There’s a lot of easy copy that could go here: “milo is an enigma;” “milo makes art, not rap;” “milo’s work rewards careful listening.” It’s all true to some degree, but there’s a tendency for critics and fans alike to delineate milo’s work vs. the rap world at large — a frame that’s especially odd in light of milo’s repeated statements that who told you to think??!!?!?!?! is an album about dissolving boundaries.
To an extent, milo brings it upon himself; there’s a self-styled iconoclasm underlying his creative practice, which balances fierce loyalty to his collaborators and the endless pursuit of liberation from obligation to any other entity. On the other hand, lines like “Why’s your favorite rapper always babbling about his brand again?/ Like we asked him? Like we asked him?” are less a condemnation of the form than an assertion about milo’s place within it; to remove him from the genre proper is to neuter the many things he has to say about it.
Who told you to think? There’s no need to. As milo would tell it, [I think], he’s interested in everything but my opinion on his album. In his metaphysical concern, he walks a self-defeating line, laying out a strict worldview in language that can’t help but open itself to interpretation. Consequently, I’ll be damned, the album does carry the weight of profundity. Plenty of music has a “point,” but it’s not usually a chore to find; such a thing is usually laid bare lyrically or self-evident from its impenetrability. Here, that which is theoretically on display is instead entirely capable of escaping notice. With loose song structures and utterly sedate production, songs and phrases bleed into one another even under close scrutiny. Hearing the end of final track “rapper (ft. Busdriver)” might leave you feeling as though the album has passed you by. Seemingly free association belies the content, phrased just specifically enough throughout to outline a single, intended meaning that is either understood or not.
But back to careful listening: never before have I heard an album so apt to be projected upon. To suggest that one rap album is inherently more worthy of investigation than another is ridiculous, of course; Stockholm Syndrome would suggest that attention and appreciation go hand in hand. Instead, it’s a quality of the listener; I have listened attentively to this release and was duly rewarded. What, then, brings that about? How can a work orient itself toward the listener’s intensive study, and what does it give up in doing so? By dint of the zeitgeist moreso than milo himself, it’s impossible not to wonder whether he’s set apart deliberately or incidentally; so much of his work’s appeal is entangled in its implied authenticity that one hates to think of any element as existing for effect.
This is the crux of the album’s difficulty: it feels personal and scans as though it should be, but time and time again, it leaves me not quite sure whether I know a single thing about milo, the person. “landscaping” opens with “What’s a selfie, that’s not me, that’s my chullachaqui,” and it’s easy to imagine that authorial distance extending to the album itself. It leaves the listener wanting, constructing an intricate world without ever populating it, as cleverness in spades overrides characterization. Then again, milo is the architect of his world rather than the inhabitant; when and if he chooses to reveal himself, we could scarcely be expected to recognize him.