I can remember the first time I heard Milo. I was doing the washing up in the relatively grotty rental my fiancé and I occupied at the time. The Youtube algorithms had randomly selected Souvenir from So The Flies Don’t Come and I was halted in my tracks. The hazy, gorgeous production, effortlessly dripping out of the speakers, the opening bars ‘It’s the lazy theologian…’ . Philosophy, noodles, community, culture, literature, post-rock, laundry, white fans…half spoken-word, slam poetry delivery. I hadn’t heard hip-hop like this and I was immediately pulled in. The washing up water grew cool as I made my way through So The Flies Don’t Come twice in a row. My journey from convert to Milo fanboy was swift, aggressive and bloody brilliant.
Fast forward then to 2020 and Rory Allen Philip has dropped the Milo stage name and released perhaps one of his most complete albums as R.A.P Ferreria. Purple Moonlight Pages isn’t a dramatic stylistic change from anything he’s released as Milo or Scallops Hotel but it does offer a cohesive, deep and compelling piece that ironically could act as a fantastic introduction to Milo’s other albums and the whole Ruby Yacht aesthetic. (Ruby Yacht being the label/community/production house that Rory et al orbit around).
At 18 tracks long there’s a lot to take on here but part of the charm of Purple Moonlight Pages is how organically it slips from mood to mood, style to style without feeling contrived. This is partly down to Rory’s accessible, yet complex flow and how diverse his tone can appear, even when remaining in a relatively calm, almost soporific register.
The other fundamental element to the success of Purple Moonlight Pages, and a big part of my personal journey to ‘fanboydom’, is the production from Kenny Segal. Here appearing alongside Aaron Carmack (keys, drums horns) and Mike Parvizi (bass) as The Jefferson Park Boys. If there is a more perfect producer for a rapper like Rory Ferreria, I haven’t heard them. Kenny makes the sonic equivalent of Rory’s calming yet intellectually stimulating bars. All jazz samples and warm beats. Loose but not distractingly wonky. Calm but never too ‘1am lo-fi beats to study to’. Experimental, cut-up samples but also always human feeling. On moonlight pages the trio make for a very live sounding crew – although unlikely, a lot of these tracks feel jammed out, or recorded as a 4 piece. Which brings me to this…
…Here is the part of the review where I talk about how awful 2020 has been. If this comes as surprise to you then congratulations. You somehow avoided it. Its a depressingly trite point to make, especially as I write this in December. It is, however, important in the context of just how live and alive this album sounds. Rory spends the whole of the first intro track DECORUM introducing himself “..the late sleeping Utopian..’ and the rest of The Jefferson Park Boys as though wondering around on small intimate stage, attention grabbed audience sat around, drinks ready, comfortable and attentive. It would have been amazing to see this album live, but in the shit-show that is 2020 the actual recording does a fantastic job of feeling as though its playing out in front of you in real time. In that sense the 18 tracks fly by.
For all my talk of how gorgeous, warm and calm Rory and Kenny can be together there is a sort of twitchy darkness to the first few tracks of Purple Moonlight Pages. GREENS combines jazz rhodes, brittle drums, sudden slap-delayed samples and phased bass with Rory’s quick-fire, self effacing flow. Dancing around each other, skirting chaos in a back and forth that on deeper lists exposes an odd facsimile of aggression. ‘This beat goes 29 million miles before moving…’ GREENS ends with a tongue in cheek declaration of zen like understanding galvanised by interpretation of colour. The blues will fade but the greens are open wide vistas. This tightly encompasses one of R.A.P Ferreria’s most likeable qualities in my eyes. On one hand he’s not really taking this seriously but on the other hand he’s taking this completely seriously. Irreverent intelligence and deep emotion are attractive qualities in someone so verbose.
OMENS & TOTEMS is thick with midnight atmosphere. A lonely square wave synth repeats a simple three note melody either side of a swelling chords. Eventually a clattering beat falls into shot and Rory enters his flow proper. Night time Chicago could be a fantasy world, like the best Flying Lotus aesthetics, there’s an intoxicating mixture of the dream like fantasy and the real world grind of being an independent artist. Street corner wizards occupy the same space as flax seeds for breakfast and struggling to pay bills. Dreams are shot down while framed by a dreamy unreality.
U.D.I.G provides the first real head nodding moment of the album. Rory fires monosyllabic, tight rhymes until, at about a minute in, a piano motif drops and Rory follows the ride with multiple, rapid, interiors rhyme schemes. Lush dramatic strings join the fray before everything pulls back – only to repeat the trick all over again. Its brief but amazing.
LAUNDRY follows quickly and is lighter but still totally bumps in a polite summers afternoon kind of way. These three tracks as a trilogy are a good example of how quickly the album can swing between modes and yet still sound like you’re sitting at the same gig, watching the same band. Totally engrossed. These three tracks appear early and together but that’s not to say the album peaks early. Far from it. The sheer consistency of quality is almost blinding to individual moments. When you’re this good it can be paradoxically hard to pick out tracks. LEAVING HELL is a mid album break beat work out full of drunken brass and hooky sing alongs. Open Mike Eagle shines on PINBALL and ABSOLUTES swaggers around a Spanish classical guitar sample, almost calling back to Hello Nasty era Beastie Boys. ‘How do you like me now?’
Sometimes with music I get sucked into the false notion that invention and progress are the most admiral and essential qualities of music. So much of what’s exciting about an early relationship with sound is that almost everything you meet is new – and that can be highly addictive. Sometimes however consistency and a deep excavation of singular ideas or aesthetics can be just as rewarding. An album of strong songs is just as engaging as an album that invents a genre. I had never heard anything like Milo the first time I heard him and now, despite that originality being a thing of my past, the excitement lives in how expertly in control of the whole package Rory is. Purple Moonlight Pages is one of the best Hip-Hop albums of 2020 because its a master in charge of his art and its the closest I’ve got to a live gig in months.