by Quinn Cory
assistance by Markus Sherman
Before Milwaukee-based rapper Milo set off for tour a few days ago, we had the chance to visit him at his south side lab and living quarters. The home operates as a studio for himself and a few of his close collaborators.
We sat at a large round table in his kitchen. Books, tapes, letters, and papers were scattered about. A shipment of “So The Flies Don’t Come” vinyls were delivered earlier that morning and covered half of the living room floor. Boxes had been stacked and ready to take along for the upcoming tour.
If you aren't familiar with his sound, think of Busdriver or Open Mike Eagle to start. Milo delivers his content in a distinct, stream of conscious, spoken word manner. Often referencing philosophers and pop culture alike, the music created by this cat is best digested with a close listen. You wouldn't want to miss the articulation and attention-to-detail. In terms of production, the beats often used in the Milo catalog are experimental with a healthy dose of classic beat style cohesion. The result is a pastiche of some of the most noteworthy production sounds in hip hop's short but prolific history.
Milo spoke of a new beat he had just been working on before we arrived. The rapper also gave us some insight into his new project and how he has become closer than ever to the the sound he has been aspiring toward. The conversation was extensive and wavering. Overall, we covered “pretty much everything” as Milo later put it.
Who is Milo?
I’m not sure. I don’t know. All it could ever be is a history. It definitely started out as a 17 year old wanting to rap.
Who is Scallops Hotel?
An inside joke that has lived on for so long. It has just entered the realm of absurd.
How would you explain your purpose in the collective Ruby Yacht?
To cultivate the inspiration and to think of the future.
How would you describe Ruby Yacht?
It is my clearing house. Sometimes it’s a label or a publishing company or a name to put on the lease. It can be whatever I need it to be. My relationship to it is that it’s a tool and I am the user. It involves some of my close friends who I make music with.
You’ve been described as an art rapper.
Every rapper is an art rapper really. I would say what makes you an art rapper is a desire to be different, which all rappers have. To what degree do you indulge that capacity of yourself to be different? Cam’ron is an art rapper for sure. Gucci, art rapper. Future, art rapper.
Is it possibly a statement about where hip hop is going?
I think it’s a statement about freedom. When people are in a place of wealth and safety you can express yourself more clearly.
Your tour is mostly in the south, this next leg.
When you are on my level, a broke indie rap dude, you make good money by going to regional markets. Places like Milwaukee and even smaller, where entertainment doesn’t come often. it’s a spectacle, rap from a ways. For me, a region like New England will take a little more time because I’m hitting smaller shows than Future would, for example. I just did the North and there are still these other places to go. We kind of freaked this Southern tour with the Ruby Yacht, Red Guard deployment.
Are you excited for tour?
I am really excited. I can’t wait. I love being on tour. I really love driving, a lot. I love the kind of thinking you do on long drives. I like rapping. Sometimes it’s difficult to stay inspired and want to deliver a consistent show, instead of an authentic one. That’s always a battle in the mind on tour. Overall it’s cool, you eat good food. You just dial in, look for the best food.
What are you looking to indulge in when you’re traveling?
Almost always vegetarian soul food, if possible. There are a few fantastic places for that. Anything that is recommended. Shit comes recommended that is peculiar and fantastic.
Are you anticipating this tour then?
I don’t know, the South has been a little strange to me. I was in Arizona on tour once and Kenny Segal got arrested. I’ve been pulled over in New Orleans. I’ve done a lot of time in Texas that has just been… weird. Shit is different.
When you’re on stage there is this full live effect, a cohesion that’s going on with your set, as opposed to a DJ.
I would love to have a DJ though. I do with what I have. I have never had one. I try to be an artist with it. Coming up, I have never known a DJ or been friends with one, never had one around me. When shows started to get offered to me, I didn’t have anyone to back me up. I had to figure out how to do it without one. Luckily there are cats doing that, Open Mike Eagle, Busdriver, etc. That’s where I got my cues from. I started using the 404 because Busdriver did. I saw him at Reggie’s Club in Chicago, right after my freshman year of college. He had a 404 and 202. So I got a 404 and 202. It’s that easy.
What is your relationship to Milwaukee?
I live here presently. This is my second time living here. I lived here for a summer when I was still in college. I had an apartment downtown. I rented a room for the summer. At that time I was really smitten with Milwaukee. There weren’t as many rap or hip hop acts at the time. Pre WebsterX, Pre NAN, pre all this stuff. It’s really interesting. I didn’t really know that many people. I was working on my very first EP. ‘Things That Happened At Day/Things That Happened At Night’, ’Cavalcade’, stuff like that. I was penny boarding across town to go to this dude Nicholas Donald's house to record. It was cool. It just seemed fun. I went to school at such a weird, yuppie, bizarro, anti-cultural, anti-intellectual kind of place. So I thought Milwaukee was a bustling center of cool.
How would you compare that to what Milwaukee is now for you?
Now Milwaukee is a cool place to hide out. It’s a lovely place to hide out. It feels like a city that is relatively small to where it can be understood and utilized and even manipulated. I’ve put in more time here than anywhere else. What I am doing and the kind of music that myself and my friends are making is especially exciting here and now. It isn’t the case everywhere else, other rappers have huge budgets. When we lived in LA, the same city as Vince Staples, Earl Sweatshirt, you know. These people have the budgets of millionaires and they are doing shows all around the city and it’s different. Out here you can throw an exciting event without having to be so plugged in.
What does that do to your creative process?
Overall I like making music more here. Out here, I just work out of my bedroom. In LA, you’re in a lot of different studios and with a lot of different artists. You’re always collaborating on a different scale. There’s a lot on the line.
What are some of your first inspirations?
Probably just aesthetics in general. My very first raps were when I was five or six, a very little child trying to sound like something I’d heard before. Purely imitation. Definitely in school, the cool factor of showing off and trying to impress different people. Just kind of a weird party trick that you do throughout school. Sometime in college, sophomore year, it became an outlet. It was expressive. Before it was representational.
Did you develop your technical skill before your true voice then?
No, I’m still developing more skill. It’s a weird thing to think about. I’ve been rapping for five years, since my first mixtape came out. This is the first year where I really have my own sound and something to say. I think “what if i just started now?”
I’ve heard you use that metaphor of presentness before. I wonder if you have anything to say about that. I remember you saying something about wanting people to hear your music and then immediately forget about it.
It’s a thing for me in the sense of thinking of culture or thinking of art as something you digest. Something has an effect on you, you digest it and you move on. You may not be conscious of it anymore but it’s become a part of you.
Have you ever had periods of depression?
Yeah, I guess so. I don’t know. It’s weird. Even using words like that introduces a framework of thinking of oneself that I kind of reject. I wouldn’t go to someone else for a diagnosis about my mind. But sure, I’ve been melancholy. I’ve been down.
Have you ever gone through periods of not writing?
I have. The longest period would’ve been something like eight or nine months. There have been two eight month ones. One was right after I released ‘Milo Takes Baths’ and another one was right after I released ‘Poplar Grove’ for Scallops Hotel. I guess eight or nine months is just my reset period, those were definitely times were I felt kind of bottom-of-the-wellish. Life had kind of become overwhelming. Usually a good record comes soon after.
What causes it?
Really just life. For example, after I did ‘Milo Takes Baths’ I did the double EP and I was really hating where I was going to school and all this weird shit. My living arrangement was really bizarre and I couldn’t record anymore. I had a roommate who was randomly assigned to me, I didn’t know them. So for a full semester I just didn’t record. I didn’t even bother writing because I knew I couldn’t record. It sucked. But then I got transferred, just life happened. After Scallops Hotel, I moved to Chicago and I was so broke. I didn’t have enough money to live in Chicago. I was working, trying to find different hustles without getting an actual job. Trying to make money off of my own music. I started making cassettes. That’s when I started touring. I probably tour 200 to 250 days out of the year. That’s when this groove started. It sucks a lot of energy out but it inspires you too. So it works.
How would you describe your process of creating a song?
I don’t know. It depends. There are so many different ways. I have many routines, which is the thing. I have to ask. What are we working for? Do I wanna make a rap? Do I want to make a beat? Do I want to make a rap for a Hellfyre Club or Scallops Hotel? It really just depends. For the most part though, I usually just make the beat in my room and feel inclined to say something.
Are the aesthetics for these created personas consciously created or naturally developed?
I would say that living presents, just raw life experience, presents these alternatives. You call them personas. I don’t know what they are. I feel like a lot of artists have a lot of tools, but they just feel like tools. Maybe I want to make a Beach Boys record so I just wear the same shirt that I saw Brian Wilson wear in a photo and wear that over and over. That would be the aesthetic that influences me in that time. I wouldn’t call it myself though. It’s something we did at that time, an alternative, an idea.
So just there you specified time. Is that a part of it?
Time is huge. Yeah. Time is a big deal. That’s kind of how Redwall started. We were into this idea of making documents. Like cartographers of time. There is this idea or phrase, art is how we decorate place, music is how we decorate time. Redwall is cartographer, a time document of our moments in LA. Time is very huge. It’s something I think about a lot in my music.
Is RED WALL active?
Yes, very. We were making beats all weekend. Redwall is an artist contract. It’s a lifelong collaboration. Everything Al and I do, in tandem, is Redwall. Everything we do. We made a document that came with the first record that defined it in very specific terms but basically it’s just two artists deciding to go in on art together forever and to document that process, starting at the age of 22. We like each other a lot, obviously. But there is a business element of a contract, kind of weird, signing in blood. It’s just an experiment.
How would you describe your relationship to Open Mike Eagle?
He’s the dude. He is the visionary. He’s a huge source of inspiration for so many people. He’s my boy now. I’ve known him for awhile but I am a lot younger than him. Relationships with age gap can be kind of superficial. But once you start working with someone on art. Touring is kind of grueling, long drives, carrying heavy shit, keeping your stamina up. You start to find that your rhythms will mesh well with some people and won’t with others. Ones where you have similar rhythms you start to fuck with them a lot. Touring is cool with him, I could do it for two months easy. Let’s go. That’s a special kind of bond. That’s where we’re at.
What has the Internet done to music?
I don’t know. I haven’t known music without the Internet, so I don’t feel that I could answer that question. For me the Internet has always been a part of how I understand music, how I got music. I can’t imagine any of us being interested in music without the internet. Even your publication. Without the Internet it would be more controlled by major labels, the vetting process which is instigated by the A&R, club promoters, and shit like that as opposed to putting your shit online. Find your audience, use them as a bargaining chip with A&R promoters. It’s a different thing now.
Does it make it better now?
Great music has always existed. Shit lacks development now. Nobody wants to take the time to develop things. People already think they have the million dollar idea or way of being or they are not thinking long game. Not thinking about art in 10 years or 15 years, or how their art will sound in 20 years from now. There is rap from 1985 that still sounds good today. There is rap from 1985 that you laugh at.
Do you feel more accessible?
In some ways, yes. But in other ways no.
How was your experience making the song, ‘On the Way to Something Else’ with Q.The.Sun?
Q wanted me to show him a beat he made. So I get to his house. WebsterX is there and Lex Allen and they were recording a song and I waited for them to finish. We were jamming out and catching the vibe. I just started writing observations down. Q played this other beat when they were done. By that time I already had 8 bars or something down. His beat was super cool. So I wrote the song in about 30 minutes. I did it in a one take. It was cool and really easy. I love songs like that. They are the best kind.
Did you feel a connection to do something that quickly?
I would say that Q The Sun is a professional. He is a master craftsman. He was confident that he knew the beat was for me. When I heard it I just dialed in. When someone is good at what they do, it shows.
OK. In ‘one eight-hour shift at the theater will earn you $66’... is that Wilford Brimley sample authentic?
That’s a real dude. I really got this voice mail. I’m going to put up another hotline and I hope he calls again, super weird. When I first did the Scallops Hotel album, I made these phone book ads. I had three different places to premiere them. I had this 24 hour hotline. I had my friend Nedarb Nagrom do this long voice mail and I just farmed all the voice mails. I got over 800 voice mails. We listened to all of them. It was something we did as an evening event. Most of them were genuine. Some were cool, some were so bizarre. There were definitely some haters. The ad said, ‘For a Stay at the Scallops Hotel, enjoy two nights’. One was a seafood menu offer. They were fly, it was cool. I got that idea from They Might Be Giants. They had this thing, dial a song. Call these different numbers and hear an exclusive track if you decoded all of this stuff that they did. It was fly.
What have you been recreationally listening to?
This song ‘Plump Skins’ by KMD. It’s a phenomenal song. It’s on their album 'Black Bastards' which I’ve been listening to a lot. A lot of Idris Muhammed, Homeshake, a lot of Leon Thomas, and Serengeti. On tour I did a couple shows with Serengeti and I was able to get his first record from when he was still in college called ‘Dirty Flamingo’.
What’s your favorite song on that album?
‘What A Day’. It’s this super smooth song about the streets of the city you’d live and that you love calling your name for you to go out and explore. It’s a song you’d write at the age of 21 and think to yourself it’s some wise shit.
Do you subscribe to any philosophical schools of thought?
I’m really into Schopenhauer, Marcus Garvey, Sun Ra, Black Nationalism. I am very into that stuff. To my knowledge, there is not a lot of synthesis to that except for this one cat named Henry Dumas. Aside from him, not a lot of synthesis between those two words. So for me, that’s kind of what I am trying to explore through my music. Whether philosophical or political framework of someone like Garvey, Sun Ra, and Schopenhauer intersect.
When is your birthday?
Oh, it’s coming up.
Yes it is. I got tickets to see Chappelle on February 1st and I leave for tour on February 2nd so I will just be driving to Scottsdale.
Are you gonna have some cake?
*laughter* Maybe. I can’t say.
Would you like to have some cake on your birthday?
I would love to, yes.
Emcee. The term. What does it mean to you?
The use of this term is not en vogue anymore. It’s passe. To me it’s still dope as fuck to be an Emcee. To most cats, it’s kind of corny. To bust some rhythms, control a crowd. I love that shit, it’s amazing. Not just rapping. Masters of Ceremonies. Making sure people are having a good time?
Are you an Emcee?
Hell yeah, definitely I am. I haven’t always been.