Ghiath Matar is dead. That’s the first thing Rory Ferreira wants you to know on “who told you to think??!!?!?!?!,” his most recent album under the moniker milo. Since 2011, Ferreira has had a steady output of mixtapes and albums, both as milo and as Scallops Hotel, and he has always seemed comfortable orbiting the rap world with his Hellfyre Club compatriots, unconcerned with popular opinion. Milo’s raps are stubborn and rich in literary and historical references. As a listener, you’re going to have to put in work. He grew up in Maine and Wisconsin and ran circuits through Chicago and LA’s indie rap scene, but it’s impossible to label him as sounding like a city. To put it bluntly, milo’s in his own lane.
But seven years and change into the game, it seems like milo has taken on a new responsibility. The opener to “who told you to think??!!?!?!?!,” “Poet (Black Bean),” is framed with a James Baldwin speech that outlines milo’s approach to this album: He is the poet that society needs. The album is essentially milo’s support of this claim, and as a result of this larger context, it drips with a swag that’s unique to his discography. It’s not like milo hasn’t been an intensely smart MC this whole time–it’s that he’s proud of it now. Just like Lil Pump flexes his diamonds, milo is flexing his poetic muscles.
This newfound confidence could’ve been milo’s downfall. Plenty of rappers have cast themselves as outsiders looking down on their dumb peers. Thankfully, milo doesn’t seem to have time for that. His confidence shines elsewhere, including in the album’s self-produced tracks. On some of them, he invites guest rappers like Elucid and Self-Jupiter to tear up his own craftwork. Another musical highlight is the driving groove on “Call + Form (Picture)” courtesy of DJ Nobody, and there are several from frequent collaborator, Kenny Segal. The beats on this album are less obtuse and carry more weight than on previous milo projects; head-bobbing grooves alternate with somber, low-end instrumentation, giving milo ample space to muse. He settles in nicely but he also challenges himself, like on “Sorcerer,” which features trap hi-hats and was initially considered “unrappable” by Kenny Segal.
There’s a lot of variety on this album. Tracks range from slow-burners to giddy posse cuts to shorter interlude tracks that fray in whatever direction milo pleases. What holds it all down is milo’s bars. He sounds hungry, like he has something to prove, but he also sounds like he’s having fun with it–a tough balance to strike. With his new responsibility as society’s poet, milo puts more energy into his cadence and the rhymes pop more.
It’s hard to call this album accessible–I spent an hour researching Ghiath Matar because of this record’s opening line–but milo seems aware of this. He’s toying with the idea of an “underground” rapper and what it means when that term is thrown around freely. Underground hip-hop has been around since before the mumble rappers of today were born, and milo’s wordy, winding yarns seem like they would fit snugly into this category. But milo doesn’t care. He’s not interested in putting labels on anything. He’s just interested in doing what he does best, and if anybody wants to question it, he didn’t tell them to think.
milo will be performing at Brooklyn Bowl on June 7th at Northside Festival. Tickets here.