Review Summary: dodging the gatekeeperOur transmissions begin the minute we leave home.
Dissent. Hack through the tangle of green tendrils until your own path is cleared. Write thousands of non-sequiturs until they, on their lonesome, form a cohesive argument or mission statement. Repeat yourself and/or contradict yourself where you see fit. Switch to autopilot and throw a party in the cockpit. Trim the vines growing over your garden fence until you can see the sun again, and while you’re at it, make sure your outline remains iridescent. Flick different turns of phrase over your knuckles like they're coins. Repeat yourself. Never contradict yourself.
Milo’s arch is an interesting one. His first outingI Wish My Brother Rob Was Here
proliferated quickly, and yet the tape sounded reluctant to accept the accolades that were foisted upon it. The record introduced us to a style that was individualistic yet erratic. Milo, here and always, neglects to put on a mask, but remains elusive by expounding on every facet of his personality over an inner circle of reserved, introspective beats. There was Just Us
– a precursor and a eulogy, imbued with startling sincerity (“…When your Facebook becomes your memorial page…”
) and production that evolved from playful to poignant as Milo did the same. Minutes later came Super Happy Sunshine Fun Club
– evident in its intentions and featherbrained in its social commentary.
With the Day/Night EPs and A Toothpaste Suburb
, Milo demonstrated that he had no intention of switching it up (i.e. he would continue to switch it up, constantly). The instrumentals on either release danced around behind a thin screen of mist, and the man at the helm continued to assail his subject matter from diagonals – not so much keeping his rhymes on a leash as he was letting them go where they pleased. Milo Takes Baths
were both detours that painted equally stunning portraits: the production undulated infinitely – especially on Cavalcade
– and the myriad philosophical references seemed to look towards the future somewhere, eyes piqued and honing in on a tangible vision. He got tantalizingly close in So The Flies Don’t Come
, but the message was hidden, communicated through a daydream.
“I would never come before you in the position of a complainant, for doing something that I must do.”
So context is important because it feels like Milo’s latest, who told you to think??!!?!?!?!
, is a culmination of both ideology and style. The first thing and, perhaps not coincidentally, the most important thing that one notices about this record is that it radiates confidence. It evokes many a thing, this confidence: a sense of urgency, a man attaining an oft-coveted position of power. Though mainly (and this won’t surprise a single soul that follows Milo on Twitter) the confidence is so obviously the product of an artist obsessed with the concept of agency. It’s not just an obsession, either, as Poet (Black Bean)
makes abundantly and immediately clear straight out the gate. No, the record’s opener is galvanized and bristling, positing this autonomy as an imperative not just for the individual, but for an entire school of thought. I think it’s a fascinating angle, and despite being disconnected from the cause by both ocean and circumstance, I can feel the record’s precedent set like concrete in real time. By lyric, by delivery, by basement-beats and an urgent need for raised voices – this record parades its vitality, as it revolves slowly around the axis of self-determinism.
And this isn’t just a case of speculation on my part. Though still curtained by the abstract, the conceptual, this sovereignty is very axiomatically the record’s thesis statement. Clarity is afforded, in no small part, to Milo’s delivery. It’s a technique simple yet irrefutably effective – repeating lines, I mean, and it’s used here to inform the listener of an idea’s significance. “Ya’ll was imitating God tryna mimic our sounds”
, he spits in Landscaping
, as an affirmation of his culture’s worth. Then: “Godspeed you, black emperor”
, he reiterates in Call + Form
(or is it “Godspeed you! Black emperor”?), to bring the point home. To consolidate the message, and in direct opposition to pre-emptive critics, who told you to think??!!?!?!?!
uses the negative space more effectively than any other project by the Hellfyre alumnus. In Call + Form’s
roll-call for real MCs, the rapper pointedly remarks: “Your voice is needed”
, then he lets the request hang in the air, beckoning contemplation, prompting action. It’s important to let future custodians think and evaluate for themselves.
In the same vein, it’s important that this record isn’t necessarily an accessible one. It rises out of the ashes with a sample of James Baldwin – a social analyst and major influence – who portends the critic and sets the record’s parameters. This introduction proves that the album has travelled from Milo’s (a mystifying auteur here, more than ever) world to ours – riding in on a ruby yacht and taking up residency at Scallops Hotel. His world is full of oxymorons: abstractions that provide clarity, controlled aggression, beats that are both cozy and paranoid; all of which are endearing yet thought-provoking. And so it may take time, I think, for fringe-dwellers to break through to this record's center, being that it takes pride in being opaque and obscure -- because why do records like this exist, if not to be studied and scrutinised and delved into? “IDK”
, Milo says flippantly; if you’re here for a cursory experience, he is “probably not the rapper for you”.
But us? the apostles, the students of Milo? We were here to see the spark become the flame, and it’s clear that this project is contingent on what came before it. IDK
would feel at home on So The Flies Don’t Come
, and Note to Mrs
similarly harkens back to the nostalgic vibes of A Toothpaste Suburb
. The record is cunning, streetwise, subversive -- as though it finds freedom by moving in the opposite direction to its forebears. With the realisation of this freedom, Milo manipulates his flow at will. He quite deliberately moves against the grain of the beat in Take Advantage of the Naysayer
, and will interject at random intervals with crazed adlibs and/or vocal glitches. But it isn’t self-indulgent, nor is it pretentious (side note: fuck that word). This creative direction takes Milo to the next phase naturally, and it's the only logical next step; the goals have been set by the record's predecessors.
“who told you to think??!!?!?!?! is about boundaries and permissions”
, reads Milo’s Bandcamp. While such appraisals are undeniably veracious, I don’t think it can be stressed enough that this is, more specifically, about reclaiming
those boundaries by placing emphasis on that which makes the individual; revelations by way of independence. But for all its soul-searching, the record never spurns the places where it lays its head at the end of the day. It’s an album more likely to call friends ‘brothers’ than ‘acquaintances’ and it has exactly zero stand-out hooks. Its sound is cobbled together from dusty cassettes and beat-up Rhodes pianos, floating along a river of loungeroom jazz sensibilities with the certainty that it will find itself a home. Which is to say: who told you to think??!!?!?!?!
does what it sets out to do -- but this time, the green horse for rap needs no jockey to get over the line.
Our transmissions conclude when we reach the end of the tunnel.