The machine must be broken 


In a hoarse voice, Eyedea -- one of America's top freestyle MCs -- rejects the very arena that made him famous: "The whole battle scene is ungratifying. It's not `an` artistic enough endeavor to be pleasing."

While it may seem odd for an artist to reject the medium that he's mastered, hip-hop group Eyedea & Abilities are constantly moving and never content to follow expectations or preconceptions. In 1999, Eyedea was approached by several major labels offering large sums of money, yet he chose to sign with an independent. When everyone expected their debut to be an extension of their battle-hardened live personas, they released a jazz-soaked concept album. Now, with their latest album, "E&A," they've returned to more traditional structures -- although to call this album conventional would be a mischaracterization.

Abilities -- the DJ/producer for the group -- calls the music on "E&A" "ugly"; throughout the disc, he seems restless, manically moving from one genre to the next. There's a plodding aggression that suggests rock influences, yet a distinctly hip-hop attention to bounce and a cut-and-paste aesthetic. "E&A" sounds exactly like what it is: an artist struggling to find his voice. It's not surprising that, when I ask Abilities if he's at a point artistically that he's comfortable with, he quickly replies, "No, not at all."

Eyedea seems equally restless on the new disc. On "Now," he takes aim at the current political environment with a dizzying million-syllables-a-second barrage; "Star Destroyer" features a battle rap akin to one he would've spit a decade ago; and on the confessional "Glass," Eyedea declares that he's "living in a world made of windows and mirrors Ã? one day it's going to shatter right here." The variety of themes can be attributed to Eyedea carrying a notebook with him at all times. "Some lyrics you might throw away might be the most emotionally relevant stuff that you ever write," he comments. He's also quick to point out that "E&A" was recorded almost two years ago.

Not too surprisingly, he adds, "We're already beyond `"E&A"` artistically. We're already putting together ideas that will blow `it` away."


More by Samuel Chennault

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