock band Carbon Carousel. In the only non-Rhymesayers release in his career (Some of All Things was put out on Crushkill recordings), Eyedea takes the industrial loathing of E&A and pushes it to Cobain-esque extremes. But that doesn't mean the record is devoid of any hip-hop influence -- in fact, the album's second track, "Always Better Sorry," sees Larsen turning his grungy growl into a mile-a-minute screed reminiscent of "Sky Diver." The guitar work is mostly garbage, but Eyedea's paranoid delivery is utterly flooring, regardless of whether or not you think he sold out to make this EP.
7) "Best Kind" Unreleased (1997) It's hard to parse whether Slug is the primary artist on this track or whether DJ Nool featured this Slug/Eyedea collaboration on one of his comps, but what is quite clear is that Larsen absolutely steals the show. This particular cut didn't qualify for Slug's own list of deep cuts because he was 25 when this song came out. Eyedea was 16. On "Best Kind", we see the prodigal rhymer being handed the torch from his label head -- one of the most respected up-and-comers in hip-hop -- and totally outshining him in a tug of war. It's an astonishing track that find the two coming back together to toast a partnership that should have lasted decades.
6) "Cool Is Dead" From When in Rome, Kill the King by Michael Larsen (2010)Eyedea wasn't the best singer, but his imperfect, cracking voice is partly what endeared him to fans. On the posthumously released acoustic album, When in Rome, Kill the King, Larsen, who released the record under his birth name, shows that his lyrical ability is more than enough to make up for his lack of vocal polish. "Cool Is Dead" is a sardonic warning for the yuppie posers he's been sent to destroy. Though it's not as enveloping as "Claire" or "Lather, Rinse, Repent," "Cool Is Dead" warrants inclusion for the defiant refrain of "you fuckers should be kissing the ground that I walk on" that ends it's 52-second run time. [page]
5) "Purest Disgust" From Peerless by Debaser (2010)
The beat on "Purest Disgust" is absolutely unruly -- the bass thumps brutally under busy flutes that give way to a droning organ as Eyedea cues up his verse. He opens on a famously depressing Hemingway paraphrase, rapping "Baby shoes for sale, never worn." Larsen's co-opting of a fellow burdened genius is deeply apropos, given that this track was released only six months before Eyedea's death. Overshadowed by the tragedy, "Purest Disgust" is a song that never got the shine it deserved.
4) Eyedea - "Even Shadows Have Shadows" From We Came from Beyond by Various Artists (2001)
Eyedea was also a guest on the second edition of We Came from Beyond, but "Even Shadows Have Shadows" is an oft-slept-on classic from the first collection. Larsen rides the swelling wave of the idiosyncratic beat, letting his flow breathe as the runtime goes on. The song comes from an era when Eyedea (then 20 years old) was transitioning into a darker aesthetic, but he hadn't lost that battler's edge yet, as evidenced by this triumphant line: "People say I've changed and it's harder to relate to me / Good, I never liked you, our friendship was make believe."
3) "Quality Programming" From Basementality by Booka B (2005)
Booka B did the album artwork for The Many Faces of Oliver Hart, so Eyedea repaid the favor by lacing Booka with the highlight verse from his 2005 LP Basementality. "Quality Programming" hasn't been lost entirely -- it was re-released on The Many Faces of Mikey (also illustrated by Booka). On the song, Eyedea is "young, dumb, and full of compulsion" as he "pisses in the gene pool", simultaneously debasing himself and asserting himself as a necessary disruption to a stagnating genre.
2) "Play Dead Before They Kill You" From Saturday Morning Soundtrack by Saturday Morning Soundtrack (2005)
There's something sinister about the mechanical noises lurking in the background of Saturday Morning Soundtrack's "Play Dead Before They Kill You," and Eyedea uses the creeping dread to create a grim and self-effacing portrait of his worldview. As if his punctuate verses (one in the main song and one tacked-on hidden track) weren't despairing enough, Larsen provides the strained, painful chorus that ties the verses together, weaving together an outstanding crew cut that's mostly been forgotten by time.
1) "Is It Right?" From This Will Work For Now by Kristoff Krane (2008)
The fluid partnership between Eyedea and Kristoff Krane is legendary. The two freestyle mavens had an elastic rapport that manifested as Face Candy and on each other's solo efforts. So, of course it's Krane who hosts our pick for the top deep cut of Eyedea's career. One of two Eyedea features on Krane's This Will Work for Now, "Is It Right?" is gloriously unhinged.
GIMME NOISE'S GREATEST HITS
The 10 Most Underrated Guitarists in the History of Rock
The Best New Minnesota Musicians of 2014
53 things you might not know about Prince
73 things you might not know about Bob Dylan