ABOVE: MILO. PHOTO BY NICHOLAS BARRANCO
There’s an almost mythic quality to milo’s rise in the hip-hop community: poetic wunderkind from rural Maine and urban Illinois uses Internet to gain popularity, proceeds to sign with his idols. But this soundbite simplification would portray the young rapper, real name Rory Ferreira, as yet another trending artist, and belie the unique tenderness of his music. To delve into milo’s oeuvre is to recover a sense of wonder in otherwise depressing post-modernity, inspired in equal parts by rap heroes, wrestlers, academic philosophy, dead friends, and the minutiae of everyday interaction. In milo’s world, these disparate elements coexist, and in fact elevate each other, to the point at which references to rappers of every milieu (“Some days I rap like Latyrx / Some days I rap like Rick Ross and them”) can be buttressed with dedications to Borges, ruminations on Hegel, and references to just about every other influential thinker or writer of the past few centuries.
It’s a style that could be construed as pretentious name-dropping, but in milo’s hands feels instead like an attempt to contextualize oneself and parse the many anxieties of influence. It’s this genuine honesty that sets milo apart from both aggressive trap rap as well as his “conscious” contemporaries. After a few EPs and mixtapes, a 20-year old milo was picked up by the like-minded Hellfyre Club as the youngest addition to an already impressive roster boasting L.A. rap mainstays such as Busdriver, Open Mike Eagle, and label founder Nocando. His first EP with Hellfyre in early 2013, things that happen at day/things that happen at night reached Number One on Bandcamp. Since then, the young rapper has been able to ride that success with late 2013’s cavalcade (comprised largely of America samples) to achieve a dedicated fanbase. We caught up with milo on the eve of his official debut, a toothpaste suburb, to talk about influences, current artists worth watching, and his adjustment to being on a label.
HOMETOWN(S): Chicago, IL and Saco, ME
CURRENT CITY: Los Angeles, CA
MILO VS. RORY: The name comes from The Phantom Tollbooth. I guess milo is a paradox versus Rory, right? The rapping utilizes all these real-life anxieties but in a way that is somewhat redeeming. In that way, I have more power, more agency, when I’m operating in the world as milo, because I can convert shitty things into money. I’ve always been rapping like this.
INFLUENCES (LITERATURE, PHILOSOPHY, RAP): Lately, James Baldwin has been a huge influence, and Pablo Neruda. I’ve been rereading Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon. I’m just amazed at how much that motherfucker can write. If you look at rap careers, typically a rapper only does maybe four or five albums throughout their whole career. So I’ve been looking at Neruda in particular, like how does this guy keep his output up his whole life? He’s been a huge influence, because I wanna be the most prolific! I wanna have the most albums! Right now, I’m really influenced by Myka 9. In the beginning, Open Mike Eagle was, and still is, my hero.
MEANING OF “TOOTHPASTE SUBURB”: “Toothpaste suburb,” to me, is about the absurdity. It’s about having abundance, about having access to everything, and still doing nothing.
CHICAGO/MAINE/WISCONSIN/L.A.: Obviously, Wisconsin and Maine in particular have informed in me a certain desire to just be nice, and a desire to collaborate that places like Chicago and L.A. find to be sort of quaint and outdated. So the way I approach music is oftentimes, in L.A., laughed at. I still think it’s a mystical thing! I still think it’s a magical enterprise, because I’m from fucking nowhere. I guess more than anything being from all these places just ensures that I get made fun of all the time when I’m trying to write rap songs.
I find a lot of my instincts in rap are formed from my time in Maine. Mainers love just an honest, authentic rap. Since 2001, in Portland, they’ve had that weekly rap night. It’s been through many names, but it’s been running longer than Low End Theory. It’s not a big scene, but I just mean to say that the craft has always been important to me, because, in part, I’m from nowhere. Chicago influences my music a lot in identity, in terms of dealing with blackness. Chicago is a very black city, and living there, rapping there, playing around with the malleability of the black artist: “What does that mean?,” flirting with that line.
JOINING HELLFYRE CLUB AND WORKING WITH IDOLS: It feels really good, but in the transition, I’ve had to be really mindful of leaving that fan headspace. Now we’re in a crew, now people are relying on me. Now Busdriver genuinely wants to know what my ideas are. There’s no time to placate. There was definitely a six-month period when I was like, “Man, these guys are the best!” and now it’s like, we’re coworkers now, and I have to get on the ball. They’ve influenced my process… honestly, not a lot. I write alone. I write at my house, I record at my house. If anything, I’ve changed their process. Now, Busdriver records in my bedroom. Verbs, I recorded him in my bedroom. I’m pretty self-motivated when it comes to writing raps. Interestingly enough, moving to L.A. and actually sitting in the studio with five other guys, listening to the same beat for two hours, that shit’s kind of interesting. I’d never done that. But, for the most part, my process is still very much the same.
RELEASING INDEPENDENTLY VIA BANDCAMP: I think about it so much… there are many business models to being a person who makes a living off of music, and sometimes I wonder if I fucked up. I immediately cashed out, from the jump. Bandcamp’s helped me do that; Bandcamp helps me pay every single bill. But maybe I sacrificed something by not giving things away for free. You think about that business model, with people like Chance, Mick Jenkins, these guys are all flourishing off this free model. It’s helped me make money, but I think it’s also maybe helped me not get big… or get bigger. But I don’t really wanna be any bigger, so it’s at a good place right now.
CURRENT OBSESSIONS: I’m super intrigued by this dude SB the Moor. That’s my dude, Christian’s my guy. I’m obsessed with the music he’s making. His tape, El Negro, is just flawless to me. He’s on some other shit. I really like Mick Jenkins’ music… I don’t think he likes me as a dude, but I love his shit, I play it all the time. That’s another thing that’s weird. Rappers are so fickle, man. It’s something I’ve had to get over, like, I know most of these guys now, and I know most of these guys don’t like me, because they think I’m a bumpkin or whatever. But, fuck it, I still like their music. The Water[s] is a fucking phenomenal project. I’ve been obsessed with Busdriver’s Perfect Hair, something I’ve been obsessed with for the past year, and now that it’s out I can finally talk about it. I wrote a weird little piece about it for my Tumblr page… I think Busdriver is the greatest living rapper. If you look at his résumé, if you look at how long he’s been doing it. I’m talking a career player right now. I think he’s the greatest living rapper. Innovation, and the fact he’s never had a manager, too. He’s piloted his own career. Just off that, balancing the business and the rap so well.
IF YOU WROTE THE GREATEST RAP SONG, WHO WOULD YOU LET HEAR IT?: You know what? I don’t know if I would let anyone hear it anymore. Maybe a year ago I would say my boys, but nowadays I don’t even know if I would want to show people that, if I wrote the greatest rap song. I don’t know if it would be unfair to show that to people.