Interview by Rowan Lees
After publishing a short summary piece for my Issue 168 of Quench, I have since sat on this full interview recording for almost two months. The conversation changed my life. I left the venue in a daze, my phone’s battery voice-noted to its death, and walked for a solid half hour stunned by the unreality of it all. I eventually began the slow process of getting my shit together, with the help of a Good Samaritan who gave me a plug to charge my phone and get home. By now, mid May, my shit has been almost entirely gotten together, and the sense required to transcribe and publish this interview has returned.
This was a difficult conversation for Rory having just received some bad news from his child’s doctor back home. I will be forever thankful to him for so selflessly giving his time to talk that night when he didn’t need to. And not just talking for talks sake, he really showed himself in this conversation and dished out a fair bit of wisdom too.
I could just as easily pretend this transcription was delayed because I couldn’t figure out how to properly transcribe milo’s laughter. It had this braying quality that would be lost in any written form. It was cackling and honest and filled the small room we sat in with harsh tones, I think it perfectly embodied the beautiful sense of wonder he has about the world. I settled for [laughs].
“It’s weird to grow up in this public. A limited public, but still public. Like I’m an indie rapper but there’s people who’ve been following me since 19 and they feel like they know me or some shit”
Post performance, Milo welcomes me with a warm smile and calm demeanour into the low roofed green room of Bristol venue, The Fleece. The show was a sell out and appeared to bring together fans from all across the south of England, such is the rarity of a UK tour date. He performed tonight as the opener for Open Mike Eagle, the idol-turned-friend who brought him on his first tour across the Mid West of America and many since. The two’s tour experience was evident on the night, dispatching raps and fiddling with beats on stage, armed with only a microphone and an SP-404. He got chatty with the crowd at several points, enjoying the interaction, and even sold off this piece of equipment for £421 in a live auction. Without further ado, this is the conversation that followed.
M: So what it is?
R: What’s what?
What’s your first enquiry bro?
Oh! right. Well, how is tour going?
Tour is cool, I grew up moving like every six months so the last five years I’ve spent on the road and I’ve been comfy with that, I really liked it and preferred that kind of nomadic lifestyle but now I have a baby man so my mind ain’t really here man, it’s hard for me.
Is this your first tour since the baby?
Nah I’ve done a few but it’s just weird now, I don’t know how to explain it. It’s like when I was younger, from 19-24 or whatever, being on stage was mostly jubilation and mostly like therapy and exorcism of all these negative feelings, now when I get on stage, I just be feeling a little pissed, and I don’t know why!! [laughs]
I met this very cool philosophy professor outside who saw you in London two years back, he said tonight’s show was very different to the last?
Ooh what’d he say?!
Nothing too specific! Just that there was a definite difference.
Oh well, when he saw me two years ago I was on the cusp of huge life changes which I have since gone through, so I guess that shows in my show. It’s weird to grow up in this public. A limited public, but still public. Like I’m an indie rapper but there’s people who’ve been following me since 19 and they feel like they know me or some shit. And like, a philosophy professor! Crazy.
Right! So how did London treat you?
London was really cool, I like walking around London. I could live in London. Two sold out shows, got to see Mike’s sold out shows…
Can you tell us what was going down at Red Bull Studios? You posted a pretty exciting and unexplained Instagram post.
Yeah why not. You know the Vels Trio? They real hip mufuckers, from Brighton, we did a jam session.
Tight! And Radar Radio, How was that?!
Most in depth, long interview I’ve had in a long time! Like an hour long, with seangram of Stay Cool. They were fuckin’ with your boy! I even did an on air lil exclusive rhyme for them.
“And to connect with someone? in London? I’m from Chicago, my parents dropped out of high school, my parents ain’t never been to London! My dad never been to California!”
Are there any London artists you wanted to link up with?
I was into Theodore Black who opened for me both nights actually. I really rock with that young man, gotta lot of soul a lot of heart. My boy Eldon out here, Eldon Summers, he ran an event called “people of colour colouring” in London.
Did that come after the lyric from your album?
Yeah yeah yeah, he linked with me the first time I ever went to London and asked for my blessing for the project and I was just really moved by this dude. Then in my time in London he took me to south, Peckham, for Nigerian food and just really gave me the full alignment with the city. And to connect with someone? in London? I’m from Chicago, my parents dropped out of high school, my parents ain’t never been to London! [laughs] my dad never been to California!
So would you say London is your favourite place to tour?
Oh for sure yeah, London and Amsterdam. I’m really rockin’ with them cities, and Rotterdam too.
Rotterdam!? I was there this summer, do you remember what the venue was called?
Oh it doesn’t matter that was very specific
Nah it does matter! Ah It was The Worm Club! They were dope actually they made really good pasta for the artists, had a bangin’ soundsystem, cool sound guy. A lot of sound guys don’t like to get rap get as loud as… you know I like sludge music? I go to shows sometimes and I just noticed they let these guys get so much louder than they let us get, and there’s this connotation of like, black rowdiness or whatever that people don’t like. So I always big up the sound people that get us properly loud and at Worm Club, they let us BOOM.
There was a moment in the show tonight where you turned it up and it sounded so right.
Well yeah but what I noticed was he would let me turn my beats up, but not my vocals. So that was a very clever way of controlling how loud I got like, ‘you can get loud but they not gon’ hear you’.
Hah, well we heard you loud and clear
Thank you, thank you I was trying to rock that out. Like if that’s the line Imma get right to it you know!
The on stage auction was hilarious too
Yo thank you, that was the first time I’ve ever done that.
It kind of opened up the floor to a lot of people in the crowd trying to be funny, what do you make of that on stage?
Well hey you know what I’ve noticed? People need attention. People need attention and it’s something we’ve demonised in Western culture and that’s a real lame thing to think “eurgh you want attention” but we all need it and I don’t mind giving people that opportunity, whatever. Try to be funny! Some people are funny and it’s awesome and we have a real good laugh. Some people aren’t funny and they realise that very quickly.
Rory has been cultivating his record label imprint Ruby Yacht out in the open since 2015. The label has seen all of milo’s, his alias scallops hotel’s, and s.al’s major artistic projects through to their completion and release. Named after the Persian poetry collection ‘Rubáiyát’ by Omar Khayyam, the vessel has also allowed milo to reclaim some of his older projects for vinyl release, including his breakthrough double EP things that happen at day/things that happen at night.
“People always be like ‘man Milo is so fiercely independent’ It’s because I don’t have another option”
When did you realise you wanted to start a label?
When my friend Daddy kev, who runs Alpha Pup, runs a studio, Low End Theory, he’s a really talented guy, DJ and producer, he was part of Hellfyre Club and he seen what happened with that and he seen my drive and how I was engineering my own record campaigns and things. After that happened, no label to this day has ever reached out to sign me.
None. I’ve never been approached by a label, ever. People always be like “man Milo is so fiercely independent” It’s because I don’t have another option. No one wants to invest money in the art that I’m making, no one out here, except listeners, and that’s really dope
You’ve got that instant fan connection.
Bang! And that’s what Kev saw so he was like, maybe you should start your own label? Cos I had some OGs who were like I’ll get you signed to WARP, I’ll get you signed to Jaguar I get you signed wherever you know, pipe dream shit. None of these labels have ever fucked with me and they never will. I’m too erratic. I’m not trying to be a stable artist; I’m not trying to be an artist that makes sense; I’m not trying to be … known; I’m not trying to do anything other than get free, as free as I possibly can through this music, and labels don’t fuck with that.
Do you think, being the person you are, you could ever be on a big label like that?
Are you kidding!? Yo if I could get a proper budget just to execute some of the grandiose ideas I have, I would work with anyone. But you know at the end of the day everything I’m involved in has to be focused in like, at least love. I’m not concerned with profit, I’m not concerned with anything that makes black people look bad in any way and in America the music right now, to have a big label really fuck with you and stick to them type of tenets, very rare. Even in indie hip hop, the coolest labels aren’t owned by people who look like me. So to me Ruby Yacht is a really cool alternative because it’s artist owned, black owned, I own it, totally, there’s no hidden partners no nothin, I get the final say in everything we do.
So has your experience or lack of, with labels, changed how you want to run Ruby Yacht?
Oh definitely! I’m not interested in running Ruby Yacht like a label label, I’m interested in running it like a company that can give work to people I love.
“Nobody asks you to become an artist and in fact everyone tells you otherwise”
So how do come across artists you sign?
well I’ve never really signed an artist so maybe we should talk about that. Even that phrase what does that mean, ‘to sign an artist’. In indie rap most deals are one off deals or if you’re ‘lucky’ a 3 album deal, but are you signed to a label on a 3 album deal? Furthermore we know what happens when artists irrevocably link their destiny to a label, so I’m hesitant to say we sign any artist.
Ruby Yacht is to be exploited by good artists, and artists I love know that. They come they get work, we get work and we get money, we get whatever. In my mind Ruby Yacht is a launchpad I want all my homies to have their own labels I want all my homies to be their own boss, I don’t anyone looking to me for what to do next you know? I just wanna help people who have the ideas, execute. So that’s how we find artists really. Like Pink Navel, pft! A gifted MC, gifted producer, someone who’s really made themself available to Ruby Yacht and who really comes through, all the time.
Something my best friend and co collaborator in life and all art, he goes by s.al, safari al. Something we talk about is ‘answering the call that never comes’. Nobody asks you to become an artist and in fact everyone tells you otherwise. So you have to be a certain type of crazy to answer a call that don’t come. Like now the call is here and now people come and it’s really dope.
But you have to know it’s there before.
But you have to know it’s there before! So that’s what we’re looking for in artists, like people who can’t turn it off, people who would be doing all the art they do whether it’s one person in the room or 400. And you notice there my brain is on peon size, I just said 400 like it’s a big number. You know I mean there’s rappers who won’t even leave their bedroom for the money I do BACKFLips for [laughs]. Like it’s all relative playa playa but I’m a pauper, I come from nothing, so to even have 400 people in a room excited for me being there that’s great.
When you left uni did you know there was a career in place for you?
Definitely I did yeah. I dropped day & night and I knew there was no other rapper like me. I knew I had created an itch that only I could scratch and if you can do that as an artist you’re good forever. If you can convince people that they wanted this thing and only you can do that thing that’s it.
So how many months after Night and Day?
So that was January 1st, then I dropped Cavalcade in summer and I went to Cali like wow, I’m out in Cali. Then I went on a month long tour with Riley Lake, nedarb nagrom, s.al and at the end of that I made $1000. I knew that was enough money for me to live for at least 2 months. So I just had to put down rent twice that’s $600, I’d have around $200 for just food and shit and I’d just make money to pay for electricity or whatever. So at that point I had two months. I knew I could make whole rap tapes in a week. I know bandcamp can get me like $200/300 so it was like whatever, as long as I don’t quit this shit I can eat off of it. So yeah 2013 was when I knew.
So it was really just as soon as mathematically possible?
Yo I put in that in my rhymes a lot because it’s true! I’m a schemer, for sure. I be plottin’. Once the numbers make sense I pull that trigger. And I wasn’t hesitatin’. All my friends thought I was crazy. Everybody in my life thought I was crazy except my daddy, my daddy was the only person to say ‘good job’. Even Mike Eagle was like ‘you know you ain’t never gonna go back to school boy, like maybe you should finish’. Because I wanted to be a senior, I was in my last year and everyone was like just finish! And I had to say I can’t do it, I gotta go now!
So did your dad convince you?
Oh I was on the boat already, but I got my swag from my dad I got my confidence from him. Even when I was at college my dad was like ‘you should be doing your own thing’ my dad’s all about that.
“I had a kid and everything in his life has been paid for by rap, everything. That’s so funny! Like making words rhyme”
And your mum wanted you to finish?
OH my mom was like you gotta finish. You know my mom is black and my dad is Portuguese Irish and so like, my grandfather was a sharecropper, he wanted to be a meteorologist and he was told ‘black people should be like, garbage truck drivers’. Mom jumped out of high school and had me but eventually went back to college and got her degree. So me, I was a good student all through high school, accepted to college and got to live this idea that neither her, nor my dad ever did. So a bit of her was like ‘do this! We weren’t able to do it!’. But now my mum is super on the boat. She’s like ‘you did the right thing’ and she’ll even say that, that I had the confidence to see it when she didn’t. Everybody see it. Yo I had a boy, I had a kid and everything in his life has been paid for by rap, everything. That’s so funny! Like making words rhyme.
So what you said about that instinct you have for art, was it the same thing that brought about Soulfolks Records?
Oh so it was like my wife was pregnant with our son and she was just like ‘man you really love touring and uh doing that’ [laughs] and I was like ‘damn tru tru’ I should probably slow up and so I just thought ‘what can I do? Like I’m not a regular person, I have a hard time with people just fuckin’ with me or telling me what to do and so I tried to get a job at a record store, this was in Milwaukee, like all of them, and said you don’t even have to pay me I’ll go intern wages, I’ll get y’all coffee I just wanna learn and NO record store would hire me like even on that level. So I was like what I gotta do to open a record store? And like you said, that instinct hit so I tried to hustle $10,000 off an art grant and I didn’t win it?
Was that a whole formal application process?
Yeah it was for photography, I was a finalist. I bought a camera just for that. But then I got the itch so bad another opportunity presented itself with the same amount of money so I took it and invested it into this record store. But the business model I have isn’t to sell anything; we actually don’t have to sell anything to continue as a business.
So does this mark the end of touring, a home set up?
Nah it’s no the end of touring per se. To the uninitiated eye I’ll still be out on the road but in the “industry” we call ‘em one offs, so I’ll just do ‘spot dates’. But you know when the opportunity presents itself, like when Mike hit me, this is my brother man he took me on my first tour ever, I love rapping with him, I love opening for him.
“I’ll tell you the first tour I did with Mike had such an impact on me I started letting my unibrow grow out”
What was that first tour like together?
Oh it was ill man! Because Mike has always been Mike, and I have always been Ro’ and our relationship has never changed. My man has always believed in my abilities, even before I did. Something a lot of people don’t get is, when you’re a black man in America you’re conditioned to hate yourself. Especially in this age where self deprecation is cool, it’s doubly bad. And I was stricken with that for many years, but meeting Mike and going on tour like, he says ‘embarrassment is the wackest awareness’ like why do you do that, why do you clown yourself, why do you act like that, you don’t have to be that way, and really internalising that. I’ll tell you the first tour I did with Mike had such an impact on me I started letting my unibrow grow out. Like I don’t have to fuckin’ look like these mufuckers! It’s that level, like it’s funny but it’s real you know! It’s real man, before rap I was out here tryna look like everyone else! Nervous to be who I am! So yeah it was amazing.
Where was that first tour?
It was through the Midwest of America, I think the first show was in Cedar Rapids, changed my life. There was a bar fight, yeah. There was a bar fight in the spot and we packed up in the middle of a freestyle. Changed my life man I knew I wanted to do this shit forever.
Because of the fight?
Nah just that we were the entertainment! We were the bards, we were in the tavern when the fuckin’ local drunkards got ill, we were providing the accompaniment that night and I have since provided the entertainment to many bar fights.
And It’s part of this job! People come and they get faded! You think local skirmishes cease because I’m in your town? No, they get amplified! I present an arena for local politics to occur, that’s crazy! No-one talks about that part of what we do as artists! It’s all part of the bard’s rolodex, that I have met hundreds of people who I keep tabs on, who I know, who are my friends but only because I come to their town with music, crazy. And again, growing up I moved a lot so I feel particularly conditioned to like, digging that.
Are there any places in the world you’d like to tour you haven’t yet?
Yeah I was talking to DJ Tay actually and he was saying he’s doing a show in Egypt and I was like wow I would love to do that. He was saying downtown Cairo that sounds so cool.
How about an African tour?
I could, I could, I don’t know though. I would do Egypt first, that’s on everything. If I could bring my grandfather to Egypt I would be very honoured. But personally, I really wanna tour Brazil!
What’s it about Brazil?
Well my dad being Portuguese my Mom being black, I feel like it has the ill melting-pot vibe. A lot of people there look like me. A lot of people have my name, Portuguese, but look black over there and I’m really interested in that fluidity of identity. Over here we don’t allow people to be, well ‘over here my bad’, but in America we don’t allow people to occupy multiple spaces like that. Like I’m black, but in Brazil who knows? And man, I really wanna learn Portuguese. I only know one language.
Man I feel so stupid! even the homeless brother asking me for money asks me in four languages like, Dayum.
Maybe you need to rap in more languages?!
YOO. Definitely I do! I listen to rap in different languages to like, peep flow but you know.
“I am a rapper and I have dedicated my life to that, so right now only a few avenues are open to me legitimately”
With touring how has your endurance changed? Being away from home that is.
Well yeah it’s like I definitely have a home now. Whereas before I never felt like I did so I liked touring. Now I have a home, and I am away from it, and it is very obvious. In that sometimes it is bothering me. I really like being home, I really like my kid man. I’m in love with that lifestyle of being like a ‘town guy’. I am a rapper and I have dedicated my life to that, so right now only a few avenues are open to me legitimately. So this record shop is one of them, imma take it though and Imma rock it out, signed a three year lease.
Who are your neighbours at the shop?
Well to the right, my neighbour is actually my landlord, and she owns a Vietnamese restaurant Que Huong and I get to eat there a bunch of times, it’s the best food in the town, Biddeford, by far the best food.
And the other side?
The other side is an abandoned bar, so it’s vacant right now. Yeah right now nobody’s in there. If I had the money right now I would open up a cafe right there and I would knock down the wall so it would be like a cafe, record store, performance space but I don’t really have money like that yet.
It looks more than a record store already, I saw a customised arcade game on your instagram!?
Yeah so that’s like, we built that. I got my dad and my homies and we real ingenius and we know how to rig shit. But that’s just like a flat screen in a wooden case and made to look cool. Just a little emulator computer in there, but it’s not like an arcade machine we paid to have installed. And all the shelves, everything in the shop my boy Al came and built and you know, lumber cost nothing. Again I couldn’t afford to buy the building it’s just a rental. But it’s not that impossible to make those kind of things happen. But yeah I couldn’t really knock it out the park and make it a whole complex.
Not yet, true true.
So Safari Al did the handiwork right?
Yeah S.als been one of my best friends since high school he loves me I love him. But what I mean to say by that is like, with Ruby Yacht I execute ideas and my man is more the arms sometimes. He’s been trained by his uncles who own rental properties and also build trailers for movie sets. So he knows how to build like everything, he knows wiring all that stuff, really very practical things. And he acquired all this when we left L.A. and started working with his uncle. It was perfect it was like, imma learn how to do this so we can build shit.
So it was a family trade?
Yo his dad is an art teacher! So it is a family trade, to build, to create. And I’m blessed to have friends who are like that. Where it is a family trade to like get free, and just make shit.
Did you do any of the design?
I did all the design, I mapped it all out, measured everything, and even now on some interior design shit I’ve just been doing all the lighting and getting all the decor right and all that shit is me.
How long have you been picturing having a record store
It was exactly a year from the date that I got it! So I’ve had it since October and the October before that was when I thought ‘I want a record store’.
Where there ever those glimmers of the idea when you were younger?
Oh definitely that’s my crowd, that’s who I am. My whole life when I’m travelling I’m checking out the music shop, I’m at the cafe, all of that.
So you distinguish your music between milo and Scallops Hotel, is there one you prefer?
Ummmmm nah. Though sometimes I’m wondering if I should stop rapping as milo.
I don’t know the name now with that other dude. Also just the whole history of it, starting as a kid in college I was not mindful of how I mingled life with art. Like if I was to put out my first album now, you probably wouldn’t know my real name [laughs]. I been around the block and I’ve learned a lot of things about what comes with this when you’re so transparent.
Do you categorise between the two? Like do you sit down and you know which you’ll be making?
I usually make music in fits, like a spirit comes over me. I’ll decide I’m working on this album then I don’t stop making music until the album is done. And then I go on a long break of not doing nothing. And by long break I mean two or three weeks, and that will feel like an eternity. And then I’ll be like ‘what if I made a three song EP for this thing or what if I do another album for…’ whatever and I’ll just get to it.
Do you ever get writers block?
Yeah, yeah but on some abstract shit like ‘how many songs will I write in my life?’ ‘every song I write brings me closer to…’ on some Borges shit! But I never really get stricken with the actual block of writing because I know what writer’s block is. Writer’s block is when your editor is too powerful, and I don’t really have that problem. I have a very weak editor I don’t really edit my raps at all, I’m all impulse.
I guess that’s the idea of Scallops Hotel, is that what you’re gravitating towards now?
Nah I mean Scallops Hotel was my training ground but even that now, I’m a really dope producer and Scallops was some jokey thing when now I can make beats as good as anybody
“As an artist I’m always trying to push and identity does not help me”
Do you need another name now?
You see what I’m saying!? Identity is a problem, it’s just like a prison. People feel they know something because of the identity. As an artist I’m always trying to push and identity does not help me, it limits me if anything. So I’m always wanting a new name, I’m sure most artists are, I’ll probably just keep using shitty names. I don’t even like the name milo it’s such a lil *pss* of a name. At the time I was fifteen, sixteen in this rap crew Nom De Rap and they were like ‘you need a rap name!’ and I was super loving Drake so I thought I just need that mononym you know! MILO! Why did I do that!??
And Scallops Hotel?
That was in college fucking around with Braden Morgan, Nedarb Nagrom and his goofy ass and he came up with these dumb names. He was always playing Clams Casino and I was like ‘what a horrible name, Imma be Scallops Hotel’ so all these names are just not even serious.
So a new name on the horizon?
Nah, probably not. But I might, not might. I’m going to drop a record as a band. I’m trying to start a band called Potlicker, you heard of it?
Yeah Potlicker, it’s gonna be a sludge band. Yeah I think I just found my drummer actually right before I came on tour. I got the bass but I’m not good enough so that I can play bass and sing so I gotta figure that out.
When did you learn bass?
I mean you know. I just pick something up and make it do what I wanna do.
I’ve been making my own music recently and I just had the impulse to make CDs and just leave them around, do you think you could ever release music with no identity?
Not really, because of how music is released. If you sacrifice one component you have to add another so if you remove identity you have to have place, which is itself a type of identity because I’m gonna track your ass down to where these CDs are dropping you know what I mean? So what do you do, how am I gonna get this music on Spotify, on Soundcloud. It’s like that, that feeling you want to honour with that, will also make you self destruct. Being an artist is fucked!
milo’s musical output can be found at: miloraps.bandcamp.com
follow milo on twitter: @yomilo
visit the Ruby Yacht: www.rubyyacht.com
keep up with the goings on at soulfolks: www.soulfolks.org