Rapper milo’s lyrics are full of rewards—if you can figure out what he means
If you’ve been looking for a rapper who can easily reference both Aristotle and Pokémon Go on the same record, I’ve got good news for you.
Maine-based emcee milo recently released “who told you to think??!!?!?!?!,” his third full-length album. And yes, I had to copy and paste the title to make sure I got the punctuation correct.
If you happen to have been keeping up with what the underground rapper has been doing for a while, you’ll probably find some things familiar about his newest record, because, in many ways, milo sticks to his typical playbook.
For those of you that haven’t heard of milo before, that playbook typically involves dreamy, jazzy beats and dense (and I mean dense) lyrics.
Milo’s truest talent is, first and foremost, the crafting of his lyrics. His rhymes are of the sort that poetry dorks and English majors would drool over. Take, for example, this grouping of bars from the third track on the album, “Call + form (picture)”: “It’s October so I’m reading Nabokov again, / I mark the book with an olive colored pen. / In that nest of complex questions / And unapologizing brutalities, / Freedom is its own kind of salary.”
The final line in that is a beautiful phrasing for something that seems obvious: freedom is inherently valuable. But there are some things worth unpacking through the rest of the lines. Vladimir Nabokov, a Russian author perhaps best known for his novel “Lolita,” frequently writes stories with unreliable narrators and themes of control versus freedom. Then, milo says he marks up Nabokov’s book with a pen that is a shade of green, perhaps suggesting an ounce of jealousy for Nabokov’s characters, whether for the ones that are free, or the ones that are controlled.
It’s worth noting that this group of lines takes up maybe 15 seconds of the song, but still ended up being worthy of a paragraph of discussion.
See what I mean? Milo’s rhymes are dense.
They’re especially dense when you take into account the fact that this random 15-second-long section is very much emblematic for the record as a whole.
And while milo’s lyrics are easily his strongest point, they also (somewhat counter-intuitively) become perhaps the record’s main downfall.
Milo jams his lyrics full with references to a wide variety of things, ranging from classic literature and philosophy to jazz giants like Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman, and even more pop cultural phenomena like Pokémon Go and Dungeons & Dragons. He touches on such a wide swath of cultural territory, that it can be hard to imagine who, besides milo himself, will actually be able to understand everything that he’s talking about. His lyrics, while dense and rewarding to those inclined to listen closely, will almost certainly be a turn-off to those unwilling to give a record a multitude of listens to really “get it.”
But for those who are willing to stick around and really parse out what milo is saying here, he touches on a variety of interesting topics, ranging from race relations in the United States to what it actually means to be a rapper, criticizing other rappers for their simplistic, overly boastful lyrics.
The soundscape of the record is populated by jazzy, minimalistic beats, recalling some of the more laid-back rhythms of ’90s boom-bap groups like A Tribe Called Quest (a group that milo references in his lyrics in the late-album cut “Embroidering Machine”). The laid-back quality of these rhythms forces the listener to focus more on the main point of the record, milo’s lyrics.
“who told you to think??!!?!?!?!” is, at its core, not a party hip-hop record. Don’t listen expecting beats to dance to, or hooks to sing along with. Instead, throw it on, kick back and listen a few times to really immerse yourself in milo’s rhymes.
Just don’t be afraid to pull up Wikipedia to figure out what he’s talking about.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6119 or on Twitter @PatKernan
Album: ‘who told you to think??!!?!?!?!’
Label: Ruby Yacht, The Order Label
Best tracks: ‘Call + Form (Picture),’ ‘Yet Another,’ ‘Ornette’s Swan Song’