Milo: Why the Self-Sustaining Indie-Rapper Is Trying to 'Sidestep the Gatekeepers'

"We're trying to sell rap songs, not trying to sell no Sprite."

Milo's upcoming album is 'Who Told You To Think?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​!' Credit: Macho Zapp

Milo, the nom de plume of rapper Rory Ferreira, has established one of the strongest followings in independent rap. His projects, which he often releases as limited edition cassette tapes via his Ruby Yacht imprint, regularly trade for hundreds of dollars online. He's respected for his dense literary references and savvy homage to the glory years of the L.A. underground such as Project Blowed and Hellfyre Club, the latter giving him his start several years ago.

Now based in Maine, where he lives with his wife and son, Milo has just released his new album, Who Told You to Think?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​! Lyrically, it's a more visceral and punchier work than his critically acclaimed 2015 album So the Flies Don't Come.

"My kid is 8 months old, so I haven't been able to read anything," he laughs. "I can't hit the library like I used to and spend the whole day reading stuff in pursuit of the perfect rhyme."

However, Think boasts the same kind of wordy, introspective thoughts that have attracted a growing audience for his work. Rolling Stone talked to Milo about why you shouldn't compare him to other underground MCs like Earl Sweatshirt and why he doesn't make music for soft-drink commercials.

First you lived in Los Angeles, and then Chicago and Milwaukee … and now you're in Maine. What are your reasons for being a bit of a nomad?
My spirit gets beat down by where I live. Except for Chicago … I liked living there. But I moved to L.A. because I thought it would be a better thing for me as a rapper, and the crew that I belonged to at the time was in L.A. L.A. broke my spirit for real, man. I lived there for about nine months, and it just crushed me. I am secure as I guess an artist can be in themselves, but where I'm from, just working-class upbringing and shit, and moving to a place like that – from art commanding huge multi-million dollar budgets and being done out in the open – it made me feel like what I was doing was not worthwhile, or just stupid. I don't make albums with staffs of 20 people. I don't have a management team, y'know what I mean? I don't have none of this stuff. I felt like I was in an arena that was way over my head, and it was really fucking with my spirit living there. So I moved back to Milwaukee after L.A. because I knew it was extremely cheap.

Last year, you did an interview with Passion of the Weiss where you contrasted yourself with Earl Sweatshirt. But it seems like you two are very similar. Both are you are young, prominent rappers who are committed to underground hip-hop.
Yeah, I see that to a degree. I mean, Earl is an interesting cat. I'm not going to front, I haven't always been a fan of him. I wasn't a fan of Odd Future when they were first out. I thought that shit was lame. I don't like all that shock stuff. I don't like them rape lyrics. I don't like a lot of language they use. I think it's irresponsible. Since they've gone their separate ways or whatever, I have paid attention to nothing they create. I don't care.

As it relates to Earl, a lot of my homies bump him. So I get to hear him a bit more than the rest of them cats. As I heard his stuff, I realized what he was trying to do. It's a similar thing I'm trying to do, which is reclaim my narrative. His shit is, he used to be immature, and now he's trying to be on his grown man indie-rap. Mine was college rap, and now I'm trying to be on my grown man indie-rap. So there's definitely parallels. I don't feel like that dude [gives] a fuck about me, though. Not to say that rudely or anything, but I doubt he even knows who the fuck I am. So why do I know who he is? I don't know … because he's a millionaire, and I'm not.

I think I'm a better rapper than all these motherfuckers, if I'm being real with you, man. I put years in this game in a way that none of them have. I've driven across this country many, many times to do nothing except just rap to people, and I love it. I think it's given me an edge that I think no one in this game has. So yeah, we're similar in that I'm one, and he might be two. [Laughs.]

I think you may be underrating your following. Judging from how people talk about you online, it seems like there's a momentum to your career.
I think that's only because I tend to be a little more dedicated than most indie rappers. There's a lot of indie rappers out here that are still operating under this model of, you know, "If I rap clever enough on this song, somebody's gonna reach out, they're gonna give me an offer that will change my life." I don't buy into that anymore. I'm not looking for anyone to reach out to me. I'm on my own out here, and I prefer it that way. I like it that way. I think the audience has connected with that because they know I'm not looking for the buck, man. I don't care. I just wanna rap. I love it, and that's enough for me. It's funny how many indie rappers have forgotten that. Like, a lot of them have just forgotten the magic and the craft. You don't need a music video, you don't need all these other ornaments. Like, just focus on the rhymes, man. Do it for the love. Everything else falls into place.

Since you're not on a big label or with a management company, you have to do everything yourself. Can you make a profit from that?
I'll be real with you: Since I've been rapping I've [been] earning a living off of it. The transition was my second mixtape, Milo Takes Baths, which was free after the first day since I received a cease-and-desist. Between that project and my next, I developed a whole game plan. I took nine months and just had to figure stuff out. The next project was Things That Happen at Day // Things That Happen at Night. From that moment onward, I've been living off rap. … So yeah, I eat off of it, my wife eats off of it, my son eats off of it, Safari Al eats off of it, Randal Bravery eats off of it. We're just taking it slow, trying to build a network the old-fashioned way through these shows, earn ourselves an audience, try to sidestep the gatekeepers.

Tonally, your new album sounds much brighter than So the Flies Don't Come. It seems more direct, and doesn't have as many dense literary references as your past work.
I would agree with you, I don't think this is as literary. I don't know if you have any kids, but my kid is eight months old, so I haven't been able to read anything. [Laughs.] I don't have time to do shit like that no more, man. I can't hit the library like I used to and spend the whole day reading stuff in pursuit of the perfect rhyme. So now, I'm just speaking from my gut, my soul and my truth. That's what this album is, and I guess my soul is a little bit brighter. I'm glad that shows. I'm happy that shows.

On "Magician (Suture)," you quoted from The Last Poets' "Time."
That song has really been haunting me lately. A couple of months ago, a friend of mine [Mark McKee], a trumpet player in the Ruby Yacht house band … unexpectedly passed. We were preparing for shows with Future Islands as a band when that happened. We were rehearsing that song. Those lyrics in particular at the end, like, now they've got this different slant to them. "God bless the soul of whoever you think you are/'Cause it might not be no next time." And there wasn't a next time. So that song has taken on a new energy for me. Even that is interesting, man. You're an artist, you make songs for a living, you don't necessarily consider how each one has its own life independent of you, and how as time progresses, your perception and the meaning that the song had when you wrote it – when I wrote it – that it's totally different now. I didn't know that I was writing that, you know?

Do you feel like a man out of time? A lot of people aren't rapping about this stuff right now.
I love that question. I feel like a man out of time? Yes, 'cause to me it's very Nietzschean. That's what Nietzsche thought of himself: the untimely man. That's what I really believe I am. I'm not from this time. It takes a toll on me, but I just keep doing my thing.

So how does the Ruby Yacht operation work?
Our whole thing ... is not letting the art be dictated by the market at all. It's so lame to me that the trap – even that, trap music is a chart. To speak about it in jazz terms, that type of drum pattern, that's a chart. And it's just too prevalent right now. And that's because of the market leaning on that rhythm. So we're trying to ignore stuff like that, whether it be trap beats, or whether it be not trying to sell Sprite. We're trying to sell rap songs, not trying to sell no Sprite. Ruby Yacht is all about saying "fuck you" to people with money. So I have to know that an artist is crazy to be in Ruby Yacht. I have to know that you wanna be a lifer, someone who'll do this no matter who is paying attention. That's what Ruby Yacht is about. Like the Hagakure said, simply be insane.

Given all of the challenges you've discussed, what are your expectations for the new album?
They're great! I have really high expectations for the new album. I don't have expectations for the music industry to celebrate me at all. That would be stupid. But in terms of the actual work, yeah, it's great. This album is fucking awesome. It's my favorite thing I've ever made. And I already know that people love it because I rapped all of these songs to their faces before I ever recorded it. [Laughs.] … If you give me three minutes on this album, you'll buy this album. It's guaranteed.