Josh Vincent reviews underground U.S art rappers Open Mike Eagle and Milo, live at The Fleece in what reflected their 'idiosyncratic performance style and lyricism '.
'We use our minds like pencils…
Preaching black aesthetic gospel.
Michael called it ‘art rap’ so you wouldn't find it hostile’ – Milo
This was the type of gig to remind you why Bristol is the place to be a student. A short walk from my flat, two underground American rappers who are still niche in this country were playing together in a great, but threatened, local venue. Open Mike Eagle and Milo may be the two most prominent ambassadors of ‘art rap’, a coinage from Eagle which reflects these artists’ idiosyncratic performance style and lyricism, as well as a broader DIY ethos in the face of the ever-increasing commercialisation of hip hop. While neither of them are close to penetrating the musical mainstream, they have gained a strong online following built around critical praise heaped on their consistently strong LPs.
Up first was Milo (Rory Ferreira), the 26-year-old Wisconsin rapper and one-time Philosophy major whose releases have grown better and more unified, culminating in last year’s LP who told you to think??!!?!?!?!, one of my favourite albums of the past few years. Milo raps with an effortless mix of bravado and nerdiness, which the crowd loves, even though his reference-dense rap style had struck me as more suited to headphone-listening. Milo’s energy is enough to ensure easy control of the crowd; at one point, he starts a discussion with an audience member about whether a sample of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring contains an oboe or a bassoon. That’s the type of thing you don’t get with mainstream rappers. (It was a bassoon.)
Ostensibly the headliner (although Milo’s two sold-out London shows suggest that they’re equals on this side of the Atlantic), Open Mike Eagle retained the bare set-up of his support act, with a Macbook and an Akai controller providing the beats. As a newcomer to Mike’s music, I was surprised at how much more pop-like his tracks were in comparison to Milo’s; with tracks like ‘Qualifiers’, Mike smoothly croons the hooks, whereas Milo growls and drawls his hooks like statements of intent. Mike reminded me of fellow Chicagoan Chance the Rapper at times, which is no bad thing, with his witty and dense lyricism providing a counterpoint to the lightness of the instrumentals. Art rap, it seems, is more of an ethos than a unified aesthetic.
I have just one gripe with an otherwise near-perfect evening. There was a missed opportunity for a collaboration, as they have featured on one another’s tracks in past albums. That would have been a fitting end to the night. However, I respect their Open Mike Eagle and Milo are artists going in different directions, supporting but not trying to be like one another, and the solo set provides the perfect chance to realise their respective musical projects. Milo and Mike, both prodigious rappers and producers, treated the audience to a sample of unreleased music. It seems that neither of them is happy standing still as they gain ever more fans and acclaim, yet still retain the strong independent spirit that made them what they are.
Featured image: Facebook / Open Mike Eagle
Did you see Open Mike Eagle and Milo at The Fleece? Let us know what you think!