The owner of >Lawn Gnome Publishing, Aaron Hopkins-Johnson, is one of the best slam poets in the country, and so it stands to reason that his store is a hub for those interested in the spoken word. Lawn Gnome once held one of Phoenix's most popular open mic nights, it runs the only official poetry slam in Phoenix every Thursday evening, and has also played host to legendary wordsmiths like slam poet Saul Williams and anarcho rapper Sole among others.
"Man I didn't know they used to do an open mic night there, people are going to get confused," joked L.A.-based "art rapper" Open Mike Eagle.
OME will be throwing the Phoenix release of his brand new album Dark Comedy in the homey environs of the quaint used book store.
"This album has darkness, but also a kind of absurdist humor that appeals to me. I sort of separated from that with my other albums, but on this one there are just kind of freewheeling whimsical rap songs. It more balances in the darkness and light of my own aesthetic. It's definitely a lot more levity, my last album was kind of dark, very conceptual and dark and the theme running through it was kind of a depressing one when you break it down," he says.
Lawn Gnome is really the perfect environment for the rapper, who prides himself on his wide vocabulary and use of the English language.
"It was a recommendation from Goonie [Jim Jiliker]," says Eagle,"I've played a whole bunch of places in Phoenix and I was a little surprised, but that's the way we decided to go."
Lawn Gnome is no stranger to hip-hop either, having hosted Dadadoh, Shining Soul, The Insects, and Something Villainous in the past. The store even briefly hosted the short-lived monthly live streamed hip-hop night "Live at the BBQ."
Eagle's last Phoenix appearance was on March 18 at the Crescent Ballroom with the Hellfyre Club. But anyone in the know, knows that the real happening of that evening was when the entire Hellfyre Club showed up at Bikini Lounge for 602sdays and ran a freestyle cypher to the beats of DJentrification.
"DJentrification became my favorite thing in the world that night. He's amazing, mixing and cooking and people dancing and it was insane. I need to connect back with him when I get there," Mike Eagle says.
A bookstore may seem like a strange place for hip-hop shows. But with the store's D.I.Y. mentality, a rapper who is comfortable at the Bikini should do fine at the Gnome. Furthermore, for an M.C. like Eagle the shop fits like a glove. Eagle credits authors Robert Anton Wilson. Kurt Vonnegut, and Tom Robbins as influences on both himself and his music.
"Robert Anton Wilson has made me into the ultimate skeptic, and he has really affected how I look at language in terms of psychology," says Eagle. "I will qualify a lot of my statements to make them more subjective. I feel that everything in the universe is relative, so I try and make my lyrics reflect that belief. So what you won't hear me doing is saying a lot of things that sound like an objective truth because I don't really believe in those."
He highlights this sentiment on the album in the song "Qualifiers." "We are the best mostly, sometimes the freshest rhymers, we the tightest kinda, respect my qualifiers," goes the chorus of the song.
According to Eagle he picked up his intellectual interests around the same time he decided to pick up hip-hop, which has lead him toward a completely different writing style.
"I just come at writing in a different way. I try to come at even speaking in a different way. I just try to make my verbal logic reflective of how I think things really are," says Eagle. "All of the atoms in our universe kind of follow these strict rules based on physics, like the old physics we've always used. But the subatomic particles which are the building blocks of everything in the universe, they don't follow any rules. If you look at them with instruments that are used to measure waves then they behave like waves, and the same particle if you use instruments that are used to measure particles then they will act like particles. Its all relative to the user and what instrument they are using."