“Y’all call it art-rap,” the Maine-based rapper Milo says toward the end of Sovereign Nose Of (Y)our Arrogant Face, the new album that he just released under his Scallops Hotel moniker. He sounds disgusted, dejected. He repeats it a few times, as if he needs time to process the stupidity of that genre name. But as someone who makes his living affixing genre names to things, it seems to me that you could do a whole lot worse than “art-rap.” John Darnielle once told me that he’d turned to music as a trade because there wasn’t enough of an audience for contemporary poetry for him to make a living. I get the same feeling from Milo sometimes. He’s a words guy. He puzzles and labors over words, over the things they mean and the ways they sound. He doesn’t flex often, and when he does, he says stuff like, “Ruby Yacht’s magnificence is bioluminescence-dispersed despair.” (Ruby Yacht is his label and crew.) More often, he ponders the vast absurdities of the world: “I hate how people speak on the internet / The overwhelming decorum of an invisible place ain’t for me / I poke at the glass angrily / Like: ‘Where are you?’” Or he simply savors the way the words taste in his mouth, only vaguely nodding at something as concrete as meaning: “Open palms, spinning atop rotunda.”
On his Bandcamp page, Milo writes that he recorded Sovereign Nose Of (Y)our Arrogant Face in September in a studio in Park Slope, a beautiful Brooklyn neighborhood that’s lately been full of rich babies. “i would meet [producer] steel tipped dove at his studio, with coffee, every day at 1:30pm,” he writes. Milo has spoken, in interviews, about how he makes his living and supports his baby son by rapping, and as abstract as it gets, his music never feels indulgent. Instead, Milo sounds like he’s continuing to focus and perfect his own voice, getting as close as he can to the sounds he hears inside his head. Milo produced almost all of Sovereign Nose himself, and the sound is hushed and muttery but still distinctly rap. It’s rooted in boom-bap, in the way ambient hums and neck-snap drums can intersect with each other. And there’s a screwface in his voice, even when talking about how he’s an “escapee of a prison planet where compliments were served underhanded.”
I haven’t written at length about Milo before, partly because his writing is so intimidatingly dense and partly because it’s hard to write about someone who’s a better writer than you, who could very easily skewer everything you might be saying about him as an oversimplification. But last year, Milo released who told you to think??!!?!?!?!, one of 2017’s very best rap albums. That LP is somehow focused and ruminative at the same time — an eloquent neck-snapper that demands a deep reading. And for Milo to follow that album, after only a few months, with something as strong as Sovereign Nose shows that Milo is in a rare place right now, that he’s at the very forefront of a thriving esoteric rap wing that also includes friends and peers like Open Mike Eagle and Elucid. (Milo and Mike Eagle were once crucial parts of the LA-based rap crew Hellfyre Club, and they’re touring Europe together this year.)
Sovereign Nose isn’t a full-on album; Scallops Hotel seems to be Milo’s name for the off-cycle, exploratory works that he makes in between proper albums. Milo himself says that Sovereign Nose is the second part of a trilogy; the first part was last year’s over the carnage rose a voice prophetic. That album was both more of a statement and more of a stunt. It had appearances from art-rap elder gods DOOM and Antipop Consortium, and it also had a cover of Jimmy Driftwood’s country-music classic “Tennessee Stud,” one where Milo said Driftwood’s words in inward-looking rap cadence. Sovereign Nose is more casual. It’s short — just over 20 minutes — and it’s full of asides like the time that Milo spends explaining the old cartoon Captain Caveman to someone. (It’s pretty obviously studio chatter that was picked up on mic and left in because someone thought it was funny.) But there’s an urgency to the album, too. It’s hard and immediate in ways that past Milo albums haven’t always been.
Milo is a discursive, elliptical rapper, one who doesn’t seem all that concerned with punchlines or quotables. The most rewindable lines on the album come from Youngman, the affiliated rapper who gets in the album’s only guest verse. (One great Youngman line: “White supremacy is like the Jew’s frienemy / They’ll hire you more often and still kill you eventually.” Another: “I’m top five, alive or immortal / While you’re all worried about ‘Oh no, is my storage full?’”) But Milo’s lines are the ones that sink in deeper, that demand further contemplation: “People pray for bounce back / People pray for the loud pack / People pray their enemies get caught in mousetraps / People pray for forgiveness and never give that.” There are so many lines like that on Sovereign Nose, backflips of writerly elegance that you’re still silently mulling over even as the album careens into the next song, and the next. “I grew weary of the praise that art brings,” Milo grumbles at one point. So give him money instead.
1. Brockhampton – “Boogie”
In which the California crew’s overwhelming energy goes into the red and threatens to become oppressive. (If you hear this one while hungover, that disco whistle is death.) But it’s great anyway, because Brockhampton’s all-for-one giddiness has gone beyond inventive. As the world has caught on, it’s become triumphant.
2. Trouble – “Bring It Back” (Feat. Drake)
Drake pretty much missed out on last year’s SoundCloud-rap wave. But he’ll be damned if chop-your-face-off Atlanta street-rap makes a comeback in 2018 and he’s not along for the ride.
3. Lil Wayne – “Boyz 2 Menace” (Feat. Gudda Gudda)
We’re never going to get 2007 Lil Wayne back again, but on the second half of this hijacking of Lil Uzi Vert’s “For Real,” Wayne gets close. Too bad we have to sit through a Gudda Gudda verse to get there.
4. Roc Marciano – “Wolfing Down”
Hotel-lobby piano and elegantly deadpan drug-rap always go beautifully together, and I would love to know why.
5. Don Q – “Rumors And Gossip”
I have never been on the “21 Savage needs to get the fuck out of here” bandwagon, but hearing him jump on an otherwise sterling Cardi B banger to rap about how he doesn’t leave tips and referring to his jizz at “hot sauce,” I’m closer than I’ve ever been.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
— demi adejuyigbe (@electrolemon) December 23, 2017