By Beau Finley, Contributor
[Ruby Yacht; 2017]
Key Tracks: “Landscaping,” “Sorcerer,” “Ornette’s Swan Song”
The opening track of Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?!, Milo’s third LP, opens with a James Baldwin speech that proselytizes upon the function of the poet in modern society. Baldwin concludes the poets are who understand every human being’s struggle. Milo boldly asserts himself into this canon of poets and black writers whilst simultaneously reaffirming the need for an “underground hip-hop” scene with a series of tracks that posit as some of the wordsmith’s best.
Milo’s artistic growth comes to a head on WTYTT??!!?!?!?!. His 2015 album, So the Flies Don’t Come, showed Milo writing in his own coded language which was informed by his background in philosophy and unapologetically nerdy references. Early in Milo’s discography, these references are interesting simply for the fact that somebody is rapping about these obscurities. With Flies, and now WTYTT??!!?!?!?!, Milo has taken these influences and fused it into his own poetry and worldview. This fusion creates something entirely unique but simultaneously esoteric, requiring close listens, and maybe an open google tab for good measure. A theme throughout the album is Milo’s artistic growth. The lead single, “Magician (Suture),” opens with some spoken word: “My transmissions began when diamond said to coal, ‘Why so yielding?’ / A journey / The valley of quest / The valley of love / The valley of understanding / The valley of independence / The valley of unity … The quest.” His writing is self-reflexive in that he is concerned about his own journey as an artist and as a person.
In just the first two songs there are references to diseased Syrian activist Ghiath Matar, Paul Thomas Anderson movies, Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Banjo-Kazooie, and Courage the Cowardly Dog characters and Canadian post-rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor, to name a few. He deviates between the referential lines and the kind of braggadocio that only Milo could conceive with bars like, “I spend experience points on knowledge, cunning, and stealth / Spit a diaphanous gossamer and then he signed it in calligraphy / Sincerely, just another blasphemous philosopher.” He compares his vocabulary to “a bar fight with Gary Gygax.”
The sound of the album harkens back to classic hardcore hip-hop with a modern twist of layered, detailed and hypnotic beats, which were made under Milo’s Scallops Hotel moniker. These instrumentals are the sonic equivalent of a dust-covered spellbook one can find in their grandmother’s attic. Production on other tracks include the credits of Kenny Segal, who produced all of Milo’s last LP, among others. All the beats are laid back compared to the energy that was on So The Flies Don’t Come. As far as the features go, they all manage to meet the bar their host has set. Elucid and Milo seem to always be on the same page, while Self Jupiter’s verse on “Ornette’s Swan Song” is one of the best verses this year. The album’s posse cut, “Yet Another” has a fiery verse from newcomer Lorde Fred33. Busdriver on the closer, “Rapper,” is free-wheeling and fun when matched with Milo’s precise prose.
Milo’s endless self-reflexivity has resulted in an album that only he could make. Milo should be cemented as one the game’s, if not best, most unique MC’s after this LP. Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?! reasserts the value of a vast and varied rap scene.