What Eyedea Meant to Me

Eyedea, the hip hop MC and all-around musician-philosopher from Minnesota, died in his sleep on October 16th, 2010. No one knows how he died yet. We’ll probably never know how, as is often the case with beautiful human beings of note. Frankly, I would like to know exactly how he died, and I want it backed up with evidence and testimony from people who should speak out (you know who you are).

I knew Eyedea, real name Michael Larsen. Mainly I knew him through his music. He didn’t know me much, but he was always kind when we did chat. I also got the chance to speak to him a few times while living in Minneapolis, Eyedea’s hometown for life. My hometown too, intermittently. In person, Eyedea was a live wire, though he had a smoothness to him. Kind of like a benevolent velociraptor: methodical, alert, and ready to explode at a moment’s notice. He smiled a lot.

I exchanged a few emails with him via MySpace back in the day. We traded thoughts on life and music. He signed his emails “Michael,” so I addressed him as such. Michael was kind, frank, and personable in the email medium. Once, I sent him an MP3 of a track I had created with music and lyrics. He replied, “It’s pretty cool, but you could do more with it.”

Indeed. Eyedea was always exploring new ways to do more with his own mind. His mastery over the hip hop vernacular was simply not enough for Eyedea. He expanded into punk, rock, jazz, and uncategorizable musical forms.

He proved his freestyle muscle hundreds of times, most notably at Scribble Jam 1999 and Blaze Battle 2000, taking the crown in both events. He was only 17 and 18, respectively. He outgrew the idiom immediately afterwards, releasing studio albums devoted half to the battle aesthetic, half to philosophical explorations.

Eyedea’s voice was distinct. A middle- to high-pitched rasp. A bit on the nasal side. He was no James Earl Jones, in other words. To me, and probably to many others, Eyedea’s voice was an acquired taste. But once you got used to the unusual voice, the rewards were plentiful. I spent days, weeks, months, years, and yes, an entire decade, getting to know Eyedea’s music.

I am still trying to pick apart some of his earliest rhymes. Even when the words fly by too quickly for the mind to grasp, Eyedea’s delivery style was compelling enough to listen to over and over again. His passion itself–that was the “hook” to his poetry. When he rapped, it was the verbal equivalent of 20 massive fists punching holes in the concrete wall between the conscious and the unconscious.

In this, Eyedea was a John Henry of sorts. You know the legend of John Henry: Holding nothing but his trusty pick-axe, he raced a newfangled mountain-tunneling machine in a battle between the human spirit versus technology. In the end, the technology won by default: John Henry died from exhaustion.

Maybe that’s what killed Eyedea. Exhaustion. Maybe he thought himself to death. And maybe the machine Eyedea was fighting was the robot that lives in all of us, trying to take over the mind and heart. He railed against mindlessness. He drove himself through the thickest parts of his own internal struggle. Where there was entanglement, there was Eyedea: Slashing, thrashing his way towards the truth. He took the road less traveled. He took the most difficult routes he could identify.

Eyedea was the bar by which I measured all other MCs, including myself. I look at my own music, and I ask myself whether it would be honest enough, raw enough, genuine enough, for Eyedea. I feel that although he was well known for his verbal fireworks, what Eyedea most valued was sincerity. Still, I always had a little pretend battle going on between myself and him on a technical level.

Eyedea inspired me. He was the vine that grew slowly, covering the structure of my musical and lyrical aesthetic. Those vines will live on in me and countless others.

There can never be enough said about Eyedea. One man cannot sum him up. Help me. What did Eyedea mean to you? It can be small or large. Doesn’t matter. What matters is, if Eyedea meant something to you, let us know. You can post a comment here on my blog, or on Facebook, or just anywhere. Let’s brand his legacy in the popular consciousness while the iron is hot and the pelt is exposed.

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