- Diana Dalsasso/Courtesy of Milo’s Facebook page
Yesterday Kendrick Lamar dropped “i,” the first single from his forthcoming untitled follow-up to his fantastic 2012 major label debut, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. It’s a light pop anthem that samples the fluttery funk guitar from the Isley Brothers’ 1973 hit “That Lady” and doesn’t get much deeper than its “love thyself” message. There’s nothing particularly offensive or grating about the song other than the fact that Lamar is capable of more. His colorful vocals and virtuosic flow are magnetic, but I prefer Lamar’s grittier, darker crossover hits (see “Swimming Pools”).
For my new dark raps I’ll turn to Milo, aka Rory Ferreira. Yesterday the LA-based MC released A Toothpaste Suburb, most of which he made while living in Chicago. It’s a great debut album from a rapper who showed considerable talent a few years ago with a mixtape called I Wish My Brother Rob Was Here, in which Ferreira put his own stamp on well-known tracks from producers such as Gold Panda and Flying Lotus with his observant, bookish, and loquacious rhymes. The “Rob” in the mixtape’s title is Ferreira’s dead best friend, Robert Espinoza, who remains a vital part of the rapper’s work.
One of the best tracks on A Toothpaste Suburb is “Just Us (A Reprise for Robert Who Has Not Been Forgotten),” which is a new version of a number from Brother Rob. On the updated tune Ferreira raps about how his musical tribute to his best friend unexpectedly earned him a fan base cultish enough to keep his memory alive: “Now kids write me about being their favorite rapper / And I’m the Ab-Soul who gets to live forever after.” Ferreira captures the bizarre experience of receiving praise from strangers for a cathartic response to a friend’s death, and his despondent performance makes it obvious that the MC wishes his friend was still alive.
There’s a sadness to A Toothpaste Suburb that goes beyond the moments when Ferreira references Espinoza’s death, and it crops up in little details. Ferreira jams his songs with descriptions of the mundane minutiae in his life, such as dust collecting in cabinets or surfing Wikipedia. This isn’t the stuff of crossover hip-hop, it’s the stuff of everyday life most of us prefer not to dwell on. But it’s also part of what makes Ferreira’s work engrossing.