When Mike Averill, aka Eyedea, declares near the top of his new Rhymesayers release, First Born, that “It’s time to clean MTV out of your ears,” I’m inclined to take him seriously–in order to maintain creative control of this album, his first with DJ and producer Abilities (ne Gregory Keltgen), the 19-year-old Minneapolis MC turned down a contract from Bad Boy’s Sean “P. Diddy” Combs rumored to be worth over half a million dollars. The winner of last year’s Blaze Battle, a freestyle contest judged by KRS-One and broadcast on HBO, Eyedea has a disarmingly assured stage presence, having honed his moves as second MC in the hard-touring group Atmosphere. But where Atmosphere’s main man, Slug, is a storyteller–casual, workaday, confessional–Eyedea’s a battle MC, better suited to spinning endless tangents off a single idea than to developing a narrative. On First Born he consistently aims over his head: “A Murder of Memories,” which examines the experiences of a shell-shocked war veteran, communicates more sympathy than understanding, and on the two-part “The Dive” he devolves into portentous dime-store philosophy (“Fear feeds the derangement of the inner eye / With nothing left you find yourself fall into madness”). When he relaxes, though, his monster potential comes through–on the sharp, jaunty “Big Shots,” for instance, he spells out high school mores, then casts himself as a playa-hated big man on campus: “Don’t front, you know you love me / Girls never wash their hands after they get a chance to touch me / I’m a big shot / You can say I’m a creep / But put me in a room with your idols / And I’ll make ’em look weak.” Abilities’s production is just as confident; he creates impressive backdrops ranging from the filtered industrial textures of “Color My World” to the arresting Latin percussion of “One” to the turntable trickery of the DJ showcase “Well Being.” Atmosphere, which currently consists of Slug and the terrific Memphis DJ Mr. Dibbs, headlines both shows. Wednesday, November 21, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. Friday, November 23, 7 PM, Fireside Bowl, 2646 W. Fullerton; 773-486-2700.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dan Monick.