I went to sleep just under 3 hours ago and now I’m sitting at my desk with a view of the city, watching it come more and more alive as the sun announces the start of a new day. My eyes are heavy and my body is sore but I’m not tired. It could be the pot of coffee in my stomach or last night’s poor decisions still working the tail end of their magic through my system. It might be pure adrenaline or simply my refusal to fall over. It could be a combination of those things, but more than anything, I know what’s keeping me awake is the knowledge of just having experienced something truly meaningful.
When Eyedea died I was at a country music concert with my wife. I stood there fiddling with my phone because I’m addicted to it and because I was at a country music concert with my wife. The first RIP tweet that I saw came from Mac Lethal and I hoped it was a lie but I knew it was the truth. I think that’s how a lot of people felt. For a lifelong rap devotee – a “hip hop head” as we’re commonly referred to – getting blindsided with the sudden death of one of the greatest rappers the universe has ever hosted while you’re surrounded by drunk people in cowboy hats and shit-encrusted boots is its own flavor of loneliness.
That was just a month shy of being exactly six years ago. In the age of daily YouTube sensations, successful week-long careers and 15 second viral videos all to be happened upon from the palm of your hand, 6 years easily equates to 6 lifetimes. What is here in full force today is gone tonight and forgotten by tomorrow. This very article will make its way through the usual channels to be viewed by an audience of an unpredictable size before it’s buried by the next, all within a fraction of the time it took me to write it. These are simply facts of the time and culture in which we currently exist. Our heroes die, we mourn them on Twitter, and we forget about them, proving that almost anything and anyone is capable of being replaced. In six whole years, people have neither forgotten nor replaced Eyedea.
I was invited to attend the Los Angeles screening of The World Has No Eyedea, a multi-award winning independent film by Brandon Crowson documenting the life, death, and legacy of Michael Larson, and though I was honored, I must admit that I expected little more than a modest crowd of familiar faces mixed with a handful of nostalgic weirdos in Atmosphere shirts. What I didn’t expect to see was a line of early arrivals stretching a few blocks down Sunset Blvd., making it abundantly clear that I don’t know shit. People tend to assume you’re important when you carry a camera that’s much bigger than it needs to be, so I immediately started being questioned about the event as I made my way past the hundreds of people waiting in line toward the door where I’d be let in early because, well, I’m important, and if you don’t believe me, just take a look at my huge camera. I was asked if tickets were still available, if there was theater seating inside, if they’d be checking for weed at the door, all kinds of questions, none of which I had answers for.
Once inside, the first thing I noticed was that there was no theater seating. There was no seating at all in fact, not so much as a single folding chair. Large projector screens clung to the walls on either side of the room and I wondered how attentive the audience would be if required to stand for the duration of a nearly two-hour-long film. No sooner than I’d finished my thought, the doors opened and the attendees began piling in, some looking around in amazement and others heading straight for the bar. The line must’ve doubled in size within the short time I’d been inside. They came and they came, people of varying ages, colors and backgrounds, some in groups and some by themselves. In no time at all the room was completely full. I caught eyes with my friend MC Lyfe, who organized the event and who’s no stranger to promoting shows, yet never quite on this scale. The expression on his face was one of slight terror but pure excitement, one that said in the humblest of ways: Look what I did.
Instrumentals blasted from the speakers as a microphone made its way around the crowd to whoever wanted to freestyle while the film was being prepared. This was no ordinary open mic. Each emcee energetically rapped Eyedea’s praises and the audience returned the energy tenfold. It wasn’t a show, it was a party. When the last rapper had finished, it was announced that the film would be starting, to which the people responded with screams. The director of the film took the stage. “Hey, I’m Brandon and, uh, I make movies and shit.” The crowd exploded. He shared a few words about the film and expressed his gratitude for everyone in attendance, pausing here and there for applause. When he’d finished, he placed the microphone in the stand and the crowd cheered once more as the lights faded out.
What happened next is something I’ll never forget. People exchanged looks that said, “do we just stand here?” It was as if they’d been having too much fun to take note of the complete absence of chairs. MC Lyfe, sensing the slight awkwardness, grabbed the mic. “You guys can sit down if you want.” More looks were exchanged, but this time with slightly wider eyes, as if the option hadn’t even occurred to anyone. The first domino fell, then the second, then the third and the fourth, and before we knew what was happening, 500 people were sitting cross-legged, all squished together on the dirty floor. Unless you’re a guru or a yoga instructor, it’s extremely hard to look cool sitting criss-cross applesauce, and if there’s one thing we in the hip hop culture have in common – aside from our obvious musical preferences – it’s that we love to look cool. It didn’t matter. Pride was abandoned and guards let down. Artists sat with fans. Rappers, DJs, local legends who’ve traveled the entire world on the back of their art rubbed knees and shoulders with ordinary people who would have to report to their cubicle the next morning. Even people who would likely fight each other in a different setting were now sitting next to each other like school children on a classroom floor, anxiously awaiting story time.
The film started and, as you might guess, the people cheered. They cheered for Abilities. They cheered for Slug. They cheered when Eyedea’s mother said “fuck you” to those who would judge and speculate. And yes, they cheered for Eyedea. They laughed when it was funny and they cried when it was sad. There were no outbursts or interruptions, no one even got up to piss. 500 people with full bladders and sore backs, some with social anxiety or nicotine addiction or text messages they hadn’t responded to, all sat still for 2 whole hours. In the air was a very real sense of unity, solidarity, community, and many other words that often get frivolously thrown around. It was truly something to see and feel.
By now you should be able to imagine what happened when the credits started rolling, but just in case you’re wondering: the people cheered. One by one they stood to their feet, stretching and squinting as their eyes adjusted to the lights that had been turned back on. 2 hours seemed to have passed in 30 minutes. The remainder of the evening was filled with live performances by several artists, some of whom knew and had worked with Eyedea personally. Sammy Warm Hands of Crushkill Recordings – an independent record label founded by Eyedea – performed an acoustic rendition of “Hay Fever” before Carnage the Executioner – also of Crushkill – looped his mouth-noises in such a way that didn’t seem humanly possible, making a spot-on mouth-noise-version of “Star Destroyer” and rapping Eyedea’s verse with a level of ferocity normally reserved for monsters and wild beasts. Once the PA system and been sufficiently reduced to a pile of fiery rubble, with the crowd in a frenzy, DJ Abilities took the stage.
He mixed beloved E&A classics – songs he and Michael had made together several years prior, surely never imagining a day in which he’d play them under these circumstances. The audience roared at the start of each track he cut in. They danced and waved their arms wildly. They rapped along with the voice they’d heard on countless occasions, a voice that had narrated various segments of their lives, a voice now frozen in time. It was late and they were tired, but just as they had for the film, they stayed put. They gave their attention, their energy, their respect, to DJ Abilities.
I’m no film critic. And while being a novice rarely stops me from attempting anything, I feel that no series of empty words I could string together would do this film justice or give its creators the credit they are due. What I can speak on is what it represents; what this film, this event, these people, this culture, all represent. Hip Hop is an anomaly in that it’s enjoyed by many but truly respected by a relative few. Take that relative few, cut it in half, put one of those halves in a dark room, kick it, call it names, piss on it, and you have the underground. Naturally, someone who’s come up in these same conditions – someone who’s been kicked, judged, let down, misrepresented, neglected, hidden from the light – will identify with whatever has managed not only to survive but to actually grow in that dark room. Skin color doesn’t exist in the dark. This is not about rap music.
Eyedea was one of those rare people widely considered too big for this world. That belief is shared by his family, his friends, and his fans alike. The unfortunate thing about people who are too big for this world is that they tend to only stay in it for a short time. History has shown us again and again that people like Eyedea leave early. However, the impact they had on their slice of the world does not follow them but stays behind to encourage us all to make wide strides toward actualizing our own greatness. His legacy was not created for him posthumously but was built with his own bare hands – built on fearlessness. His absence is felt because his presence was felt. Eyedea was one of ours. He managed to actually grow in that dark room, and films like The World Has No Eyedea serve as a single window, not through which we in the room can observe the outside world, but a window through which the outside world can observe us. We are the underground, and we’re perfectly happy down here.
I once saw an interview in which someone compared 2pac to Elvis. He said, “They have Elvis. We have 2pac.” To that I say: They have 2pac. We have Eyedea.
- Visit TheWorldHasNoEyedea.com to learn more about Brandon Crowson’s film and to see when it premieres in your city