If you ever find yourself hitting milo’s line, you’ll be treated to a crackling classical ringback tone. It would be disingenuous to say that this idiosyncrasy is on-brand for the 26-year-old indie rapper—he has no brand. His music runs the gamut between spoken word and heady banger, cerebral and the closest you might get to experiencing synesthesia.
“I don’t have to look like anything, I just do me,” milo explains. He sounds tranquil, speaking with me from his new record store, Soulfolks Records, in Biddeford, Maine. The store is part venue, part creative hub, and part home base for milo’s indie label, ruby yacht.
“Soulfolks is really trying to be a place where rap can happen,” he tells me.
According to milo, there are very few safe places left to really rap, and as a result, the music has become myopic. That’s why Soulfolks’ first priority is creating space; the actual record sales come second.
“Every day that the shop is open there are rappers in here, there are beat makers in here, honing their craft in public, exchanging ideas, and that’s necessary.
“We’re not speaking of space metaphorically,” milo clarifies. “I think that rappers and people who participate in rap need to invest more in our own places to interact with the public and rap, that isn’t a venue that also sells alcohol and kids can’t come and shit like that. There needs to be another avenue where the whole can meet.”
This is a community. This is creating and nurturing space. But don’t get it twisted, milo’s ruby yacht venture is not simply a means of becoming the machine. Rather, ruby yacht exists to outclass the machine.
“I think we have certain benefits, which is, the machine is always trying to look human and I am a real human,” he says. “That’s what big labels are always trying to duplicate. And I know there are big labels that definitely camp on ruby yacht and crib ideas all day from us, but that’s cool. That’s all we do is make new shit. We don’t have to pretend again.”
Opening the store and running the label have milo inspired. If he can execute, what’s stopping him from taking on something even bigger, say, a grocery store? “I definitely wanna open a grocery store,” he tells me, a bit giddy. “It combines everything, you know? Obviously, the music bumpin’ all the time in there. It still works out, it’s so ill!”
DJBooth’s full interview with milo, lightly edited for content and clarity, and the premiere of the Spencer Garland-directed video for "poet (Black bean)," the opening track on 2017's who told you to think??!!?!?!?!, follow below.
DJBooth: There’s a nice lineage of indie artists who are building an infrastructure to hold up fellow indies. billy woods’ Backwoodz Studioz comes to mind. How instrumental is this lineage?
milo: It’s important, for sure, but… More than keeping indie alive, it’s keeping the good art alive and making shit independently is a method to do that. If I was waiting on any sort of record label to rap, I would’ve never been a rapper. I mean, to this day, no label has ever approached me. So when you ask me a question like that, I don’t have an understanding of any other way of making music. I couldn’t rely on the machine to support my art at any point [laughs].
So you become the machine?
Not even, not even! I think we have certain benefits, which is, the machine is always trying to look human and I am a real human. So I don’t have to look like anything, I just do me. That’s what big labels are always trying to duplicate. And I know there are big labels that definitely camp on ruby yacht and crib ideas all day from us, but that’s cool. That’s all we do is make new shit. We don’t have to pretend again. This shit isn’t a brand—all the people in ruby yacht went to high school together. We make art no matter what—we don’t have an off. It doesn’t matter if anyone’s watching, it doesn’t matter if it makes money. It just can’t be turned off, and I think that’s was separates ruby yacht from even an independent scene.
You wrote that your store, Soulfolks Records, is “an exploration beyond what is cataloged, bought and sold as rap but what is mana and bone of rap.” Is that humanity the bone of rap?
I think that might be the bone of rap, sure. Something that I think shows in how rap is really being developed now, is there’s no place to safely do rap anymore, and it feels in how solipsistic all popular rap songs are. These rappers sound like they just exist in a space station because they do.
I mean, I’m 26, but I can remember when people gathered in parks and corners to just rap. That’s something that’s like, by in large, illegal, right? If 50 folks gathered in the park to kick rhymes unscheduled on a Monday, we’d probably get the cops called on us. So, Soulfolks is really trying to be a place where rap can happen. It’s operating as a front of a record store, but we don’t really care about selling records. Every day that the shop is open there are rappers in here, there are beat makers in here, honing their craft in public, exchanging ideas, and that’s necessary.
Space makes me think of how hip-hop is everywhere, but, because some of it is so microwaved, also nowhere.
We’re not speaking of space metaphorically. When you have a show at a venue for one evening, is that space? I don’t know. [Soulfolks] can be used at any time in service to rap, and is used at any time in service of rap. I mean, I’m sitting in Soulfolks right now doing this interview. I think that rappers and people who participate in rap need to invest more in our own places to interact with the public and rap, that isn’t a venue that also sells alcohol and kids can’t come and shit like that. There needs to be another avenue where the whole can meet. And it sucks for sure that it has to be a storefront, but that’s the nature of the game in America.
You wrote about ownership on the site. How do you reconcile that ownership is also one of the evils of society?
I don’t have to reconcile that. It’s too abstract and my lineage and my own personal history are too full of suffering for me to really give a fuck about if me playing this game of capitalism is ethical or not. I’ve already been a victim [laughs], I am not interested in continuing that. So I have to make a decision, and that’s just what it is. People are counting on me for dinner, so I’mma make sure I got it. I wish I could kick back and really figure out an alternative, but I don’t think my brain’s big enough.
That’s a noble position to take.
I don’t think it’s noble at all. To me, it’s just absurd. It’s fucking absurd that we have to do this, that we have to turn our time into dollars. It’s demeaning. It’s dehumanizing. It makes stress, which is not innocuous. People really play like stress is something of the mind, but stress is what kills us. There’s a lot of people, I don’t even wanna tell them I’m a rapper. It’s cool now to enter certain spheres as a store owner. There’s definitely agency in that, and I fuck with it. As many cards as I can have in my deck, I will stack it.
You’ve written about the difference in identity between “shopkeep” and independent rapper.
I like the routine, that’s probably helped me the most. And I’m blessed, I have very good friends who are also very good artists and we live pretty close to each other so I have at least two or three cats from ruby yacht in here every day. It’s good to be living in rap, and not just talking about it on the internet. Again, not just in service of it at your venue where Budweiser is selling… Just for yourself, just come on in. There’s no stakes. I like that a lot.
Are there are too many stakes in hip-hop, with it being so visible and perhaps misunderstood?
No, that’s the name of the game when you make art, is to be misunderstood. You just gotta accept that and carry on. You know, you have your intentions, and that’s only part of the story. To think that it’s any more than that is pretty wild.
Does it excite you to be misunderstood?
I like to play with misunderstandings, that excites. I like causing misunderstandings [laughs], that tension and that awkwardness. Especially on stage, that’s one of my favorite ways of doing a show.
What if money were nonexistent, would anything be different?
Nothing would be different. That’s the thing about ruby yacht and what I do, nothing would be different. If money were nonexistent tomorrow, I would be in Soulfolks Records, making beats, rapping with the door open. Money don’t play into this at all. It makes money, don’t get it twisted, but that don’t play into why I do it at all.
That sounds very... pure.
I think I’m very blessed. I’m fortunate to have found my calling at a young age and really been nourished and appreciated in a path carved for me to occupy. I came along at the right time.
So you don’t think you could execute this plan in the past or present?
No, I don’t. It seems kind of like the artist’s job to me, to occupy the now and document it, and to use everything in the now. I feel like I’m doing that.
The store was a dream in a dorm once, right? Do you ever reflect or look towards the future?
Yes, to both. I’m reflecting and I’m thinking about the future. I wasn’t really thinking of the record store in the dorm room. I feel like the record store really entered my mind about two years ago, like as a real thing. I have an idea of what that would take and what it would look like to execute, and I think I could maybe do it. Now, having done it, it’s like, “Why did I think that was that hard?” That’s very exciting and inspiring. I’m taking my tenure here and treating it like the preparation and planning for the next thing, which will be bigger.
What’s the next thing?
I definitely wanna open a grocery store.
Oh, I like to eat. A grocery store would be dope.
Make things in service of yourself, and the people will come.
Yeah! I mean, I can’t rely on anyone else. It seems obvious, I mean, that’s the first rule of America. You can’t expect any of these motherfuckers to look out for you.
I look forward to your grocery store.
It combines everything, you know? Obviously, the music bumpin’ all the time in there. It still works out, it’s so ill! That’s just one goal we have, and we were also thinking of… Well, I can’t tell too much [laughs].