“The universe is not something separate from yourself
I know you feel alone, but that’s why I’m here to help”

-Eyedea, Here For You

Michael Larsen, AKA Eyedea, AKA Oliver Hart (as on the song referenced above), was something of a hip hop prodigy. The story goes that at age 17 in 1999, he won a prestigious ‘battle mc’ contest in Ohio, which propelled him, ultimately, to the national finals, which he duly won. Instead of going the fame route, Larsen was a quiet person, happier moving in underground circles. He had abundant talent, but lacked the ego that so permeated the music industry, and especially the rap movement. He chose instead to make music with long time friend Max Keltgen, AKA DJ Abilities.


The music Larsen and Keltgen made was philosophical and quizzical, existential, dense and difficult… yet uplifting, forward-thinking, warm and positive. Larsen’s poetry was far-sighted, his wordplay owing as much to Dylan as to any of his contemporaries. Always restless, literally as well as creatively – he struggled with manic insomnia, and, according to his mother, probably never slept eight hours in his life – he was wary of the rhetoric of hip hop, and changed his working name as he tried on different styles and ensembles. One name was Oliver Hart, the name of a character he had created in a story while still in high school. “I’ve always had this habit of making sure I screw myself, as far as career’s concerned.” he jokingly said of the Hart moniker.

The experimentalism didn’t endear Larsen to the hip hop puritans. A side project with punk band Carbon Carousel and the jazz-leaning ‘Face Candy’ album were received poorly by some of his more traditionalist fans. He would receive abuse, even death threats, which, for a sensitive man with a long history of depression, was terribly damaging.

“[The backlash] really hurt my feelings. I thought I was going to be able to deal with it but it was just too hard,” Larsen said. “I mean, it really, really, really depressed me for a real long time.” Depression helps to explain his scruffy style towards the end of his life, with unkempt hair and beard growth. He opposed the hip hop image, and his itinerant-beat-poet look told of a man who was restless, self-critical, unsuperficial, and reliant on his wits.

“There’s this kind of mould of hip hop, and this kind of personality and attitude that you’re supposed to uphold… I think I played into that a little too much when it wasn’t like… me, and I did it for the sake of  trying to pull people into my world… that IS me… I was young, and just like, had this weird shit with my musical identity, my artistic identity. So I wish I was a little more upfront about things, you know?”

Michael Larsen died in his sleep on October 16, 2010. The verdict was accidental death, from an overdose of prescription drugs, which he had taken regularly for years to help him sleep.


This post references
The Underground Poet of St. Paul: A Tragedy in Seven Acts, from The Minnesota Daily, a detailed and highly recommended look at Eyedea’s life, and this interview from Undergroundhiphop.com
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