In Memorial: Micheal 'Eyedea' Larsen (November 9, 1981 – October 16, 2010)

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Micheal Larsen, known to hip-hop fans the world over as Eyedea, passed away two years ago yesterday. In a rap world filled with breathless battle rappers and would-be poets, he was truly a singular talent, straddling both sides of that fence with effortlessness and grace. His vision and delivery was so unique that had the ability to forge a connection with listeners on their very first experience with their music — this was certainly the case with me

Larsen seemed to burst fully formed from out of nowhere onto the battle rap scene, taking home victories in Scribble Jam ’99 and at the Rock Steady Anniversary in 2000. Even more notable was his victory at the Blaze Battle in New York 2000, when he won the competition and garnered the attention of some of the industry’s heavy hitters. This included a stunned Diddy, who offered Larsen a contract on the strength of that performance, an offer Larson spurned and later mocked on record.

Sean Combs was not the only one scorched by Larsen’s pen. His insults were simultaneously harsh and playful. At his best, he could dis you and get you to laugh about it at the same time

I bust rhymes that are mad tight
Yo, you know I could’ve been your dad, right
Matter of fact I was with your mom last night
Matter of fact, I’m the reason that you’re sister’s half-white

But battle rhymes, great as they may have been, were far from the only aspect of Larsen’s style. Once he started making songs, his philosophical and literary urges were given free reign, to jaw-dropping effect:

Purpose, perseverance, wordless amoeba surface
To lead the first coherent Paleolithic circus
Specific neuro-circuits link man and Neanderthal
However, recent bio-chemical imprints conflict with primitive urges

Who was this enigma that could dis with the best of them, then turn around and drop knowledge like a latter-day KRS? It turns out he was more than just another man, he was also an Eyedea. He symbolized all of our doubts and joys. He was a contradiction and a truth. He was and still is Michael Larsen, hailing from Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he was raised by his mother Kathy

He started young, forming a rap group named The Sixth Sense with DJ Abilities when they were both just teenagers (technically pre-teens — Larsen was twelve when the group was formed). This work, when it was released post-mortem, shows an artist even then miles ahead of rappers twice his age. This young boy was the very definition of a prodigy, a breath of fresh air, a true artist

After his success on the rap battle circuit, Eyedea had huge opportunities in front of him. While multiple labels offered him deals, he chose hometown powerhouse Rhymesayers, a Twin Cities-based label founded by artists. Signing this deal, while turning down what would undoubtedly have been many more lucrative options, shows that for Eyedea, rap for his escape as well as his passion. It was never about topping the Forbes list or becoming the idol of millions. It was about the art of a man who could never sleep and was never awake

Round 1 of Blaze Battle against R.K

He released his debut album First Born in 2001 on Rhymesayers Entertainment. The avalanche of rave reviews proved that he was able to balance between traditional MCing topics and leaps into philosophical topics that would rattle the insides of your skull. His perspective on his burgeoning success was so deep and introspective that it dragged the listening right into his crazy world, and the production created an environment so vast it changed every listen. His debut was like an alien invasion or a spiritual awakening to thousands of people lucky enough to happen upon it, including this writer. You could tell he was in bliss with the freedom he was given to experiment, and it really paid off

Track from First Born: Music Music

His next project came without his musical other half DJ Abilities, and even under a new name. This project was fully written, produced, and even mixed by Larsen himself under the pseudonym Oliver Hart (“all of her heart”). The work was titled The Many Faces of Oliver Hart, or: How Eye One the Write Too Think. It was a deeply personal record that, unlike some other one-man-show albums we could name, benefits from having a singular vision

Oliver Hart: Here For You

Following that album, Larsen reunited with DJ Abilities to release E&A in 2004. His growth is evident on this project, where the experimentation grows production wise, while his lyrics and metaphors get deeper and more complex

E&A Track: Now

The next two years brought his fans something completely unexpected. He formed a free form jazz band named Face Candy with running partner and fellow rapper Kristoff Krane as well as some other musical friends. He also took a stab at grunge rock with his band Carbon Carousel, a group that put out some surprisingly deep and intense rock songs. If it wasn’t clear to his fans by now, it had just been driven into their skulls that this man was a truly talented artist with so much talent and passion invested in his art that he may well be some form of higher life

Face Candy Track: Pill
Carbon Carousel Track: Skinny

In 2009, we saw the reunion of Eyedea and DJ Abilities once more for their third album By The Throat. Their previous experimentation with sound lead them to a new rock-based style of production, with distorted guitars at the forefront. Combined with Abilities' award-winning scratching, the group created a brand new sound for Eyedea to master, and master it he did. His wordplay and lyricism were at the highest levels they have ever been

By The Throat Track: Smile

Tragedy followed a year later; Eyedea was found dead in his home from an accidental overdose of opiates and alcohol. He died in his sleep two years ago yesterday, October 16th, 2010. He may have passed on, but his music and influence live on. Every November, around Eyedea’s birthday all his friends, family and fans gather in Minnesota to celebrate his life. Numerous members of Rhymesayers Entertainment such as Slug from Atmosphere perform and tell personal stories from their experiences with him. Fans and friends alike rejoice and reminisce over everything he has done. Micheal’s legacy is truly one to remember. His music has touched so many souls and he was taken away from us too soon. We can only hope he is in a better place

Rest in Peace