"Please know no matter what you'll always have me as a friend."
In the scope of the last five years, these words, which constitute the last line of Eyedea & Abilities' 2009 album By the Throat, are devastating. They end abruptly, as if cut off midway through a breath.
Afterwards, there is nothing else, only a vacuum of static — the final words of the final song of the final record Micheal "Eyedea" Larsen would release before his death from opiate overdose on October 16, 2010.
Though it's been a half-decade since Eyedea last picked up the mic, it's still difficult to process the magnitude of the emcee's death. Eyedea was a poetic autodidact. A serially manifesting wunderkind. An inexhaustible wellspring of inspiration whose vices overtook him before he could realize just what he meant to the people around him.
In an effort to grasp exactly what Mikey meant to the Twin Cities and in memoriam of the fifth anniversary of his passing this Friday, we asked those who knew him best to answer one question: What did we lose when we lost Eyedea?
Crushkill labelmate and Face Candy collaborator
We lost a trailblazer who reminded us all that no one is alone in their suffering. Mike fearlessly participated in the act of holding a candle to the infinite space of darkness and mastered the art of communicating his observations. He did this rigorously and was committed to this role. He pursued not only what excited him but also what shook him to the bone.
Mike was someone who was so open about his lack of “knowing” that he was free of making assumptions and/or aware of any he was making that he possessed the rare capacity of being a clear mirror of the world reflecting itself. It is therefore no surprise that those touched by him and his work express feeling validated and understood by him in a profound way.
There was an effortlessness to his being. He bore a heavy burden in a graceful way, embracing discomfort, and transmuted it via freely exploring his curiosity and sharing his experiences openly in raw form. He practiced shedding skin, uncovering an awakened presence that was felt by anyone he came in contact with. This was most evident in his craftsmanship, passion, love for improvisation, and/or ability to truly listen and be heard.
He was the common link, the weaver of an immense web that still connects many people. We lost an artist, poet, philosopher, teacher, student, friend, shaman, and the list goes on. However, none of these descriptions listed do service to the impact, or ripple, he made in the ocean of universal experience. He was a live wire, a true testament of human potential.
Mikey was just kinda getting started as a songwriter. I mean, he made a ton of music, but he was just getting into different genres with the energy he had already put into hip-hop. He grew up rapping and was one of the best at it, but he was just beginning to get a handle on how he could work in other styles. I think we are missing out on his true and amazing skills as a rapper, wrapped around all the new influences he was absorbing. He was on his way to being a great all-around vocalist. Our music community has become a lot more collaborative these last few years, and he would've contributed and grown from that in huge ways.
Amber “Ace” Cleveland
I wasn't as fortunate as most, I didn't really get to know Mikey until closer to the end of his time here. The day we really connected happened about a month before he passed away. There was an annual fundraiser called Pinnstock that he, Carnage the Executioner, and Kristoff Krane performed at. We were stuck on a paddle boat for three hours, so he and I took a moment to share a square on end of the boat. We compared notes on who we both knew, shared a laugh or two, and, in a crowd of people who had known him far longer than I did, he made me feel like it was just the two of us.
I think that's really what the scene lost. So often, emcees can develop these unnecessary and unearned egos and self-entitlement. But an individual like Eyedea, who could TOTALLY have been self-involved just based off his talent, remained steadfast in his kindness to others. He also remains an example I hold up for what a pure lyricist was. You could look into Mikey's eyes and realize he was up to something, creating, innovating, I've only seen that look in a handful of other people since.
Fellow battle rapper
I first met Mikey in 2000 at the Rocksteady Reunion in New York City. We were both 18. This was before he had won the Blaze Battle, and he became a bit of a household name for rappers like myself. By happenstance, we ended up in the same freestyle session with a bunch of big New York rappers. Everyone in the circle was coming with solid, but sort of predictable, New York freestyles. Then there was this awkward white kid with crooked teeth and sloppy clothes just crushing EVERYONE. Coming with something totally different.
Clearly, this dude was on another level, but all of the New York cats were clowning on him and me, claiming we weren't freestyling. All those New York dudes thought our stuff was pre-written, but I could tell he was freestyling for real, and he could see the same in me. I had never seen anyone else that could rap like that before. I was good, but Mikey was light years ahead of me ... ahead of everyone. We talked for a bit after it was all done, I asked where he was from, and he said Minnesota. I asked him if he had ever heard of this group i had just seen at a bowling alley in Dallas a few months before called “Atmosphere.” He laughed, and said “yeah.”
We were almost the exact same age, Mikey and I, and to see him killing it that day, and then to watch him go on to win the Blaze Battle soon there after, that was motivation for me. Coming up in the era of rap I came up in, in Florida and Texas, no matter how good I got, I was pretty much always treated as a tourist. That white boy that dressed weird, acted funny, but could spit.
I thought I was hot shit, but I was just a big fish in a small pond. When I saw Mikey that day — when I saw that there were other people out there like me, people way better then me — it encouraged me to push my craft further, to be the weirdo I really was but was too scared to embrace. To say, "fuck ‘em all," stop worrying what they THOUGHT I was doing and just go do it. There are a lot of moments that pushed me to become the rapper I am today, but seeing Eyedea freestyle for the first time is easily near the top.
Mikey set an impossible standard for a lot of freestyle rappers like me, he was the brass ring we all reached for, and the craftsman we aspired to be. For us, Mikey was the high bar, the unreachable acme that set the curve we all graded ourselves upon, and though we fell short of him in the end, we were all made infinitely better in our striving.
Label manager, Crushkill Recordings
When we lost Eyedea, we lost a true friend and an irreplaceable artistic presence. Everyone knew him differently, but those two things are constants to everyone he came into contact with.
Cover artist, The Many Faces of Oliver Hart
I can say, without hesitation, that Eyedea was one of the smartest, most motivated, most creative individuals I've worked with. There was an intrinsic motivation inside that drove him to be the best. What we lost when we lost Eyedea was someone who not only had the ability to maintain an amazing amount of inspiration and creativity but also the motivation to share that enthusiasm with the world. His lasting impact is a testament to the power of his creative voice.
Carnage the Executioner
Local beatboxer and emcee
We lost a visionary with almost flawless focus.He was somebody who knew how the end result of a journey looked before ever having traveled the actual path. His outlook and ability to project an outcome was so vivid that it was startling.
We lost a man who embodied the true essence of what it means to be an artist. He wasn't afraid to take risks with the development and sharing of concepts, thoughts, and beliefs contrary to what others saw as viable. A staunch rebel, but not in the generic sense of the label; his stance of not trying to be popular initially lead to extreme backlash. In a twist of irony, that same stance made him popular later.
We lost the best. Micheal was the best human being to ever touch another human being. He knew almost exactly how to be to others who we needed him to be. His interaction with us seemed as though it was perfectly tailored to fit whoever needed his touch. If you were touched by him in any way, it was a touch you'd not soon, if ever, forget. We all lost our best friend.
Lastly, we lost someone who we've never actually lost completely. His impact could possibly outlive existence itself.
Filmmaker, The World Has No Eyedea
We lost the kind of artist that pushes a culture forward. I think what made Micheal's music truly special was the way his message challenged us to really look at ourselves and how we fit into the world. He raps a lot about really heady, philosophical subjects, and often challenges his listeners to think about their own thought processes, their territorial circuits, and the way we're all connected. If more artists took it upon themselves to rap about topics that are ripe with opportunities for personal growth the way Eyedea did, our culture would progress a lot faster by every measure.
DJ and producer, Eyedea & Abilities
What did we lose? We lost a friend, a communicator, an artist. A person with a rare passion plus the talent to match. A thinker. A ridiculously witty and funny individual. A man with genuine empathy and caring for the human condition. A visionary and brilliant mind. We lost someone great.
What did we lose as a family? The center of attention, the one who always made us laugh. We lost the jokester, the builder, the voice of reason. Mikey was super smart, he would learn everything about anything he was interested in. Everything he learned, he learned fully and by doing, listening, watching, reading. We are missing someone who truly understood empath.
As a musician, we lost someone who could touch us even if we didn’t know him. He had a way with being able to move within many groups, and all felt like he was their best friend. He wasn’t just one type of music, he was many forms. We lost someone who had notebooks full of thought and feelings for the world. There is just so much that can be said.
I just miss him.
Five Year Celebration of Micheal 'Eyedea' Larsen
With: Slug, DJ Abilities, Blueprint, Murs, others.
When: 6 p.m. Mon., Nov. 9.
Where: First Avenue.
Tickets: $5; more info here.
More from Music