Bryson Edward Howe
WTYTT??!!?!?!?!: The Prophet and the Poet
milo's enigmatic magnum opus is a cornucopia of abstract, cultural ideas waiting to be excavated.
"I wanna suggest that the poets are finally the only people who know the truth about us. Soldiers don't, statesmen don't, priests don't, union leaders don't. Only the poets…"
The revolutionary words of James Baldwin haunt the cacophonous, cosmic opening track of philosopher / prophet / poet / rapper milo’s mythical magnum opus. Over a sonic poem of crackling, elegiac sounds, we are led through the intimate, utopic perspective of an initiate rooted in the philosophy and politics of Black radical tradition while he drags it kicking and screaming into the internet age. Somehow, in 15 tracks, Rory Ferreira, fka milo (aka R.A.P. Ferreira, scallops hotel, Black Orpheus, hi-yello the sly rebel, brother of the wind in the wisdom body, lord skipio, the corduroy coon prince, the be'er and boogiepops), manages to depict the mythos of the modern Black Man – while weightless sounds flicker, glitch and sparkle behind coded lyrics and wry observations that do carry so much weight in a way that only the self-professed "Black Bukowski" could possibly put into so many words.
Possessing a vocal disdain for traditional song structure, milo (who has stated that he wants his tracks to feel the same as how David Foster Wallace uses footnotes) instead has an artistic affinity for the "sloppy". Here, the swinging drums are deliberately off-time, often trailing behind any faint semblance of a beat, and in his track “sorcerer” milo repeats, like a mantra, "I flourish in the lag time". milo certainly flourishes artistically in this production style. His lyrics are spacy, ethereal, as if written in tranquility, in a post-dream haze; a contrast to his previous works which are erratic, impulsive, neurotic. This album has a love song, it has lyrics about lotus flowers and skipping stones, it's often about as wholesome as rap can be (not to mention that they are all first takes with live vocal effects). But milo is a con artist. His flowery poetry is designed to make people comfortable while digesting a cornucopia of lofty concepts, while the stillness in the production only lends more emphasis to the confronting reality that milo echoes; one that hip-hop has been yelling for years. This “lag time" is milo's refusal to just move on, sitting and relishing in this trauma instead of simply sweeping it under the rug.
However, behind the droning, incessant looping, and milo’s idle indolence, I think there lies a clear passion (and sometimes even a frustration or angst). The lyrics can barely contain themselves as milo trips over words and phrases like his shamanic patience can barely holster his need to speak. He now talks of milo’s "arc" being over, finished with the alias he birthed in his dorm room. fka. As he wrote on his Bandcamp page:
"to begin a poet and end a rapper // agency that is what makes the rapper an exceptional artist, beyond a poet."
milo has progressed from someone being a rapper because he loves it to being a rapper because he needs it. A venture not destined to "blow up" but a journey more visceral, instinctual, hard-wired. Necessary. Music to fill the cracks of his broken psyche. Songs filled with abstract reasoning and filtered through a very mundane, Midwest lens, milo’s "flexes" are not about money and fame but about being content and having the time to spend finding himself, his independence, and understanding of his own identity: an astonishing thing for a 25-year-old to do. No matter how many times in his lyrics he insists he thinks about quitting, he never will. It is this "agency", this imminence, where – as milo understands all too well – life can seem so ready to hasten away. "There might not be no next time".
His lyric, "I'm more bored than scared" pretty much sums it up. History isn’t repeating itself; it just hasn’t changed for longer than we can remember. Stemming from the death of Darrien Hunt, a 22-year-old cosplaying as a Samurai when a police officer fatally shot him in 2014 (a sentiment post-George Floyd that feels far too familiar), this is where the two big themes of the album come crashing together: violence and boredom, and where one breeds the other, milo instead proposes that we create art to keep ourselves distracted so we don’t create chaos: "If you go spit them trauma bars, it’s one thing. No doubt it is useful. But I want to start thinking about future thoughts — to present thoughts of flourishing, of being whole. That stuff, from non-trauma-based Black artists, I don’t hear a lot of right now. I’m just trying to contribute to that."
As a catalogue of culture, a time capsule of a developing philosophy, a mission statement for unity, unification and, ultimately, milo’s vision of a modern utopia, who told you to think??!!?!?!?! speaks to a broad generation of problems, yet is also rooted in milo’s personal history, now sunken and spread through disappearing bloodlines and wavering identities, a culture that has been stripped bare, robbed and lost. Wielding his talent as a weapon and as armour, WTYTT??!!?!?!?!’s slippery tendrils grasp at everything from colonialism to internet culture; from the landscape of rap to classic poetry and Anthony Fantano disses, spinning a web of referential ideas and generating an "oeuvre" more literary than any rap artist I've heard before. The lyrics are complex, cryptic, and will send you crawling to the Genius page looking for answers. It's a Pandora's Box of great art and culture, curating the best of philosophy and poetry and psychology, bridging them together in his own medium like some oracle-rap-scholar-historian (milo is a treasure chest for nerdy mavericks; the guy has a Pokémon tattoo, has had deep cut references in his lyrics to everything from The Lord of the Rings to Sega, and with more Zarathustra citations than a philosophy thesis). Acknowledging his fascination with the past goes deeper than nostalgia as he invents a spectrum of importance. milo is fluent in the divine energy that he sees rap music to be: a rhythmic, bodily, organic link to his ancestors through sound and language; a language made up from a history that he meticulously, fascinatingly dissects and reconnects in radical ways. That is milo's definitive strong suit, the babelisation of past cultures to shine a light on his own present one (and its r-a-p-i-d-l-y dimming future).
When mundanity transcends the suffering and tragedy and trauma, milo finds he "flourishes". But, when he speaks of utopia, he understands that his philosophies and politics are personal: "don’t stop running if you don’t see me ahead." Appropriately, milo describes the album as, "little aphorisms and landmines to burst your mind out of the mundane a moment, broken myth and hopes and torments, riddled out of myself as they came..." Here is a way out. Here is a way in. milo, the urban shaman, the sorcerer, the rapper. Prophet and poet, poet and prophet, over time the two facets have become so entwined it's hard to tell them apart. milo insists he didn’t choose to be an artist. That is his reality, and that of so many other Black people like him, it was a way out – and is why the album seems to resonate so inherently true. Because it is. Because artists like milo or Baldwin aren’t born; they are forged.
"It seems to me that the artist's struggle for his integrity is a kind of metaphor; must be considered as a metaphor for the struggle, which is universal and daily of all human beings on the face of this terrifying globe, to get to become human beings. It is not your fault, it is not my fault, that I write. I would never come before you in the position of a complainant for doing something that I must do... I must do."
Listen to our collection of genre-stretching, boundary-pushing, new-wave
songs by milo and the gang. This is the new rap school of thought.