Friends and fans of late underground rapper Michael “Eyedea” Larsen gathered at Carabar on the near east side Sunday to celebrate and remember the freestyle-battle champion.
Larsen’s mother, Kathy Averill, said her son died in his sleep from unknown causes Oct. 16.
“When it came to freestyle and battle, he was so quick with his delivery and punch lines,” said Jared “Path” Young, half of local hip-hop duo Alleyes Path. “I remember watching videos of him battling some of the freestyle fellowship cats at Scribble Jam and making a reference to how Bone Thugs already ran with their style.”
Larsen released three albums with longtime friend Greg “Abilities” Keltgen under Minnesota-based label Rhymesayers as “Eyedea and Abilities.”
“Mike was the closest friend I ever had,” Keltgen said. “He was as caring and brilliant as he was a true prodigy.”
Larsen made a name for himself in the late ‘90s as an emcee and battle rapper, winning Scribble Jam, one of the largest hip-hop festivals in the U.S., in 1999 and the televised “Blaze Battle” sponsored by HBO in 2000.
Young said the date and venue of the tribute show had initially been set up by Larsen’s good friend and fellow emcee Kristoff Krane.
“With the passing of Eyedea last week, Kristoff canceled the tour,” Young said. “We decided to keep the date and turn it into a free benefit concert with all bar proceeds going to Eyedea’s family.”
Local rappers Illogic and The Midas Touch performed in addition to Alleyes Path at the tribute show.
Larsen also released a solo album under his pen name “Oliver Hart,” as well as collaborative projects with his freestyle live jazz group, Face Candy. He also created an alternative-rock band named Carbon Carousel.
Eyedea fan Stephen Tabatowski said Larsen’s music was some of the first hip-hop he ever listened to.
“I was too pretentious to listen to anything on the radio, so it was all Eyedea and Abilities, Slug and Aesop Rock,” Tabatowski said.
His non-battle rhymes were often philosophical and followed narratives. The quick pace of his rhymes was well-known to many underground hip-hop fans.
“You challenged me without tearing me down. You pushed and encouraged me to be a better person. You had my back even when I didn’t have my own back,” said Sean “Slug” Daley, half of the rap act Atmosphere, about the late rapper.
A public wake for Larsen will be held in his hometown of St. Paul, Minn., on Thursday. A tribute show is set to take place Nov. 9, what would have been Larsen’s 29th birthday.