Rory Ferreira, who goes by the mononym Milo (although, like Gandalf, names are his many: Scipio, Corduroy Coon Prince and so on), is the 23-year-old nerdprodigy at the heart of a growing movement in hip-hop: a new wave of underground artists unafraid to wear their erudition on their sleeve. Their songs do tackle the old bogeys of racial strife, poverty and oppression. But these songs are also about reading philosophers and watching nerdy science fiction films and geeking out over western classical music and samurai culture and thought experiments. Milo has recently released his second album. Called So The Flies Don’t Come, it contains 10 new tracks that see him in domineering form. Call it underground rap, art rap or alt rap: it is dense, thought-provoking stuff from an artist whose wisdom — and penchant for self-critical soliloquies — belie his years.
In the short intro Rabblerouse, Milo introduces himself as “the Melungeon porch monkey accompaniment”, referring to the racially ambiguous Melungeon people of southeastern USA (Milo has constantly dodged questions about his ethnicity). He also says: “World picturing, place-making, gate keeping / Do my best scheming in the late evening / I write poems and build suits of armor for suicide note authors” Make no mistake: these are poems that Milo has written, verses of remarkable nimbleness, punctuated with neologisms, portmanteaus and other surprising turnsof phrase.
The album is well and truly in top gear with the track Zen Scientist, which features a soul hook sang by Myka 9. Milo’s flow on this track and the kind of mid-tempo swagger he shows are both characteristic of his style: thoroughly post-modern, yet with a sly insight into “the old gods” who he “worships on the iPod”. He raps: “Cc me when you supersize your intentions / I’ll be in the frozen food aisle until then / It’s a lead lid on this pillbox / I plan on living until the bills stop / Budding curmudgeon with cudgel bludgeon the kerfuffle of the welterweight / That’s understated” On Re: Animist, Milo tears into the nature of modern-day pop culture consumerism, expressing his desire to “decapitate a Metacritic god”. The song begins with him recalling the day when he was “reading Nausea in a tent with a girl named Sasha”. Nausea, of course, is the iconic novel by Jean-Paul Sartre where the protagonist gets nauseated by the barriers society erects against his personal and intellectual freedom: Milo is keenly aware of how prescient that book is turning out to be vis-à-vis the 21st century.
In the short intro Rabblerouse, Milo introduces himself as “the Melungeon porch monkey accompaniment”, referring to the racially ambiguous Melungeon people of southeastern USA.
There are plenty of other literary and philosophical references as well: Under an Echo Tree alludes to Martin Heidegger with its last line while Souvenir name-checks both Haruki Murakami and Italo Calvino. There is an entire song, True Nen, devoted to Hunter x Hunter, an anime show. The really impressive part is that this is not nerdzoning for its own sake: Milo uses these springboards to make some very interesting observations about the way we live today: from paycheck to paycheck, with an oppressive, upwardly mobile optimism that slips into nihilist mode at the slightest setback.
Milo is a part of the Hellfyre Club, an L.A.-based label that specialises in alternative and underground rap. The last track on his album is an ode to Busdriver, a fellow Hellfyre traveller. Milo describes his music thus: “It’s never art for art’s sake / Despite whatever the corpse of a Marxist thinks / Thinking, dwelling, building, sinking, swelling, filling, shrinking” The same can be said of his own work, one feels. Listening to So The Flies Don’t Come, one can’t help but wonder just how good Milo can get 8 or 10 years down the line.