Rapper Eric Axelman Explores Art, Education and Activism

He found himself immersed in the Providence hip-hop scene.


After pursuing a degree in Environmental Science from Brown, Eric Axelman found himself immersed in the local hip-hop scene. A collaboration with producer Cognate on a mixtape was the first step towards a career shift from the science lab to basement shows, studios and classrooms where he began an exploration of social issues through rap, film and educational outreach. Eric found purpose in his music, and saw it as a vehicle for a larger conversation.

Like any good musical journey, Eric’s started in his basement. “Those basement shows were the most fun I’d had really doing anything, and really made me reconsider my career path.” It was at one of these basement shows that Eric met his frequent collaborator and artistic/teaching partner, Oliver ‘SydeSho’ Arias. With a catalog of music to take into the community, Eric began to perform at venues such as Aurora and AS220.

His music soon became education: “During this time while I was developing as an artist, I also began working at The Wheeler School,” Eric says. With SydeSho as a teaching partner, the two started a course that uses social activism and hip-hop to deal with complex issues of race, inequality and cultural appropriation. A city like Providence is no stranger to these conversations and issues, so a multiple disciplinary approach such as Eric’s is a way to open the discussion.

On October 28, Eric released his first solo album, Too Much. While the songs are the vehicle, Eric works to make his music part of a larger experience with music videos – which you can see on his website – taking on an important role in his art. Songs like “Talk Too Much” and “Too Much Space” stand out; neither is reminiscent of hip-hop from any particular time while Eric’s lyrics and flow have a sense of urgency. Both songs feature beats by Cognate that range from the electronic and blippy in “Too Much Space” to the airy and spacious synths in “Talk Too Much.” The minimalism of Cognate’s production allow Eric room to explore. In the almost speaking, chanting style of a man with a megaphone, Eric examines our reality with staccatoed delivery.

The video experience of “Talk Too Much” offers a glimpse into Eric’s approach to not only writing a song, but providing a full sensory interaction with his audience. The video portrays Eric stuck in one space over all four seasons. It is a conscious intent to nail down an unreliable reality.

An all-encompassing piece of art dominates the material that Eric produces and it is often the result of experimentation and the need to give his listeners a taste of “the journey” as he sees it. “There are few things as satisfying as making art that you love.” Eric says. “I’m excited to keep the train rolling, both by myself and with my collaborators, especially Cognate and Nik Damants, who really inspire and motivate me.”

Eric is also the executive director of Pushed Learning and Media, a non-profit organization focused on live performances and talks centered on racial inequality and cultural appropriation. Never one to slow down, he’s also in the postproduction stage of a documentary film about how “American Jews interpret narratives from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the role of Israel in forming American Jewish identity.” Playing the role of director, Eric spent three weeks in Israel and the West Bank conducting interviews with people on all sides of the conversation.

What lies at the core of what Eric does appears to be his need to communicate and connect to truth. Listening and seeing, observing and hearing are a core part of the action Eric takes. Art might be the overall tag, but just as we find ourselves in a flurry of information, Eric seeks to put his message out in a flurry of ways. Not seeing one all-encompassing vehicle for his art, Eric lets an album do his talking, film be his sign language and teaching be the way he finds a connection to a complex world.

Eric Axelman
Performing at Aurora with The Funk Underground
December 15, 276 Westminster Street