R.A.P Ferreira welcomes in a new decade as an elder statesman of the underground and as one of its most beloved and reliably idiosyncratic figures with his latest record, 'Purple Moonlight Pages'.
‘Fence building nihilists good evening’ – so begins the most recent album by R.A.P. Ferreira, or as he might be better known, milo. While he might have dropped the milo and Scallops Hotel pseudonyms, we can still discern the same poetic voice speaking through this line. From these 5 words we can determine that, much like the rhymes he wrote under those names, this new album is enthusiastically erudite, pointedly socially conscious and just a smidge self-aware.
Some things have clearly changed though; there’s a certain confidence and calmness that emanates from this line and in turn the rest of album intro DECORUM, which seems to indicate Ferreira has reached a level of maturity unseen in his previous work under any title. He began the 2010s a humble backpacking upstart trading in geekily impressive and impressively geeky wordplay and backpacker beats, with an eccentric taste and exploratory edge. Now, he welcomes in a new decade as an elder statesman of the underground and as one of its most beloved and reliably idiosyncratic figures. Oh, and it’s also a bona fide pureblood jazz-rap album.
'While he might have dropped the milo and Scallops Hotel pseudonyms, we can still discern the same poetic voice speaking through this line. [...] This new album is enthusiastically erudite, pointedly socially conscious and just a smidge self-aware'.
The cycling repetition of bright keys that kick the opener off are far more reminiscent of Herbie Hancock than the dense electronics and sonic grab-bag experimentation of much of his work as milo. It’s difficult not to notice how immediately at home he sounds over this entirely alien (for Ferreira) soundscape. The main draw of his music has always been the central character of Ferreira himself: his eloquent wordplay, his modestly showy flows, and his esoteric references that have run the gambit from pop culture obscurity to Biblical classicism. So, in many ways, he’s always been an MC calling out for a style that can be restrained as necessary but equally just as classy and ostentatious as he is in turn.
Between the minimal keyboard and bass combo of DECORUM and dense atonal interplay of follow-up GREENS, this new sound definitely establishes it can fulfill both roles excellently. GREENS pairs a surprisingly groovy beat (it’s even got little bells!) with eerily dissonant chords from the keys and a bassline that moves rapidly between nimble and jerky. When paired with intellectual flexes worthy of Eliot (‘I've decided to embrace what differentiates me from the anointed clique’) and verbose philosophical ponderings worthy of Joyce (‘Let's measure rhythms in distances/ The speed goes twenty-nine million miles before movin'’), the result is both oddly charming and disarmingly impressive.
Ferreira’s always been smart though, sometimes to the point of fault on previous projects where he’s come off self-satisfied or got lost in his own cerebral jerk-off sessions. What truly shines on this album is his newfound wisdom. Being smart is innate, but wisdom is a skill that’s earned over time through intellectual work and careful consideration. Each track is sprinkled with sparkling gems that stick with the listener and provide a welcoming inroad to Ferreira’s dense and often confounding world. NONCIPHER squeezes in the delightfully life affirming ‘You know the self is defined by the struggling’ amongst its dazzling flurry of Shakespearian and Biblical references and witty one-liners. NO STARVING ARTISTS overflows with these lines, from the rap-game critical ‘Never have I ever been impressed with/ How they compromise the message for the spectacle of presence’ to the acuity cherishing ‘No starvin' artists, just artists starvin' to know’.
'The main draw of his music has always been the central character of Ferreira himself: his eloquent wordplay, his modestly showy flows, and his esoteric references that have run the gambit from pop culture obscurity to Biblical classicism'.
The instrumentals throughout the album – courtesy of The Jefferson Park Boys, Kenny Segal and Ferreira himself – are jazzy, varied and elegant. Their work here is consistently phenomenal, albeit all safely within the stylistic legacy and genre conventions of jazz-rap established by genre pioneers like Nujabes, Madlib and Digable Planets. It is set apart a lot of the time through its immaculate construction, odd reference points (see the challenging dissonance of the aforementioned GREEN that harkens back to a Miles Davis fusion era) and Ferreira’s singular presence on the mic. Most songs here are simply an instrumental backdrop with a couple of verses thrown over the top with scarcely a hook in sight, because that’s all that’s really needed (with the notable exception of the thrillingly theatrical and cosmically impactful sung chorus from Ferreira on LEAVING HELL). These songs are cerebral and meditative enough to reinforce each other and reward on their own merits without needing showy gimmicks or lowbrow pleasures.
The most important quality this album has going for it though, above anything else I’ve mentioned, is that it contains some of his best and most endearing songs to date. On LAUNDRY, over a lovely dusty piano loop, Ferreira contemplates fame, society, his place in his chosen field, fatherhood and, uh, laundry. Aided by an almost painfully cute synth line, this is Ferreira at his most human and engaging in years. LEAVING HELL’s showstopping beat – populated by melodramatic swells of brass, twinkling keys, and hard grooving bass – provides the ideal backbone for some of Ferreira’s most strikingly unique imagery in years. It also boasts a fascinating concept, as he addresses weaponizing his wit, individualism and personality to gain acclaim in his industry without selling out (and also manages to work in a dope as hell Kurt Vonnegut quote!).
'These songs are cerebral and meditative enough to reinforce each other and reward on their own merits without needing showy gimmicks or lowbrow pleasures'.
This is Ferreira’s best record in years, probably since 2015’s milo pseudonym-highlight So The Flies Don’t Come, and he hasn’t exactly been slacking in the intervening period. It’s a dazzling snapshot of an artist at a comfortable highpoint in both his career and personal life, and reflects both of these qualities in its life affirming messaging, imaginative lyricism and elegantly nuanced production. While it would be nice to hear Ferreira take some more risks with this style in future both thematically and sonically, it’s undeniable that what he’s provided here is excellent, an auteur statement that will likely be among the best underground hip-hop releases of the year, easily. I’m excited to hear where one of rap’s most unique and ever-evolving voices goes next, and I have a feeling it’s gonna be positively MYTHICAL.