Let’s look at two divergent ways to enjoy hip-hop today:
Milo, So the Flies Don’t Come
FOR FANS OF: Earl Sweatshirt, Open Mike Eagle, Cecil Otter
Say what you will of Earl Sweatshirt, but the young rapper’s lyrics shine with cleverness. A buoyant poetic language dots his lines, revealing fascinating a-to-c connections in his thoughts even as his themes often draw on things dark, dirty, dangerous, and disquieting. Milo is a rapper in much the same vein, but with Sweatshirt’s deviant discourse replaced by an almost academic level of thoughtful literary reference, racial and cultural sensitivity, and spoken word sensibilities. Production-wise, his 2015 album So the Flies Don’t Come is simple, even spartan. But the verses on tracks like “Souvenir” and “Yomilo” are undeniable and vital.
FOR FANS OF: “Graduation”-era Kanye, Aphex Twin, DJ Shadow
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Lushlife’s latest album, Ritualize, recorded with the help of CSLSX. A respected producer in his own right, Lushlife is capable of some truly breathtaking beats. The grandiose, maximalist soundscapes on songs like “The Waking World” and “Burt Reynolds (Desert Visions)” are alternately towering and cascading, raising the listener to unseen heights and bringing crushing weight down on their ears. An impressive roster of collaborators spring up throughout, most notably Killer Mike, who brings his usual edge to “This Ecstatic Cult.” And yet, it’s undeniable that the lyrics on the record are fairly uninteresting, Lushlife’s flow too one-note to achieve full greatness. But what I love about this record is that it the whole product works exceptionally well with the rapper’s flat delivery; in the mix with such unrelenting and colorful production, the straight-lines of his voice become another instrument, a consistent hand guiding the listener through the ever-changing halls of this funhouse album.