Maine-based rapper milo will bring his signature art-rap to the Marquis Theatre this Thursday night. Part rap, part spoken word poetry, milo injects literary devices like repetition and lyricism into his rhymes while incorporating meter and rhythmic syncopation to give his words an elevated sense of musicality. His lyrics are smart, dotted with high-brow literary references to writers such as the novelist Jean Genet and Sufi poet Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat, all delivered through clever wordplay.
Articulate and deeply self-aware, milo uses juxtaposition to make a pointed statement. Just consider the line, “you should have heard his first mixtape, that’s when he had the dopest rhymes,” on the opening track of his second album. The placement of this line both highlights the rapid cycling of trending musicians while simultaneously beating his critics to the punch — a literary move that positively rings with razor-sharp precision.
He even brings in a critique of the term “art-rap” itself in the closing track of the album, sovereign nose of (y ) our arrogant face. He asks listeners why his rapping style constitutes the term art-rap, suggesting that obscure intellectualizing isn’t a requirement for creating something of artistic value. It is a question that many creatives have grabbled with, and a pointed critique that milo circles back to throughout his rapping career.
Annunciation is key to milo’s rapping style, which not only is witty but is fast, hard and straight to the point — no bullshit. His rapidly spoken, sometimes atonal approach to rapping has been referred to by other critics as “mumblecore,” but milo is so clear, so articulate, in his delivery, you could use his raps as a manual for speaking English. Articulation is just the first distinctly noticeable element of his approach to lo-fi hip-hop.
Milo waxes poetic over muted keys and gentle beats, sounding like a modern take on Roy Ayers’ signature Chicago blues. Indeed, milo was born in Chicago’s South Side, so perhaps the Chi-town influence is coded within his DNA. He moved around the midwest growing up, attending college in Wisconsin before moving to L.A. briefly. The 26-year-old wordsmith now resides in Maine, where he operates a record store. He also started his own record label, Ruby Yacht, another reference to the Persian poet Omar Khayyam.
His music captures his regional movement, sampling pitched up vocals and orchestral strings to the effect of J. Dilla. Yet his muted beats also draw influence from a wide span of scenes, from Brooklyn’s lo-fi beat scene to L.A.’s beat-work stylings. A man who cannot be confined to a single sound, milo creates complex and nuanced tracks that are simultaneously deep and mesmerizing. To quote Virginia Woolf, “whatever he writes is stamped with his own idiosyncrasy,” as milo has carved out a niche of his own within the world of independent hip-hop.
Opening up for milo is rapper and beatmaker Pink Navel, who is affiliated with milo’s Ruby Yacht label. He creates whimsical yet emotional beats that incorporate elements of chip-tune and other unconventional samples. His mixtape odyssey tape is comprised entirely of samples from Mario Sunshine, Mario Galaxy and primarily Mario Odyssey.
SB the Moor is also slated to perform, adding a twist of the west coast to the primarily east coast lineup. SB the Moor masks their own voice in a thick coat of autotune and, coupled with abrasive synths, have created a dark, glitchy name for themselves in the indie rap scene. Self-described as the “emo side of art-rap,” SB the Moor has mastered the ability to transplant their listeners into a virtual, cybernetic reality.
Milo released his first mixtape, I wish my brother Rob was here, in 2011 and since then has released a total of 11 solo records. His most recent album, budding ornithologists are weary of tired analogies, dropped in September of 2018 and will be his last record released under the milo moniker. Hopefully, this won’t be the last opportunity to catch the wordsmith — but if it is, you won’t want to suffer a lifetime of regret by missing one of the most complex rappers in the scene.
Milo, SB the Moor and Pink Navel will be performing Thursday night at the Marquis Theater. Doors are at 7 p.m., and tickets are available here.