I just woke up and realized that it’s been one year since Eyedea passed. It really hit me today that my dude is gone. Not that I didn’t feel it before but I would be lying if i said there wasn’t a decent amount of denial going on. It’s just hard to believe that somebody who did so much and was such a big part of my hip-hop experience is gone, and that I won’t see him again. The past year I’ve been so many places and talked to so many people who he has touched with his music. He touched people in the way that you wish you could touch people as an artist.
I was at a show recently and a cat asked me to tell him the story of how me and Eyedea met, how we became friends, and the story behind the song “Before and After”. He said he’s always wanted to know because we never really spoke about it in public.
Last year I wanted to write something but his passing was too fresh and hurt too much so I never did. I kept putting it off and didn’t want to be throwing our personal stuff out there in the public realm. But now I realize that sharing stories about people we love and have lost is part of celebrating their lives, and part of the healing process; and because I never allowed myself to take part in that I had never allowed myself the opportunity to mourn and heal.
So here it goes.
Back in 1997 I lived in Cincinnati, OH. I had just moved there for work, and Illogic had just moved down there to go to school. Cincinnati back then had a pretty fresh scene. A lot of artists were starting their movements and would eventually have careers in hip-hop that are still going on today. There was the 5 Dees, who put out a lot of 12″ inches and were known nationally, touring Europe a bunch. There was Mr. Dibbs who changed turntablism putting out the first “edit” tapes that influenced everybody who picked up a turntable after that (the cover of his first tape was even shown inside DJ Shadows album, which gave a big nod to the influence that Dibbs had), there was me, Illogic, and my crew Greenhouse, and there was Dose One, Why?, and Odd Nosdom, who eventually became Anticon. Dose, Why?, and Nosdom were all be seniors at UC, and Illogic was a freshman there. They became friends and made lots of music back then.
Every now and then I would pick up Illogic from their house so we could go record what was to be his debut album Unforeseen Shadows, so we were all cool. I would hear the music they were working on and they would hear the stuff we were working on via Illogic. To put it mildly, Dose, Why, and Nosdom were making music that was completely left of center, and at that time, when you look at how conventional underground rap was–they were really out there. I was a fan of Dose’s because of the tape he put out with J Rawls on the beats and after seeing him kill shit in the local scene. This was before I was even putting out music. Those dudes eventually formed Anticon with a bunch of other like-minded guys like Jel, Sole, Pedestrian, and Alias. The first record they put out was a record called Music for the Advancement of Hip-hop in 1998 and they started getting a lot of buzz.
Illogic would always tell me about this cat named Eyedea, who was on that record. At the time I was like “oh man, is it more weird shit?” kind of dismissing it, but then he eventually played Eyedea’s verse and I was like “oh shit, this is dope”. I remember being really impressed by how technical his rhyme was. The only thing I had ever heard like it was an Aceyalone verse, and I was huge Aceyalone fan.
Later that year, I was at the first Scribble Jam I had been to. It was much smaller in those days and the battle was held in a spot called Ripley’s in the UC campus area (that’s since been torn down and is now a Chipotle). There were two kids that didn’t end up winning but were destroying everybody prior to meeting eachother. I had no idea who they were at the time but it was Slug and Eyedea. The brackets were setup weird so they ended up facing eachother in the semi-finals, and instead of going for the throat like they did everybody else they just had fun. At the time I didn’t know they were homies, but later found out. Slug ended up beating Eyedea, and then he eventually lost to Adeem in the finals. That’s when Eyedea was really on my radar, because he was serving dudes like a veteran and looked like a veteran, but I later found out he was only 16-17 years old.
Later that year, me and my crew started releasing our first music and doing shows around Ohio in Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati. One of the first big shows we got asked to play was opening for Atmosphere in Columbus, so we rocked it. After seeing the battle I had learned more about them and their Overcast album that was getting some serious buzz now, so I was down. Illogic had already knew what was up with them because of his affiliation with the Anticon kids. The Columbus show was in a weird upstairs club in downtown that’s no longer open but it was packed, and that’s when we all met for the first real time. Back then it was Slug, Eyedea, and DJ Abilities. They were all really good dudes and we became friends immediately. A little while later they had a show in Cleveland and asked us if we wanted to open up there so we went up there and rocked at the Euclid Tavern with them, and then another show back in Cincinnati that spring as well.
Those were the first dudes I ever saw in underground hip-hop that were “stars”. I knew dudes who were dope and were respected, but these were the first dudes I saw that were doing shit like signing autographs, selling merch, crowdsurfing and shit like that–back in 1998. People loved them, and it was inspiring, especially back then because to me rap was just something I did to express myself and vent–not really something I thought could ever really be your job or that people would get behind you and allow to become your job. But they changed that.
During this time we would see eachother in other midwest cities and always kick it. That’s when me and Eyedea realized we had the same kind of trouble-making instinct. It wasn’t trouble-making in terms of being destructive or disrespecting people, or even drinking or smoking weed, because neither of us did any of that at the time. Our thing was battling. We loved to find whoever thought they were the best and serve those fools. No matter what city we were in, before or after we played, we were probably in the biggest freestyle cypher we could find, letting cats know what it was.
Everybody had their thing, but me and Eydea’s thing was battling. Sometimes we didn’t even have to be performing or a part of the event; if we saw eachother at an event we would hug and go scurry off to find battles. It was like a secret world that he and I only knew about. We didn’t care where we were at; Chicago, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, New York–that’s what we did. It was unspoken that we were both out for the gusto so we would go look for new places and unfamiliar faces to sharpen our skills. Out of town cities were even better because most of the rappers there didn’t know our scene, so they had no idea what they were up against. We would smash a couple fools, go back to whatever we were doing before hand, then laugh about it later.
Later that year we were all at the Rocksteady anniversary in New York. Greenhouse & Illogic were in town doing some recording with our friends The Atoms Family. I didn’t even know Eyedea was there (this was before everybody had a cell phone), but once I saw him at the jam we were out! Eyedea mentioned to me that the previous night he lost in the finals of an organized battle to some cat named Many Styles who was really dope. I was like “oh word? fuck that dude. lets go do this shit!” We said peace to all the people we knew and went looking for trouble, as usual. It didn’t take long for us to find it.
This was my first time in New York, so I had no idea that the place is filled with rappers, and while most of the legends of hip-hop come from new york, there’s a TON of shitty rappers there who think they’re the shit just because they’re from New York. This reality annoyed the fuck out of me, so I had a real chip on my shoulder that day. But there were cyphers everywhere, thousands of people in attendance, so we got right to it.
I started it off, found the biggest cypher I could find then set it off. There was probably about 20-30 kids there to start, which was pretty huge. A kid who sucked went after me, then Eyedea came in after him and he tried to cut Eyedea off. Eyedea just laughed about it but I wasn’t having it that day, so I went at the kid and serverd him. Tension starts building, more people start coming into the cypher, which is probably at about 50-60 kids. Me and this kid go one round and I destroy him, so his homie steps up, and I serve him too. People going crazy, more and more people showing up watching this whole thing. Another new rapper stepped up and Eyedea came back in and ate him up too. Business as usual for us, only difference is there were 10x the number of rappers that we usually would see. This was taking a lot longer than usual. One after another they kept stepping up and we would serve them, letting them know that being from New York didn’t mean shit–we weren’t from there and we came to serve them. It was great. The shit that he and I loved to do. Then out the corner of my eye, while Eyedea’s serving one of the last people left, I see this cat start pushing his way through the crowd, and the way the crowd parted I could tell he was the man. It was Many Styles, the guy who Eyedea had lost to the previous night. He saw what we were doing and wasn’t going for it–probably because he was just like us. I looked at Eydea and was like “let me get ’em” and he gave me the nod, even though I’m sure he wanted a rematch. Many Styles was dope. I can’t front. He had a bugged out style that reminded me of some crazy project blowed shit; start and stop, fast and slow, really unorthodox shit going on, but all new york at the same time. My style of battling was real aggressive and direct, so i already knew it was gonna be a challenge.
When he went first I was a little intimidated and he definitely won the first round, but the second round I got him, and the 3rd round I destroyed him because I started to catch the nuances of his style and use them against him; cracking jokes on his “stop and think” style of rap. Then I ended it by saying “calling yourself Many Styles? fool, you don’t have ANY STYLES!!” and the people went nuts. We ended it there. He and I hugged and gave respect to one another.
Me and Mikey felt like we had achieved the biggest thing you could achieve in hip-hop–being midwest kids, and hanging with New Yorkers. As dudes who grew up on New York hip-hop it validated us in a way to know that we could battle them on their turf and not get embarrassed. After all we just wanted to be like them anyways, so everything we were doing was just what we “thought” we should be doing based on the blueprint they had layed down on their records.
We loved performing and writing songs, but nothing gave us more joy than to battle and freestyle. I had his back and he had mine in such a real way. If you beat him in a battle then I was gonna try to get revenge, and if somebody beat me then he was gonna come get you. That was our thing. Some rappers would talk about wack emcee this and battle that but very few of them really did it. We actually did that shit non-stop. We would tell rappers they sucked to their face, and make them prove they didn’t.
The following year he went on to win the Scribble Jam battle, the RockSteady battle, and the biggest them all, the Blaze battle on HBO. Some people were surprised at a young kid from Minneapolis doing so well, but I knew he was going to win as soon as he entered those battle–not just because he was my dude and I loved him, but because he and I had been doing that shit on the streets for the past couple years, running around battling people at anytime or anyplace, and he was the best I had ever met. I was good back then too, but he was only 18 and could hang with anybody anywhere, so it felt good to see my homie do so well. When he won the Blaze Battle it was like we all won the Blaze battle because we were so proud of him. I loved hearing him tell stories about it and do impressions of all the cats he battled.
So when Eyedea and Abilities started working on their first album First Born, me and Mikey started talking about doing a song together, and how even though their album wouldn’t have any songs about battling on it (he didn’t want people to know him only as a battler) we should do one about battling as the bonus song that captures what we actually did. So the next time I was in Minneapolis, we recorded the song that’s known now as “Before and After”.
Rest in Peace Eyedea. You are missed.
My latest album Two-Headed Monster is out now. Order/Listen here HERE