Illustration by Ben Beechener
Myth-making is a common theme in all of Rory Ferreira’s work. Throughout his dense, lyrical albums, he ruminates on the role of the storytellers in understanding the past, interpreting the present and making the future. At the same time, he takes on the aura of a myth, rapping verses that mix metaphor and concreteness over languid, jazz beats. A word-loving, chess-playing, spiritual poet on a journey, dropping verses on his way.
Like any traveller, he has many names. He had his first success as Milo—when producing and rapping on lo-fi tracks as Scallops Hotel. He goes by other names too (the wise owl, himself; black Orpheus; Flows-A-Million) and has collaborated under more (Nostrum Grocers; Ruby Yacht). As with many of the best travellers’ tales, his story features a return to his home state Maine, and a new start in 2019, releasing some of his best music yet under his real name, R.A.P. (Rory Allen Philip) Ferreira.
And this is where we find him, around ten albums deep (depending on how you define a mixtape or a double EP), sending off lines like “Working title of my autobiography: / ‘I’m probably not the rapper for you’’”, so of course it’s hard to know where to start. His style is often challenging; he can come across as cocky or pretentious but, given a chance, you’ll find much to enjoy in his flow-of-consciousness style. So let me make an introduction with 5 songs that present all of the reasons why R.A.P. Ferreira is one of the best hip-hop artists making music at the moment:
DOLDRUMS – R.A.P. Ferreira – Purple Moonlight Pages –
If you’re going to listen to anything, 2020’s Purple Moonlight Pages has to be it, with a Madvillainy-esque intro track and a cover of Pharoah Sanders’ The Creator Has A Masterplan outro bookending some of R.A.P. Ferreira’s strongest verses. DOLDRUMS is an exploration of a theme that comes up again and again: the value to be found in boredom. The narrative rambles before finding itself again, leaving us feeling like we’ve listened in on an internal monologue, a quality found in many of his songs and one that rewards re-listening. Here, the tone is domestic, talking about cooking and playing music to his son, and dwelling on repetitive mantras. The overall feeling, for me, is of walking around the house thinking to myself, never quite resolving anything, but not needing to either.
Magician (Suture) – Milo – Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?! –
Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?! (WTYTT), an album released in 2017, is where he has most thoroughly explored the theme of the value in the mundane, but that’s not all it talks about. Magician (Suture), produced by Kenny Segal (like many of Rory’s best tracks), begins describing a physical journey but then dissolves into a mental one. Here the rap is less constrained than in DOLDRUMS and we find Rory at his best, packing references to Farīd ud-Dīn, Aristotle and Nietzche alongside vivid imagery and meditations on the process of writing, all with a loping beat that pulls us along for this expedition into “the garden of his mind”.
where’ing those flowers – Nostrum Grocers – Nostrum Grocers –
After WTYTT presented a more mature Milo, he found time to work with ELUCID, half of Armand Hammer and a more seasoned rapper, on 2018’s Nostrum Grocers. ELUCID, who had appeared on a few tracks on Milo albums before, including an outstanding verse on WTYTT’s Landscaping, contributes a groundedness that draws Rory away from much of the bookishness that characterised early Milo releases to an album that embraces improvisation. His experience of being black in America and the power of black art and artists has always been a central theme of R.A.P. Ferreira’s work and, with both rappers having recently become fathers and ELUCID’s stark description of a world falling apart, these potent explorations run deep through the record. The collaboration brings out the best in both artists and results in an album that rewards repeat listens tenfold.
Yomilo – Milo – So The Flies Don’t Come –
The tracks on Nostrum Grocers are some of the most challenging in R.A.P. Ferreira’s discography, and you might reasonably be coming out of the last song with some questions like “Yo Milo, why you always rap in passcodes? and “Yo Milo, why you front like you’re enlightened?”, so it’s lucky that that is exactly what the track Yomilo from 2015’s So The Flies Don’t Come (STFDC) addresses. Using these hypothetical conversations as a jumping off point, he considers how and why he makes the music he does. STFDC is the most listened to Milo record and the most approachable. It was the first Milo project produced by Kenny Segal, a collaboration that continues to be fruitful with Segal’s Jefferson Park Boys producing Purple Moonlight Pages. On these ruminative beats we get an album full of the thoughts of an artist at a crossroads, trying to decide where to take their work and how to get there.
NONCIPHER – R.A.P. Ferreira – Purple Moonlight Pages –
When Purple Moonlight Pages was released, I was in Melbourne and just heading into lockdown. In theory, I was taking time off to figure out what I wanted to do next. However, the emptiness of the lockdown, being on the other side of the world from most of my family and friends, was hard and got harder with the unpredictability of getting home and the state of the world. I listened to this album a lot, and no song did I listen to more than NONCIPHER. It continues the appreciation for slowness, lag-time, mundanity and is full of depth, which was comforting for those of us privileged enough to find the global crisis increasingly boring, but more than this I listened so much it’s just so fun. This is a beat to make you strut, this is a rap to rap along to, this is a song that could only have been made by someone that loves their craft. Rory Ferreira’s work is often heavy, and at times difficult, but he’s an entertainer and an artist and in NONCIPHER, he entertains and he affects.
I’ve tried to avoid his top songs on Spotify, so head there next. All the albums mentioned here are worth checking out in full. If you enjoyed the less polished production on Nostrum Grocers, then the releases under Scallops Hotel are worth checking out (see the brilliant Sovereign Nose of (y)our Arrogant Face). For more of that, and an ode to the beat poet Bob Kauffman in the form of an album, see this year’s Bob’s Son. Finally, the last album under the Milo moniker , 2018’s budding ornithologists are weary of tired analogies, is, in his own words, “simply a pamphlet. little aphorisms and landmines to burst your mind out of the mundane a moment, broken myth and hopes and torments, riddled out of myself as they came, very little editing.” and warrants a bonus, sixth and last song:
mythbuilding exercise no.9 – Milo – budding ornithologists are weary of tired analogies –
Because, as is quoted from Sun Ra in the first lines of this album, “If you’re not a myth, whose reality are you?”.