The recent rumors swirling around Soundcloud shutting down have threatened the livelihood of many independent artists who use the platform as a vehicle to promote their music to millions. What did Milwaukee-based rapper/producer Milo, a quintessential DIY artist, think about the permutations of the platform’s uncertain future? “I don’t know and I don’t care,” he matter-of-factly told me over the phone, as if I had asked his opinion about a sport he doesn’t watch. In a way I did.
Milo, aka scallops hotel, isn’t apathetic merely because he’s been successful with Soundcloud alternative Bandcamp, including having his new mixtape, over the carnage rose a voice prophetic, rise to number one on their charts a couple weeks ago. He didn’t find much personal meaning in that either. “Being in service of a dollar, or business… it’s just wack,” the 25-year-old artist contends. “It’s lame, it’s not cool. I want to be as free as I can when I’m rapping.”
During our hourlong conversation, Milo described his creative approach as “spiritual,” not in a denominational sense, but in an out-of-body manner that helps “connect you to yourself,” as he said. That he’s been able to become so successful off the strength of experimental hip-hop that has ignored — if not spurned — mass appeal means he’s making a hell of a connection. Not just with himself, but with a cult following who appreciate his id, esoteric lyricism over jazzy, abstract soundscapes such as “in the holodeck” from over the carnage rose a voice prophetic.
It’s those fans who have enjoyed his freewheeling live show and purchased his music, from highly regarded work like 2014’s a toothpaste suburb as a then-affiliate of LA’s Hellfyre collective to 2015’s outstanding so the flies don’t come, which he credits with helping him ascend from a starving artist who felt he had to convince people he was a “real rapper” to where he is today, in charge of a completely independent, Black-owned operation with his Ruby Yacht record label.
This August he’s set to release who told you to think??!!?!?!?!, his latest studio album. To give you a sense of how engaged Milo’s fanbase is, the tape is slated to drop August 11, but it’s already sold out on Bandcamp. Milo described the veritably reverse-engineered project, culled from “hundreds” of songs he performed on tour and then recorded, as a realization of his full power as a rapper.
As a new father, Milo is also focused on making the most of his expression as a self-sustaining means of income — completely on his terms. He’s working with current Ruby Yacht signees Safari Al and Randal Bravery on their upcoming projects, and also shifting the label from beyond the confines of the internet into a soon-to-be-opened record store in Portland, Maine — one of the nomadic artist’s many home bases.
From a perch looking along the river in Milwaukee, we spoke on the necessity of the record shop as a safe space, his plans for his label Ruby Yacht, and how his grandfather’s church sermons inspire his experiential live show.
What were you up to today? Were you creating?
I wrote a song this morning, I had to put my son down to take a nap, right now with his mom.
Since you had your child, how has that changed your creative process if any?
Milo: My son is pretty cool. He’ll just kick it with me while I work on my music. So there is no real difference now, I just maybe feel more pressure to make good music [laughing] because you know now, he’s around. And I want him to be proud of it as he grows up.
I hear that. You’ve always been focused on the art above all in a time where artists are pressured to “wear two hats” as creators and marketers. Can you speak on what ways you feel the “music business” mindset can cheat the art?
My understanding of creating art is that it’s freedom. You can do anything you want. I want to be as free as I can when I’m rapping. I feel like I owe it to myself to do that. So, I just pursue that at all costs. That’s why I started Ruby Yacht, because in a few years I might have a crazy output and put out like eight projects with three or four names. And maybe for two years I may just wanna’ disappear for a minute. So I had to start my own label. But that really grew out of not having any concessions on the art. I never really had any labels f*ck with me anyway, so it was an easy decision.
Really? No emails? No nothing to your management?
Nah, I prefer it that way. And it makes me feel good. Because I know I have numbers, I live off what I do. I live good with my family and I’m dope at it. I have a reputation of telling business people to go f*ck themselves. Don’t waste your time on me. The sh*t I’m working on with Ruby Yacht is really crazy.
Can you speak on what you’re working on?
We are gonna put out this Safari Al album. Can’t say too much about it. But it’s gonna be dope. Elucid and I are working on an album, and I’m trying to open a record store next year. Just expanding. Something that’s interested me is that people talk about safe spaces and I want the record store to be a protected space, a gallery of Black thought.
How much will the label be entwined with the record shop?
It will be Ruby Yacht HQ. It’s going to be a geographical portal to the rest of y’all. It’s gonna be dope, we are gonna have performances there and have my parents cookin’ in the back. I need to think long term now, and I need to have things for my community.
What necessitated you putting out the over the carnage project before the album next month?
I was just getting antsy you know. I just really wanted to put something out because I work on music everyday. I just picked through what was dope and I dropped it. It was fun to do and it was spontaneous. I wish more people would do stuff like that.
I got a chance to listen to the album and I thought it was really good. How are your experiences within the last year reflected in the new project?
The last couple years have been about becoming a real rapper. For a long time I had to prove that I could rap. A lot of people would still be like ‘he’s offbeat and kind of stupid and I don’t like him.” And then so the flies don’t come dropped and they would say stuff like ‘oh I love this album’ and ‘I bought this album on vinyl a couple times,’ and I was able to tour and go to Europe and expand my life. I got to like, eat three meals a day instead of one, and I was like ‘oh this is nice you know.’
This became all the more real after so the flies don’t come. And that really is the impetus to this record. Like, ‘ok, I guess I feel like a real ass professional ass rapper. What would I like my statement to be now?’ who told you to think??!!?!?!?! is like attacking the single culture, the playlist culture. I took time with this record in a crazy way. From when I was living in Los Angeles all the way to now. Some of these songs are on their fourth beat. And I toured off these beats. I played the songs hundreds of times, so by the time I recorded them I had them all memorized.
I’d perform them in people’s studio like it was a show. And that gives it a different feeling than the other projects, because that’s where I feel I’m best as an artist, at the live show. In High School I did theater, and I been rappin’ my whole life. In person it translates well.
So you basically did it in reverse.
Rappers have a whole spectrum of tracks on an album. And maybe any given legendary rapper has 2-3 legendary songs per album. And it’s like, if people who make rap thought a little bit differently, and sorted their sh*t accordingly, it would be different. I made hundreds of songs and I put out ones that touched on other shit at other times, and I sorted my own work like a f*cking gold miner. And all the crazy nuggets I put in one pile, like ‘this pile’s gonna f*ck the game up.’
Those were just the fifteen songs, where I was like ‘these are really good songs.’ I workshopped them in the oldest of ways. I rapped these to people’s faces. I’ve been out in the world, and I know what these songs do to people. I’ve already seen the reaction. And the feedback is kind of whatever at this point.
What were your motivations for putting the Baldwin speech in the intro?
I just want people to understand the content from James Baldwin to Jay-Z and everything in between you know. I think the more things I put out the more I realize that you have to create ambience, and when I heard that Baldwin speech it encapsulated everything I felt about making rap music.
What do you think journalists get wrong about your art, specifically hip-hop writers?
I don’t feel like anyone’s gotten my sh*t “wrong,” they don’t even really approach my sh*t. But someone like Busdriver, by and large, hip-hop writers tend to ignore his contributions. Even touring, I’ve run into people like, ‘15 years ago we had Busdriver in here, I know your type of rap,’ and that would make me think like damn, he was out here being an OG weirdo Black dude. God, that’s really important.
[And for me], I have yet to see writers try to tackle what I’m talking about. Usually people get caught up in the references. Yes, I use references as a tool, but it don’t end there. And it’s like most people’s perception of my music is this hyper-referential wannabe smart MFer. It’s like nah, you communicate with reference (laughs). People don’t expand the realm of poetry to me. People will be like, ‘your rhymes don’t make any sense,’ but it’s poetry! It’s supposed to be inspired language. It shouldn’t be literal. And especially now, it seems writers want to be definitive about your art. Impressionistic, expressionistic… that used to be the hallmark of art. But now MFers just hate on it.
I saw one of your scallops hotel performances in New York, and it wasn’t a linear show. It felt like the audience was involved in the creative process. You were experimenting with sounds and textures, then a dope ass breakbeat would pop out. What goes into presenting a stage show that free?
Tradition, really. All my grandfathers except for one were preachers. So growing up in their churches, I was watching them guide people through manners of the spirit. [My show] isn’t church, but it’s about connecting with myself in a way that connects you with yourself, in a way where we can all share that energy.
Stream over the carnage rose a voice prophetic below, and look for who told you to think??!!?!?!?! out 8/11 via Bandcamp.