This right here is something special. Underground rapper Milo has been training in the hip-hop dojo for several years now, tempering his unique brand of comic-philosophic rap music. But Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!, his fifth album, finds him ascending to a new power level entirely.
Milo has always been an abstract and very poetic lyricist, but on some of his earlier material, particularly A Toothpaste Suburb, he sounded like he was trying too hard to impress. This is a man who would regularly namedrop philosophers and obscure authors like Schopenhauer or David Foster Wallace, and for every line that came across as inspired, another felt obtuse and (dare I say it) somewhat pretentious.
On Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?!, Milo earns every allusion as he rises to the stature of mystical prophet MC, spinning mind-bending wordplay around beautiful, spacey production that brims with confidence. This is the tightest, densest, most poetic batch of lyrics I’ve heard from any rapper in years, with line after classic line that has me reaching for the rewind button.
Musically, Who Told You to Think??!?!?!?! is an atmospheric blend of jazz rap and cloud rap, with some sprinklings of boom-bap and Shabazz Palaces futurism. Each track (many of which were self-produced) reverberates with gorgeous keys, crispy drum hits and melancholy bass, always leaving plenty of space for Milo’s vocals which are placed front and centre in the mix.
This lends the album a strong sense of space and clarity, inviting the listener to pull some of Milo’s cryptic lyrics apart. Try these: ‘Autodictate my didact and map it to black noise / Say the target audience is mothers of blond-headed black boys’, ‘Seen his hands fasten round the hilt of that rusted ruby scimitar / Speaking time-tested codas / Who them other rhythm wizards are?’
Milo’s words have a newfound sense of purpose here, which grounds much of the esoteric imagery contained within them. This is particularly the case on touching personal tunes like ‘Note to Mrs’ or ‘Take Advantage of the Naysayer’, where he raps about his wife and father respectively. Elsewhere, he’s content to spit dizzying metaphysical boast raps: ‘The most understated mage / Flow monotone, how you sublimate the rage?’
It’s this confidence that really sets Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?! apart from Milo’s earlier work. His performances throughout the record are so sharp that whenever a guest MC appears, I find myself waiting in anticipation for Milo’s next verse. Said guests still manage to hold their own, however, particularly Elucid and the enigmatic Self Jupiter.
The only complaint I have for this record is simply that I want more of it. 42 minutes isn’t short by most standards, but when what’s on show is so fearlessly creative, it seems to fly by every time I put it on. I’ll happily devour any EPs and leftover tracks Milo has cooked up from this record, and am eagerly awaiting his next project.
Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?! is the kind of album that I follow music so closely for. The kind of record that finds a promising artist emerging with a unique and engaging voice, fulfilling their potential in the process of creating something truly new. It’s my favourite album of 2017 so far, and probably my favourite hip-hop album since To Pimp a Butterfly. Yes, it’s really that good. I hope everyone who reads this gives it a listen.