Another Triumph of Ghetto Engineering should have a familiar ring to it: The title first appeared on a print illustrated by McKay Felt and sold with an exclusive vinyl edition of Open Mike Eagle’s 2022 release Component System With the Auto Reverse. The two records share a similar cast of characters, but where Component System focused on the lasting imprint of hip-hop history, Another Triumph plays like an ode to the music and memories that shaped Eagle’s own character and career. Along for the ride are STILL RIFT and Video Dave, who appear courtesy of his label, Auto Reverse; his longtime producers Child Actor, Quelle Chris, and Illingsworth; and mastering engineer Daddy Kev, founder of the influential former Los Angeles club night Low End Theory, where Open Mike Eagle and his peers first found their artistic footing.
Open Mike Eagle stuffs an abundance of obscure counterculture references and chuckle-worthy ramblings into the album’s brief 25 minutes, while also stepping back to prioritize guest verses and vivid imagery. “Every album is a little collection of pieces of yesterdays,” he admitted on the previous record; here, he pays tribute to memory, delivering a career’s worth of liner notes with the emotional maturity J. Cole strove for on “Note to Self.” Throughout the album Eagle thanks scores of people by name, from Thundercat to Dumbfoundead to Kenny Segal, as if he’s monologuing at the Thanksgiving table.
The other Triumph of Ghetto Engineering might be 2017’s Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, to which this album plays like an unofficial sequel: In a direct parallel, Open Mike Eagle spends its opening seconds whisper-rapping over a muffled electric guitar solo. His amorphous fusion of singing and rapping has ripened to a more confident resolve, while the beats remain sample-heavy and hypnotically lethargic. “the wire s3 e1” revisits the image of Chicago’s now-demolished Robert Taylor Homes, where those childhood daydreams unfolded. Joined by fellow L.A. poet Blu for their first song together in seven years, Open Mike Eagle winks at the two Brick Body Kids tracks produced by Exile as he grapples with similar themes—isolation, inner conflict—years later. He’s still searching for himself amid the rubble of childhood memory.
As he observes the world through a more mature lens, Eagle’s rapping remains as astute as ever. On “A new rap festival called falling loud,” he provides fatherly advice to those coming of age today, such as his own teenage son, Asa. Playful reminders like “Don’t do the shrooms when it’s Christmas dinner” underscore the humor and humility of Open Mike Eagle’s final wish: “When I die, mix up my ashes into some coffee grounds.” He finds levity in the inevitable, but rap seems bigger than him now that he’s living in a world where his heroes are no longer immortal. Open Mike Eagle’s feature on billy woods’ “Fool’s Gold” marked one of the first times he addressed MF DOOM in his work; on Component System’s “for DOOM,” Eagle paid tribute to the late supervillain. On “a new rap festival called falling loud,” he reminds a new generation that mortality only looms as large as you let it: “You probably drink the ashes of dead people all the time and don’t know it.”
The album ends at its emotional peak, the heaviness in his voice evident throughout closer “mad enough to aim a pyramid at you.” Each time he emphasizes the word “everything,” he pauses ever so slightly to soak in its gravity and totality—the anguish, the love, the nostalgia. After 20 years of making music, Eagle seeks a kind of closure within his own discography. Another Triumph of Ghetto Engineering becomes a personal scrapbook and an open letter: tangible evidence of who he’s become through fatherhood, divorce, and nine solo albums.