We meet up with the indie emcee in Los Angeles to discuss aging rappers, underground heroes, and his quest to do this shit harder than anyone else.
To hear Rory Ferreira speak about his music career is to become briefly convinced that he's the best rapper on the planet. And while this belief may be fleeting, the emcee who performs under the alias milo is certainly ascendant. The 25-year-old Maine resident initially made a name for himself early on as a philosophy student rapper recruited by LA-based Hellfyre Club. After a brief stint in LA turned sour, Ferreira returned to Milwaukee, where he grew up as a teenager. Since his career began, milo has slowly been growing out of his collegiate shoes and into the fully-formed stylist he is on who told you to think??!!?!?!?!, released in August on his own Ruby Yacht imprint.
milo has a vision for the world in which every community has a town rapper, every show is independently produced, and everyone is free to roam wild. Idealistic, yes; a bit absurd, sure. But when we discuss his lofty goals and aspirations in a parking lot behind LA's the Airliner (home to Low End Theory), it's hard not to buy into his vision. Many already have. His fanbase has grown rapidly, eager to play Ferreira's knotty, multi-layered rhymes about dead philosophers and living rappers to anyone willing to listen. Early on in our conversation, two young men approach us, having spotted milo leaving the Airliner a few minutes earlier. "Hey man, sorry to interrupt," one of them says as they step towards us in awe. "I just wanted to give you this." He hands milo a folded up piece of legal paper. "It's an ode," he says.
"Ohhhhh shit!," Ferreira exclaims. He gives the young fan a bear hug, to which his companion can't muster anything more than, "Oh shit." After handshakes all around, the duo walks away ecstatic, having just met their hero.
And to a lot of young rap fans, milo is a hero. He's a figure of the future and a channel to the underground community of old school rappers criminally ignored in the rap community. To listen to Ferreira speak of Busdriver, the Project Blowed legend and LA hero who's still changing the rap landscape 18 years into his career, is to hear a fan and a friend who feels indebted to those who came before. who told you to think??!!?!?!?! is both milo's head-first dive as a fresh voice and an honoring of the groundwork laid by his heroes. milo's music is a cloaked missive to being black in America. We speak with Ferreira about growing up in Maine, his newborn son, and carrying the legacy of his mentors.
Noisey: The record's been out a few weeks, how are you feeling about the reception so far?
milo: I love it. It's cool. Everything is going splendid, everything is going according to plan.
You said on Twitter that now that you have a kid, you're trying to make music that he'll be proud of one day. How has that change in your life impacted your approach to music?
It's a new lens, really. It's a new understanding of myself, beyond myself.
Is all of your music now filtered through him?
Definitely not all filtered through him, but it's filtered through being his dad. That father-son relationship is everything. It's very informative, very influential.
How did you end up in Maine?
It's far away from everything. I'm a bit of a wild person. I like to be free, run around, holler, do weird shit. I don't like people looking at me. I need space.
What's it like coming back to LA? With Hellfyre Club, it ended badly, so how excited are you to come back here with a successful record under your belt?
It's always cool. I like LA a lot. I just can't live here, but it's cool. I don't even know if I'd say that it Hellfyre ended badly.
How'd it end then?
I just wish that it hadn't ended. Maybe that's the bad thing, that it did end. Most days that's what I find is missing from my life, the camaraderie of a big rap crew...Of serious rappers, too. People who study the craft. I miss that type of energy and motivation.
And is Ruby Yacht just not there yet?
Well Ruby Yacht is a different thing. It's a different generation. It's a different aesthetic, a different understanding of this artform. Mostly, the dudes in Hellfyre Club were eight, nine, ten years older than me. So it made our interactions really cool because I was getting put onto a lot of game. But at the same time I was able to reinvigorate some of them through my excitement to be in the game. That symbiotic relationship, I fuck with it.
Especially someone like Busdriver. I think he's been reinvigorated by his days in Hellfyre Club.
I genuinely love those dudes. I've learned so much: how to be, how to make this into a living. Definitely taking lessons and opportunities that even they were like, 'Whatever. We just took this dude on tour a couple of times.' But for me, that was all I needed. I'm from a place where nobody knows how that shit goes down. So pulling the drape back that much was like, 'I can do that. I can do that.' I miss that still. With Ruby Yacht, running a label, there are times when I'm like, 'Damn. What do I do?' It can be hard not having the big homies to really crack down on me.
What's it like being able to support your family through rap?
It's great. But it's also like, whatever. Because for me, there was nothing else I was gonna do. It's like, if I wanted to be a farmer, I would have done that, but I wanted to be a rapper, so I got it done. I don't glamorize the job. I want to make it lived in. A rapper is something every community needs. You need a doctor, you need a lawyer, you need a rapper.
That's something that comes through in your music, how much you love it. What is it about rap—that essence that makes you want to dedicate your life to it?
Rap is like speaking through time to black people. And I love it. I love it. I love that it's just the grand fucking compendium of black thought. Tracing where rap goes, all the way down to blues and spirituals, tracing the whole path of this way of making art and approaching it. I'm just trying to do my part to keep it moving.
who told you to think??!!?!?!?! starts with a James Baldwin quote, and then you repeat his refrain as your first line. You're always trying to insert yourself into the history of rap music and the culture. What is it about the past or the future that you want to be reframing in your world?
That's my strategy on attacking loneliness. As a weird fucking kid, black, disenfranchised, I just didn't see evidence of me very often in anything. Now I feel obligated to leave my mark on all of the things.
Growing up, you put yourself in that world because that was the world your were comfortable in?
Yeah! That was the world that I literally—I saw Busdriver's "Avantcore" and I learned how to dress from that video. Like, 'A guy like this is our way of doing it!' That was such a revelation to me, finding this particular kind of music and this community of minds. Growing up, listening to Bus, knowing that if we ever met we'd probably hit it off.
What's it like now that your idea has been validated?
Right?! It's just like, man, it's felt like something I've always been a part of. And it's really important to me because young rappers take so much. I try to give back, though. I've heard different rappers on different podcasts and radio shows shouting out older rappers just because it's cool, but it's like, 'Yo, I'm from nowhere.' I came out and met Myka 9 and got his approval, got his co-sign. I stood out on the corner in Leimert Park rapping, I did everything I had to do. I found High Priest from Antipop, all this shit. I made this shit interesting to people under 30. I'm putting in the work and keeping this shit going in a very real way—not an abstraction. Like, making sure people know who Busdriver is and that they'll always be at his shows.
Indie rap can be a huge abstraction.
Right! Right! Yeah, the ideas are cool. People love to dance through it and take what they need. But just, give back. It sucks so bad to see minds as wondrous as certain ones in this genre getting neglected as they do.
Is that a burden you carry, to help keep them on?
It's not even a burden. It's something I do gleefully and something I love to do. Shit, I do my job with a big ass grin. It's out of love. I love this thing. When I met Bus, it was like, 'Dude. I'll do anything you need. I love rap, and by extension, you.' And I think that shit kind of even bugged out certain cats, like, 'Who is this guy?' But through years now of doing this, they see I'm legit. Everything I say I do, I do.
You've called yourself a man out of time. Where in time should you be?
Nowhere. That's what it means to be black. Especially to be an artist, to be someone who really wants to go there, my time hasn't come yet. Who knows when it will be. I probably won't be here [laughs]. That's cool. That's whatever, I don't care.
Do you rap to try to find where in time you belong or to further establish that you'll always be a man outside of time?
I rap because I know that time is an illusion and it's my job to rap right now. Who my audience is doesn't matter. My job is to rap. There will be a kid one day, maybe not, listening to my shit, and they'll find their purpose in the world. I just want to connect that line. You have to understand. In third grade I lived in a town called West Enfield, Maine. It was a town of 2,000 and there was one other black boy in my school. His name was Adam and it was me and him versus everybody else. Just being like, 'Damn, dude, there's no one else like me on Earth!' And finding this little antennae to this community so far from me, made me feel like I was in it.
Is this a situation of destiny, where you would have ended up in this place regardless, or did growing up the way you did allow you to see the world in such a way and become a rapper with such a unique perspective?
For me it was a perfect storm. I come from a family of very avid self-taught people. My parents dropped out of high school but they're brilliant. They read and study and discipline themselves. My family line is a rejection of society to a degree. Like, 'Nah, we're kind of crazy. We wanna do our own shit.' So my whole life my dad has never had a job, I've never been around people who want to fit in. And what better fertile ground to breed a rapper in?
My parents loved rap. From a young age, just freestyling and making them laugh, and then getting to a point where they were like, 'Damn! You're kind of good!' And I just kept going and going.
Earlier, you mentioned that once you put songs out, they have their own meaning, their own existence. Do you think your music could exist without you? Are your songs entities in and of themselves?
That's a good question. There's a phrase I keep using on the album that people have been ignoring, which is, 'Auto dictate my didact.' That's from Jack Spicer. Borges did the same shit. I'm a channel, a vessel, a light. It's not about ownership, but for whatever reason I'm just the appropriate radio. I need to be on and doing my job to be the right radio. My job is to be on. The song is something else, but my job is to be on.
What do you think, ultimately, who told you to think??!!?!?!?! Is about?
I think this record is all about taking that real step. That real step beyond the step you ever thought you'd have to take. I never thought I would be a professional, career rapper. Now, it's like, as long as I wanna do this, it's gonna feed me. Which is stupid. That's so crazy! I never expected to be there, especially not at 25. So it's like, shit, now what? This record is just what I think rap should be. It's about making what I want to hear.
Rappers have a bad tendency to be like, 'It's a youth culture, it's what the kids like. Blah blah blah.' It's like, why do you give your power away? It was about a generation's kids, but that doesn't mean it's about every generation's kids. That's a different argument entirely and we all know that's dumb. I'm confused by that shit. I don't see a lot of people—especially my age—picking that up. It's like, I'm gonna make what I wanna hear in this motherfucker. And now I have crazy resources. The next one is gonna be even more insane. In fact, I was telling Kenny [Segal, fellow Ruby Yacht member] in the car today that we need to do the next one soon.
Because something that occurred to me with this one is that motherfuckers think this is hard for me. With this record—I got married, had a kid, and made this heater. You know what I mean? Folks are like, 'All these songs took two years!' Dawg, I'm living maximally. I'm opening a record store in April and doing this dumb rap shit. So this next one I just wanna knock out nasty because, I don't know...I feel like from this vantage point I have a shot at the conversation.
I remember being 16 when Blu first started rapping and being like, 'Damn, that dude's got his own vision of what rap should be.' That really intrigued me a lot. He kind of self combusted, but that's neither here nor there. That has always been on my mind, and Blu's been a huge influence on me in that regard, just like, 'Man, what if he had kept going, really nurtured himself properly, built his community, and built the alternate timeline.'
You almost fell into a niche as the philosophy student in college who also rapped. Is this new record a conscious effort to move away from that?
Sometimes I'm like, well now I'm jaded and old, but I look back and I'm like, 'Why did I do myself like that?' This game had me so fucked up that I was scared to be me. Even at that time when I was supposedly being me. I was really trying to be the smart philosopher, wanting people to think that I was smart. It's crazy. This music is therapy and working through problems in public. I was just a shithead 20 year old kid trying to build myself up.
Is this the lane of rap you want to occupy? Smaller rap shows across the country and a devoted audience? Or do you aspire to be something bigger?
I ask myself this question everyday. Exactly the question you just asked me. Where I am right now is my dream. Everyday I wake up and I'm so happy. This tour is perfect. But then, there's the thought of, 'I'm here. Why not floor it? Why not stunt on these fuckers?' And that kind of speaks to what this record is about.
I could have kept rapping how I did on a toothpaste suburb. But why? It got to a point where I can go across America and have kids be like, 'Dude! Rap should be like you! Why don't these fools know?' Yeah, why don't they know? Kids are rooting for me, I gotta be like, 'Damn, let's shit on 'em.' People really believe in this. A dude walked up during this interview with an ode! I feel obligated to honor his vision of me as a rapper to fuck with. I feel that. I want to make it grow.