Rank Your Records: Milo Considers His Catalog of Rap Surrealism
The prolific rapper and producer plays favorites with the releases he's done as Milo and his alter-ego Scallops Hotel.
In Rank Your Records, we talk to artists who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.
Milo is opening a record store called SoulFolks in Biddeford, Maine—although if you ask the rapper and producer to promote it, he’ll tell you it’s less of a commercial venture and more of a solution to his need for “a temple to rap in.” Explaining that he’s come to a point in his career where he’s looking for a sanctuary to make music and also store his back catalog of releases and merch, he says, “The record store is kind of a front—we’ll sell some records, I suppose, but we don't need to do it to stay open.”
Despite only dropping his first album in 2011, Milo’s back catalog in question is already a deep body of work. Also recording under the guise of Scallops Hotel, he’s gained a reputation for pairing creative and inventive production with lyrics that are quick to bandy booksmart literary and art scene references with wry commentary on the world around him. He’s also not above calling a song “Fragrant Pee Farts.”
Ahead of Milo’s appearance at the Emerge Impact + Music festival, Noisey persuaded him to navigate through his sizable recorded discography.
Noisey: What do you remember about recording this one?
Milo: I was in campus housing at St. Norbert College. I was working on a demo record to get signed. At the time, I thought I would fit in well with Anticon and I was looking for support to get out of my situation in Wisconsin. I asked my friend Open Mike Eagle to get it to Anticon 'cause I'd never even been to California at that time in my life. Even just having somebody who could connect that music to them, that was what I thought was all I needed.
What happened once you got the music to Anticon?
I waited, and waited, and waited a bit—maybe a month and a half—and never heard anything back. I was kinda embarrassed. I’d just turned 20 on February 3, and I think I dropped that record if I remember right on February 18, and I did my first rap show as Milo on February 4. So it was just like all ding-ding-ding. I remember just being disappointed, feeling weird, like, man, why didn't they like this?
Do you still like the album?
I don't know, I haven't listened to it in a long time. I took it off the internet.
This project was recorded under the name Scallops Hotel rather than Milo?
Yeah, I mean they're all made by me so I can talk about all of them.
Was this the first official Scallops Hotel release?
Yes, the first Scallops Hotel release.
What was going on in your life at the time you made it?
Being broke. I had just dropped out of college at that point; I wanted to be a rapper full-time. I was working at a movie theatre in Chicago and really hating it. I actually had to quit that job because I had a show but they called me in because somebody else didn't turn up, but I was like, “Nah, I got a show.” They were like, “But, dude, you work here.” I was like, “No, I don't, actually—my job is to be a rapper.” I just never showed up again. I actually got an email from them a month later saying they never heard from me but I could still work there if I wanted to. I was like, “Get the fuck out of here.” I never wrote back to them. Instead I dropped Scallops Hotel and that was all about agency and making a new absurd world available to me at any time that wouldn't necessarily impact my place in rap. Like, people know me as Milo, especially at that time nobody knew what the fuck Scallops Hotel was—that was the point.
Where does the name come from? Do you enjoy eating scallops?
No, I don't eat seafood or meat at all, haven’t for a while now. The name was a riff. At college we'd be listening to Clams Casino and I thought that name was ridiculous. I'd never been to Vegas, I didn't know that was a dish you can order—I just thought he had, like, absurdly strung these two words together! So I was like, “One day I'll make beats and I'll be Scallops Hotel,” just being a goofy kid in college and sticking with it. Now I really dig it. I like rapping as a building, rapping from the non-person entity.
Where does the title A Toothpaste Suburb come from?
It was an excerpt from a Don DeLillo line. I just liked it, it spoke to where I was: I'd just spent three years in Wisconsin on a scholarship for a school that I hated, surrounded by people who weren't like me at all and just kind of studied them and their ways.
Kool AD features on “In Gaol.” How did you hook up with him?
I didn't. I didn't meet him until last year. That was all just done by computer, email. At that time I was a kid in college and I held that song for a year. He tickled me, like how silly his stuff was, how whimsical it was.
You also have a song titled “Fragrant Pee Farts.” What do they smell like?
It varies by person and their diet. But you know what I'm talking about, that little pungent fart when you're peeing!
Is this album titled after Del’s I Wish My Brother George Was Here?
To a degree, yeah, and it's titled after missing my homie Rob Espinosa.
What was the first song you recorded for the album?
It was “Just Us.” It definitely set a tone [for the album]. I wrote it the night I found out Rob died.
Was writing it a cathartic process?
I don't know, I don't know what I found it to be. At the time I just needed to write. At the time I wasn't thinking about anyone ever hearing that song. When I wrote that song I didn't have a single fan—it was just me talking to me about my homie.
The first song on the album is “Omar Don’t Scare.” I assume you’re a fan of The Wire?
What is about the Omar character that appeals to you?
It's in the title—he don't scare! That's so admirable. There's so much to be afraid of. And his identity, too, as a particularly marginalized person, you'd expect him—or society would want us to expect him—to play a different role to the one he does. And that really encourages people, or at least I felt encouraged. I love Omar's character 'cause he's so ill!
How would you sum up the production style on this album?
Slapdash and stoned!
Where did you record this project?
Partly in a garage in LA and partly in a warehouse in Milwaukee.
Was it your garage?
No, I found the lady on Craigslist who let me rent her garage to make music in. She lived in Echo Park which I knew was a cool place to be but I couldn't afford to be there. So I rented this lady's garage with like no bathroom and just lived in it and made music out of it.
Do you remember how much you paid for the garage?
Yeah, it was 300 bucks a month. It was this little ass garage but everyone was coming through there, like Busdriver would be there, Mike Eagle would be there, crazy musicians, s.al, writers were coming through there, Max Bell, Paul Thompson, it was some hip melting pot shit. We were calling it the Houseboat.
Is that the sort of environment you like to have around you when you’re writing music?
That's always how I've operated. I always like to make a base and then invite homies. It’s part of being an artist so I'm doing that same shit now with the record store. I just got a little more money but it's the same idea, the same part of my process. I need a community of artists, I need conversation, that's what stimulates my music. I just love good conversation!
This project is kinda sequenced like one long continual song. Why did you decide to present it like that?
That's how life is sequenced! That's how it plays out and you just have to experience it and see how it goes. With that one I wanted that feeling.
The album also has a lot of references to being poor on it.
Yeah, I guess I'm more creative than most, I guess that's how I feel. I have more will than most, I'm thinking more creative. It's easy to solve problems with money but you get into the artistry when you don't have money.
It was released only on cassette. What is it about that format you seem to like so much?
I like that it's accessible. I like that I can hold so many tapes in my backpack. I like how they pack and send. I like how they sound. I like that you can have a tape and decide to alter it. I like that they're warm. I like hiss. I like that they go from boomboxes to a Walkman. I like that if you've got a bad Walkman and you're playing it, the radio will cut in and out of the music you're listening to—that’s cool to me. I like physical things. I don't believe in the internet like that. I know that it's probably not going to exist like that forever and I can't trust Spotify or Tidal to curate my taste. I don't just listen to singles, I listen to whole albums. I like keeping that. I've got like 600 tapes at my shop. I've got a crazy good rap collection on tape. If the internet died tomorrow you're going to be coming to me like, “Hey, man, can I get that Casual album Fear Itself? Can I bump that just one time!”
How do you look back on So The Flies Don’t Come?
Ooh, a masterpiece!
I don't think it's either here or there on the humility factor—calling a spade a spade is just being able to identify something correctly.
Why do you call it a masterpiece?
It has a point and it gets there. It's so good. And the ten song, one rapper and one producer format with emphasis on the vocals went on to inspire a lot of motherfuckers! It's a classic shape, something real to it. At the time I was entertaining rap and its rules for the most part while also kinda sticking a tongue out at it.
Elucid also appears on the album.
That's my brother. I met him on my first headlining US tour right when I dropped out of college. First time I went to NYC I met Elucid, we played a show together, and from that day on we've been tight. To be able to go to East New York, Brooklyn, and kick it with a dude like Elucid and get the okay from him... A lot of people talked shit about how I rap but I've always been down with dudes like Elucid. We've got this crew called Nostrand Grocers.
Are there going to be any full on Nostrand Grocers releases?
I mean, they're in the light right now but when we chose to direct attention to it, who's to say? But as far as songs people know about, "Going No Place” and “Landscaping" are two Nostrand Grocers songs, but I'm not sure people have studied them enough. Once we feel the climate is right, we'll take you there.
How would you break down the concept of this release?
Scallops Hotel usually is just about being broke. We were trying to move out to Maine, get this record store thing going. I knew I had Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?! coming out but I needed something else in the canon. I had a lot of stuff as Scallops Hotel that was just stockpiling, so I got the idea to do a trilogy. I felt like my skills as Scallops Hotel were starting to get impressive in making its own universe. At first, it was like an offshoot thing but now I'd say Scallops Hotel is its own universe. I can do two separate sets with no crossover at all that don't sound alike or I can do sets that do sound alike and do crossover. It's a lot of fun to play with that.
You included a verse from an Anti-Pop Consortium song on the project.
Yeah, I jacked some a capellas for that but I got the okay from those brothers, they liked the song.
How did you discover Anti-Pop Consortium’s music?
It was in college and my boy Max put me on to them when I was slow to get an ear to them. He showed me Mike Ladd too in college and I was just like, “Man, this shit is super far out!” Then when I was in LA and really starting to get into the history of rap and styles and going to Leimert Park and meeting the O.G.s and doing my homework and my ear was more tuned to it, I'd start to pick up on the brilliance of particularly High Priest, Beans, M Sayyid, Earl Blaize, bumping the Aceyalone… Man, that was the connection, really, that song “Heatrays” that's got all them, that was my gateway. Finally my ear was in tune with what they were doing. And then I'd be watching the live show and what they were doing with bringing the studio to the stage, and each brother's got the sampler up there and the drum machine, and they'd rotate and everybody rapped, and I was, like, that's kinda what I do. I realized I was really in direct lineage with these dudes. Then I reached out to High Priest and we did a few shows together in New York and Philly, and Beans reached out and I think he's going to come out to the opening of the record store.
This album seems to have the highest profile out of all your work.
I don't know, I can't tell from my perspective, but a lot of people ask me that so it must be the case.
Why do you think that is?
I don't know. It's probably my most mature sounding one. But I just make the music.
As an MC, how do you think you changed on this album compared to your earlier work?
More focussed, a bit more jaded, a bit more invested. The earlier releases you're listening to someone who's having fun with a hobby but the later releases you're listening to someone who's chosen to dedicate their life to it. So, yeah!
Is being a little jaded a virtue when writing music?
I don't know, man. Sometimes I wonder what it does. It feels like a burden, it sucks. I definitely want to think highly of the industry I participate in and I want to believe in. Like, people think music is spiritual and can affect reality and help heal folks, but I'm in this thing everyday seeing how people handle themselves and it's like, man, it's probably pretty shitty, probably pretty rotten. I try to avoid interacting with it by and large.
What sort of place were you in when you recorded this one?
Sovereign Nose is made from a place of total peace, just chilling at my mom's house having moved to Maine and working on SoulFolks. I just made that whole thing sitting on my mom's couch, made all the beats, all the rhymes.
What’s the couch like?
It’s a good couch.
You also used Steel Tip Dove to mix the project.
Yeah, I went over to his studio in Brooklyn after I was done composing everything and just laid it down.
Are you hands-on when it comes to mixing your music?
Yes, I'm pretty hands-on. I've got a very carefree and quick style, so that usually means engineers are sacrificing a lot—well, they think they are, like, “I could have dialed this up…” Nah, it sounds great, let's move on to the next one! I like to knock 'em out.
The song “Whereareewe” includes part of a studio conversation where you’re explaining a reference to Captain Caveman in the lyrics. Why did you leave that in?
Because Steel Tipped Dove had the mic, it was too hot, it was just in there. I don't really believe in mistakes in the recording scenario, so even on that record some songs I kinda messed up the flow, but I kept it in there 'cause it's ill. On Scallops Hotel stuff, I'm really all about just embracing what comes. I've trained so hard to be a rapper and in that environment I let it all hang out, it's all part of it. We really had that conversation and the mic was on for whatever reason and I was like cool. That’s how I do my music.