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Who the F*** Is milo?

Lead image by Spencer Wells, edited by Evan Larrick.

Last month, we let our readers vote on their favorite albums of the year to shake up the monotony of year-end lists. The seeding was a no-brainer, we thought. Kendrick, Future, Jamie xx, and Drake occupied the top spots. We predicted they’d power through, and we’d get a Final Four of the biggest albums of the year.

Needless to say, that never happened. Not even close. Two of our picks were knocked out in the first round, and none of them ended up making the Final Four as we predicted. Attribute that to the overwhelming fan response we got to the contest–a mobilized Internet task force is not to be underestimated.

The biggest upset was in Round 1, where To Pimp a Butterfly was knocked out by our 16th seed, milo’s so the flies don’t come. He’d go on to take our whole tournament in dominating fashion, winning with 90% of the vote in many of his matchups. Which leads us to the question on everyone’s mind: Who the fuck is milo?

Let’s start with the basics. milo is just shy of 24, and released his first project under that moniker in 2011. Since then, he’s he’s hopped across the U.S.—he claims L.A., Wisconsin, Chicago, Maine—alternately enrolling in school, recording, touring, joining and founding art-rap collectives. Of the projects the he’s put out, the things that happen at day/things that happen at night EP stands out as a good starting point to begin understanding the enigma that is milo. With a strong focus on bard-like storytelling, milo unifies his background in linguistic and metaphysic philosophy with a learned alt-rap history inherited from the likes of Busdriver and Open Mike Eagle. The tone is one of a child of the ’90s, with many references to shows like Legends of the Hidden Temple, layers of whimsical humor and irony, and a sense for juxtaposing high and low cultural signifiers. But that was three years ago.

The record that was able to steamroll through To Pimp a Butterfly, Dr. Dre’s Compton, Earl Sweatshirt’s I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, Vince Staples’s Summertime ’06, before finally toppling Joey Bada$$’s B4.DA.$$ is a more grown up milo, having taken up partial residence in LA and watched his fanbase grow from URL to IRL. so the flies don’t come sees milo leveled out, from rap apprentice under Hellfyre Club to striking out on his own. Though his subject matter still focuses on Greek and Latin mythologies, linguistic theory, and obscure pop-cultural ephemera, he comes across more confident and self-assured at how to wield these signifiers. His anxieties of being stuck between identities, the anxieties of influence are – somewhat – lessened.

Blackness as something simultaneously revolutionary and natural is a recurring theme throughout milo’s music, which leads him to openly mourn victims of racial violence such as Darrien Hunt. In its personal specificity (“I love Mugen too,” repeated, in reference to Hunt’s death for carrying an anime character’s sword), milo’s album often hits closer and more directly than even To Pimp a Butterfly’s more generalized political outcry. And rather than cashing in on the 90s nostalgia that breeds Buzzfeed articles, milo’s cultural points of reference seem genuine, illuminating his paths of influence rather than simply namedropping. See the following lines off “An Encyclopedia”:

Born from the racial tensions between nigger rigs and Macgyvers
The difference between quantum leap and sliders
That is if you have an eye for
The mid-nineties Sci-Fi sitcom

For milo, music is equally important as a method of self-expression as it is a community building exercise. With Hellfyre Club, milo was surrounded by his self-admitted idols, artists like Busdriver. “Hellfyre Club was a process a small group of artists incubated, experienced in pursuit of bettering their abilities. my involvement in that group is over and has been for a year.” But so the flies don’t come is his first full-length since moving on from that collective, released on his own label/collective Ruby Yacht. “Ruby Yacht is an eternal makers guild that I am responsible to and for. a primary export of ours are rap songs as well as the assorted packaging, distribution and curation that comes along with that. [In] addition we publish a seasonal hardcopy called o Bruxo where we deploy a small staff of poets, playwrights and polymaths to really get down.”

Writing raps that cut to the heart of millennial angst and anxiety have earned milo a community, both of collaborators and fans. For the latter, his music is a point of genuine emotional connection, a chance to root for the underdog, rather than an artist with a carefully manicured PR image. He connects with those who’ve felt the same plight as him, nerds and outsiders, anyone looking for dexterity of a poet with the rhythm of a rap (and without the pretention that normally comes along with that).

Which is what makes his win all the more impressive. That comparatively small fanbase is motivated enough to get out and vote for the person they connect with. While other artists have the raw numbers, milo’s fans have the heart. That’s how he was able to upset Kendrick Lamar, and everyone else that came in his way. And ultimately, that’s how artists remain successful, even when they’re no longer the trending topic. If milo can keep touring, keep drawing impassioned crowds, and keep pushing the envelope of self-published poetry and theory, then who really needs the “name recognition” of a Joey Bada$$?

Join milo’s legion of fans via Twitter, Facebook, or his site.

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