A come-up is a dead end without a willingness to learn some new skills. Hence, milo understands the need to wear many hats. You have to when your stated goal is “to be the most working-class rapper out,” Hailing “from nowhere” but having made waves in both LA and Milwaukee, the man born Rory Ferreira has become a poster child for navigating rap’s internet era without forgetting the do-it-yourself ethos of his forbearers. Since 2011, Ferreira has released tapes as milo as well as under the name scallops hotel, steadily accruing followers before leaping to new heights of creativity and recognition with last year’s so the flies don’t come. He’s completely aware that he’s living the dream—“to do art for a living is unfathomable,” he says. But don’t think for a second that he’s going to change it for you.
“I don’t give a fuck about the audience like that—I’m just doing this shit for me, but more and more people keep fucking with it.”
It makes sense, then, that milo’s music reads more like a journal entry than the product of a verse-chorus viewpoint. The overall effect is akin to rummaging through an attic for the first time in a century—bits and pieces of identity and experience, coming at you from different directions but long since stripped of their original context. Your grandpa could probably tell you something about it, but he’s napping. There’s nobody to explain, and so you assemble the scraps into your own story. As it happens, it’s a pretty dope one.
On the heels of his latest release (as scallops hotel), too much of life is mood, I caught up with milo at Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, NC to find out what makes him tick. We met at a real-life manifestation of the way that third-wave coffee shops are portrayed in sitcoms; regrettably, milo’s frequent side-eying couldn’t be transcribed. Conversationally, he struck an endearing balance between launching straight into his answers and only sometimes giving the impression that he knew where it would end up. The conversation spanned juggalos, skinned cats, and the perks of being poor, but somewhere in there I got what I came for. —Corrigan Blanchfield
What ties you to home? I was actually just in Wisconsin, but only Madison and then hours of farm roads up in the north somewhere.
milo:All those places that you saw in Wisconsin suck. I would say Milwaukee is very much its own entity within the state, and that’s where I live and where I like to be. I went to college up north by where you drove, around Green Bay. It’s weird up there man, I think last week a cat just got arrested for, like, drinking a woman’s blood for like an ICP ritual. He like cut her arm and then drank the blood, then they cut her pinky off and drank the blood. And she was totally down with it, but then I think her mom called the cops. The arts culture is so powerful up there, man [laughs]. Imagine writing songs that powerful, that you could get people to fuckin’ drink blood.
No ICP that I’ve ever heard has made me want to hear more, but surely somebody should be trying to find out what it is about them that cultivates that kind of fanbase.
milo:It’s never serious, but they are discussed. And then what’s cool too is that it gives their fans the opportunity to present a counter-cultural criticism. That’s what they do, right? They build their own festivals, they build their own media outlets, they have their own journalists. They probably have an ICP newspaper. It’s like a nationalist approach to building art, like they build their own nation and don’t fuck with nobody else. I’m over here lookin’ like, “that’s fine dog, ICP ain’t for me.” I don’t drink soda any more, that’s a major reason. Soda is like the crux of their whole shit.
You’ve described yourself as making art “from the heart of the rust belt.” What do you view as significant about your location currently as opposed to being a New York rapper, LA rapper, or something like that?
milo:The difference between being an LA rapper and a Milwaukee rapper has everything to do with class and modes of creation. In LA music is a millionaire’s game. Earl Sweatshirt lives in LA. Kanye, Drake. I had a hard time being around that, but in Milwaukee…I might be the only rapper in Milwaukee living completely off my craft. I don’t have a day job. So it’s a different game, right? In terms of budget, who I can work with, the ideas I can pitch to them. My ideas shine a little brighter in Milwaukee than they do in LA. But yeah, I’d say mostly it relates to class, and also the quality of being forgotten. Milwaukee is like an Atlantis, almost. Somewhere on the bottom of the muck, the miasma.
I imagine there was a moment in your career, or a short window, in which you were able to transition from rap being a side thing to your only job.
milo:My whole life, I’ve wanted to be a rapper. I’ve known my destiny since probably age 6. So in college I knew that I had a limited window. I had four years to get my career poppin’ before I would have to do something else, to give up on my dream. I put out my first mixtape (I Wish My Brother Rob Was Here) at 19, rap was paying my college bills by 20. I dropped out of college by 21 because I had enough money, I knew what I wanted to do. So I never had a time where it wasn’t my hustle. I’ve been nice with it since the genesis, bro. I’ve been blessed. I started touring while I was in college too, I was going to SXSW and writing papers on the drive, shit like that.
Not making it happen was never on my mind. My parents dropped out of high school to have me, I don’t have people who can bail me out. There was never a time where I could think “well, if this don’t work…” I know that I’m a smart dude, I have a unique perspective, I was exploring rap in a way that no one had. I’ve been a student of this genre my whole life, so I was very confident in being like, “this is a unique thing that is worthwhile.”
To me, your music comes across as neither fully personal nor fully abstract—it seems very obvious that you’re recounting lived experience, but that the specific meanings are exclusive to you.
milo:The word for that is universal, right? It’s neither an abstract nor a particular, it’s all-encompassing. It’s universal because I’m trying to get to metaphysics, just asking the question of “who am I?” If everyone asks that, regardless of who they are, we can all kind of corral around this music hopefully. Even though the answers are going to be different for each of us, the questions are going to be the same.
The quest for that kind of answer is obviously a really personal pursuit, but do you find that with the advent of something like Genius people get more hung up on your answers than their own?
milo:I’m a poet, and I believe that my music, my poetry, my writing—I’m not wholly responsible for it. Are you familiar with Borges? Borges, he talks about “every writer creates his own pre-cursors.” I mean we’re just channeling something else. I wouldn’t say any of my songs are totally mine.
In that regard, I never feel obligated to tell anyone else what my songs mean to me because what’s the point? I mean, only so much of this song even came from me. I only have one understanding of this song. There have been people that come up to me and informed me about shit that I’ve written, and I’ve had no idea. We’re kind of all in it together, in terms of trying to understand it. I wouldn’t privilege my perspective over anyone else’s just because I’ve quote-unquote made it.
Artists need more agency nowadays. Just because anyone can message me and ask me some shit about my music doesn’t mean that somehow I owe them an explanation. There needs to be more mystery in this shit man! I hate zealots, I hate when a dope artist falls off and I’ve gotta hear their wack-ass fan tell me why. I don’t ever want somebody to do that for me. If you’re a fan of me then that means you’re extremely critical of me.
If you’re segmenting records like that, how do you decide what’s milo vs. what’s scallops hotel or another project?
milo:The distinction between milo and scallops hotel usually comes down to business. Class, again. This is me making a class distinction internal to myself. scallops hotel is the engine of my DIY ethos. scallops hotel is the reason I hand-dub my tapes, screen-print my own shirts, get my own hats. milo is when I want to go and participate in a conversation nationally—I have to go hire a studio engineer, I have to go get my distributor to pass along records to a vinyl manufacturer. When the process has to be bigger than myself, that’s milo. If I can contain it all and do it on my own, then I will, and that’s scallops hotel.
But they have such different end products that I realized people would be mad if I made it all milo. Even worse, they would think that they could be predictive. If I had dropped too much of life is mood as a milo record then people would think “oh, he dropped this fly, clean record and now he’s on this dirty lo-fi thing” and they would think of it too linearly. I needed to break up my releases so they weren’t linear.
It’s always strange when we’re 3-6 months out from a new Kanye record and he drops some new single that is unlike anything he’s put out before and suddenly that’s it, that’s the sound he’s going with for this next record and we know that because of this one single.
milo:It’s so weird, dude. And when you’re not a millionaire like Kanye then your armor, your insulation from the effects that has are fucking thin. I mean one write-up could still ruin my shit. I’m never sending press an advance song, nothing like, “yo, check this tiddlywink out” because I can’t afford to be misunderstood right now. At the same time I’m trying to give more privileged time and attention to listener writings.
I’ve been cultivating my audience to be more active, and with a lot of these people I’m trying to charge them with the responsibility—if you can write, if you can do anything then please do it and set the record straight. I’ve had fans come up to me like “is this song about x, y, or z thing?” and it just blows me away. Write that down on the internet! Get your friends to read it. But rarely do professionals ever help me to that degree.
What do you find appealing about the cassette as a format? I’m thinking specifically of your recent release, “too much of life is mood.” Not just the cost benefits, but the digital release being a single, continuous track.
milo:Have you ever listened to a tape? Then you already know why. There’s a feeling, especially when you’re alone listening to tape music, of being in a treehouse with that person. The music’s battered, there’s this hiss, it’s warm. It reminds me of being a kid, I had “Gangster’s Paradise” on tape. That was my first rap tape: Coolio, “Gangster’s Paradise.” I’m old, man—born in ’92, that’s just the media that I fuck with. A tape is physical in the sense that…it’s on tape. It’s actual magnetic data. I don’t think people think about it enough, like with vinyl—vinyl doesn’t need electricity. I could get a little crank box. The internet could die, and I’ll still have rap in real life. That means a lot to me.
Tape is made just for me. it feels like, “I made this for you, it’s a mixtape.” It’s encoded in how we talk about rap, it’s a genre of mixtapes. It’s not just a phase to me—I made all the beats, I did it how all my OGs told me they used to do it so I could feel like I was there. I don’t think rap includes process enough. Rappers are kind of boring, by-and-large. The usual rap record is made by a gang of producers who send someone some beats. They pick ‘em at random, they rap on them while they stoned on an airplane, they go into whoever’s studio and someone hands them an album that’s completed. I hate that. With each album I like to rewrite the process a little, make it exciting and different for me.
Do you have any requirements for working in-person with producers when you’re taking other people’s beats?
milo:You can email me beats. I’m just less likely to use them than the average cat, and if I do use them there’s usually gotta come a time where we can meet and smoke a bowl, eat a sammich, work on the rap together. The internet’s amazingly useful, and we shouldn’t pretend it’s not there. A lot of people who just randomly send beats to me are hobbyists, and there’s kind of a disconnect when a professional and a hobbyist are working together. They have one goal for a song and I have another.
That’s why I’m making a lot of my own beats these days, just because I understand my process. Sometimes I’ll be bored at my house and just tweet out, “gimme some beats,” just to see what people send. Most of the time, it’s so far away from what I’m actually doing. They have thoughts about me, thoughts about how I flow. I’ve sent people beats back before and they say “oh, well, I thought you were gonna do the mumble poetry style here.” Go fuck yourself.
Do you find yourself pigeonholed as an internet rapper at all? Obviously you’ve had a lot of success through it, but I imagine it’d be a challenge to overcome being confined to that world.
milo:I’m clearly making a living from the internet, but I think people see my live show and realize that I’m not from the internet at all. I was trained for this shit, man. I did theatre all throughout high school, grew up with rappers and in cyphers. You see my live show—I ain’t no internet rapper. I ain’t Yachty, I ain’t Uzi, I ain’t…sadboy. I can freestyle for 30 minutes off the top of my head. I can DJ, I can do my own beats, it don’t fucking matter. That, to me, separates an internet rapper from a rapper. The ability to hold your place IRL [laughs].
I saw that you’re on Patreon—how’s that going?
milo:It’s an opportunity for people who really understand the art I’m making and have the economic means to support it a little more than the average album purchase or whatever. We’re able to develop a relationship—it’s cool, I’ve got five spots on there that people purchased specifically for the purpose of collaborating. There’s another one where I send you an unreleased .mp3 every morning. That shit is cool to me, just widening what it means to be an artist servicing an audience. I put it out there and the people that want it get it. If they don’t, I just don’t care.
I’m a really simple person, and if I wake up and my wife is like, “I’m happy with you, Rory” then I’m happy with me too. I don’t give a fuck about no internet person telling me they didn’t like how I did a service I started. People think because they bought something they’re your boss. That’s capitalism talking through them, and as an artist I want to correct that behavior. I’m free, I don’t exist in that system. I’ve had people pay me hundreds of dollars for shit they never received, and I don’t feel bad. That’s the hustle, that’s the scam of it. The internet should be a dark place, it should be dubious. A show is the only time I’m interested in collaborating with the audience, and I want anyone who comes to feel different when they leave.
How widely are you able to tour?
milo:I’ve been touring non-stop. I left America for the first time in May—I did Europe with Open Mike Eagle. Now I’m kind of winding down on the touring tip. I want to take some time off, just work on my album and be a boring person. Records for me are very easy to make. I can make a record in a week. Most records I make are made in a week or two. I’m gonna call the next one Who Told You to Think? It’s gonna be the dissolution of boundaries, a record about artistic freedoms. Just that need for metaphysical freedom. When you know who you are, you can do anything.
How far down the road can you plan albums? How far do your goals stretch?
milo:For me, it’s fun. I love writing raps, I love making records. I make one, I bump it a lot. I bump my own shit a lot, I hear the flaws and where I could improve. I go back to work and make a new one that addresses those improvements. I would say one thread throughout my music that even the staunchest hater would have to agree with is that the music grows. That’s because I’m studying it and I’m trying to critique myself. I’m the only person that can critique myself, and so I want people to know that I’m doing that.
I’m not five records down the road or nothing, but I got a couple. I’m working on a record with one of my best friends, Elucid. He and I have formed a crew called Nostrum Groceries and we been working on that for a grip. I’m working on some stuff with my boy Sam Herring, from Future Islands. I’m always working with Mike Eagle and Busdriver, Kenny Segal. Working with my Ruby Yacht fam, of course. My wife and I are working on some music together. I just kind of let my friendships dictate what’s going down.
It seems like any sort of counter-culture is destined to grow past the control of its founders or perish.
milo:The illest rap label out right now is mine. And definitely, within the next three years, we’re gonna be at six-figure budgets. Big shit. I want to make really gripping art. I want to make rap from a theoretically-informed place, and now I have the training to do that. I have the network to do that. It hurts my feelings that when I started those cats couldn’t see that in me. I’m already one of the greatest living rappers at 24. By 30 it’s going to be a wrap, bro.
You realize most of my peers in this shit are ten years older than me? That weirds me out. I’ve never been called by a label, I’ve never had anyone ever invest in me. And now I’m at a place where I don’t need them to. They fucked up. If somebody tried to sign me right now I would behead them, I would laugh at them. I would send them a turd on fire at their house. I’m all about agency, and especially now with the internet—shit like Patreon and Bandcamp. I had to find my own route to making this shit a job, and now it’s work. I just want to help my people get through the door as well.
Has the game already changed enough that your path is outdated?
milo:Nobody could follow my path, it’s the winding path. I’m going the route of the sage. I did a month of shows, every single day, for $100. Rap is the sport of luxury and there’s no rapper who has so little dignity or ego as I did to do that shit. You ain’t gonna get 21 Savage to drive himself around to play for a hundred dollars a night. Mind you I had to split that hundred dollars between four dudes because Safari Al was on tour with me, Nedarb Nagrom was on tour with me, and Riley Lake was on tour with me. I’ve done a bunch of crazy shit like that. I don’t care about the immediate returns, so I’ve been able to do some crazy shit with rapping.
We’ve been bringing up poor a lot, so let’s talk about this: I love being poor. Poor is freedom. You can’t scare me. I was living in Boyle Heights with like no motherfucking money. Safari Al would sleep in my closet because he didn’t have no place to live. White Fence, the local gang, would skin dead cats and put them in my driveway so we would know they didn’t fuck with us. I don’t give a fuck. And I don’t think you’re going to find someone who’s read as much Schopenhauer as me who also don’t give a fuck as much as me. That’s my freedom.