You think you know, but you have no Eyedea

Eyedea and Abilities Gear up for their July tour with a show this Sunday at the Walker Art Center.

by Raghav Mehta

Eyedea and Abilities w/ Tapes âÄôn Tapes and Total Babe Where: Walker Art Center When: July 11, 1 p.m. – 9 p.m. Cost: Free In 2000, a 17-year-old Twin Cities-based MC by the name of Eyedea bewildered hip-hop heads everywhere after being crowned the freestyle champion of the HBO -televised Blaze Battle hosted by rap pioneer KRS-One . Boasting intellectual lyrics, sharp-edged wit and a spot on Minneapolis rap label Rhymesayers , the eccentric St. Paul rhyme junkie had firmly cemented his status as the most lyrically gifted MC on the battle-rap circuit. Eyedea had all the momentum, praise and promise any musician his age could hope for. But after abandoning the battle circuit and releasing two albums with turntable guru DJ Abilities , Eyedea âÄî at what seemed like the peak of his career âÄî set the mic down to take an unexpected leave of absence from the hip-hop world. So when he re-emerged in 2006 with improvisational jazz-rap project Face Candy, comprised of local rappers Kristoff Krane , Carnage The Executioner, drummer JT Bates and bassist Casey OâÄôBrien , the reactions ranged from incredulity to outright hostility. âÄúIâÄôve had multiple death threats. Like letters that are written in [expletive] blood saying âÄòWhen I see you IâÄôm gonna stab you,âÄô âÄù Eyedea said. âÄú[Fans] were so hurt and so confused why somebody that won a Blaze Battle when they were 17 years old âÄî why a decade later would they want to start a different band.âÄù But despite the violent backlash, Eyedea insists heâÄôs not just a rapper. HeâÄôs a musician¬ âÄî and a studious one at that. Today, he still raps, performs with Face Candy, toils in countless musical side projects and even authored a book of poetry with his grandmother. Now a year removed from releasing the rock-infused Eyedea and Abilities record âÄúBy the Throat,âÄù E&A are ready to embark on a two-week July tour that kicks off with a show Sunday at the Walker Art Center. In âÄúBy the Throat,âÄù Eyedea shows that heâÄôs still the same introspective neurotic he was 10 years ago, but he refuses to return to his battle-rap heyday. Instead, the byproduct is a collection of droning, grunge-inspired hits and misses that sees the duoâÄôs signature sound evolving into something more layered and massive than anything in the realm of contemporary hip-hop. âÄúThe older I get, IâÄôm trying to compartmentalize less and less,âÄù he said. âÄúWith the E&A record, it was a little more of an attempt to bring some of the styles together so we can show the listener, âÄòYeah, itâÄôs okay to play guitars and hip-hop.âÄô Music is supposed to have no rules, you know?âÄù But even today âÄî 10 years after the Blaze Battle âÄî Eyedea still feels pigeonholed, as if heâÄôs constantly working in the shadow of his earlier freestyle work. âÄúWhat I try to explain to [fans] was one of the reasons I was really good at it was because I never gave a [expletive] about it,âÄù he said. âÄúI didnâÄôt care if I lost or not because it was so meaningless.âÄù Eyedea and Abilties will be playing a free show at the Walker Art Center on July 11 with local stalwarts Total Babe and Tapes âÄôn Tapes . TheyâÄôll be returning to Minneapolis on July 18 for a show at Barbette.