‘who told you to think??!!?!?!’ reimagines rap as pure art

milo’s latest is poised to become his first of many classics

a1384328309_10

“who told you to think??!!?!?!?!” is milo fulfilling the poet’s responsibility as it was outlined by the late Baldwin.

Courtesy milo

“who told you to think??!!?!?!?!” is in many respects a continuation of milo’s previous artistic form on previous LP, “So The Flies Don’t Come,” which took on a more concerted and political bent. His newest release bends further toward the political but also maintains milo’s unique, free-wheeling whimsy.

While a lot of this project coheres with those from the past, this record is distinctive for the weight milo chooses to bear on it. It speaks intently to, as milo wrote on his bandcamp, “boundaries and permissions.” In this case, with milo shaping his unprecedented career through rap, it seems to be about an artist operating outside boundaries and without permissions.

It becomes clear, then, why milo opens and closes the first track on the album with a James Baldwin sample. In the clip, Baldwin — one of the most famous American writers and social critics — makes a metaphorical connection between what he calls the artist’s struggle for integrity and the daily struggle of all human beings to self-actualize. To Baldwin, “poets are … the only people who know the truth about us” and “something awful is happening to a civilization when it ceases to produce poets.”

“who told you to think??!!?!?!?!” is milo fulfilling the poet’s responsibility as it was outlined by the late Baldwin. On “call + form (picture),” he decries brand-obsessed rappers with the disgusted question, “Why’s your favorite rapper always babbling about his brand again?” and makes a last call for “those real emcees,” repeating, “Your voice is needed.” He re-instantiates the necessity of young artists answering their own call so, as he raps on “paging mr. bill nunn,” future rappers and poets can become “what had been demonstrated in front of them.”

On “embroidering machine,” milo raps that “the job of resurrectors,” is to “raise the dead.” Whether using “the dead” to refer to those who haven’t answered their call, the forgotten emcees who already have answered their call or both, milo does his job and fulfills his responsibility — as outlined by Baldwin — with this album.

But “who told you to think??!!?!?!?!” does not only focus on an appeal to others. milo divulges his own process of answering his call to be — wholly and singularly — a rapper. Over the course of the album milo offers beautiful insight on minimalism, a love ballad to his wife, criticism of “fence-building nihilists” and an allegory on consciousness and the speed of his windshield wipers. On “sorcerer,” milo resolves to ignore the world’s ills and flourish “in the lag time.” He enjoys a blessed boredom on “paging mr. bill nunn” and chooses rap over paying the rent on “embroidering machine.”

milo has always been prone to craft ambitious art projects out of rap, often creating albums better classified as thematic soundscapes. Now, however, the loftiness of “who told you to think??!!?!?!??!” better reflects his Herculean task of trying to drag his artform back to its pure roots while also demonstrating his own personal growth. For this, “who told you to think??!!?!?!?!” will go down as a classic, an earnest and thoughtful project which wills listeners toward personal transcendence.

related stories