“I am emptying the sea into this hole.”
So said a little boy to St. Augustine, when the Church Father asked why he was scooping seawater with a scallop shell into a little hole on the beach. Reportedly, this episode led Augustine to conclude that man could never understand God’s entirety.
Apropos of this review, “I am emptying the sea into this hole” sounds like a line Milo—or, in this case, his alter ego Scallops Hotel—would rap, one of many he would rap, being such a profuse gentleman. This is not a putdown.
Milo/Scallops Hotel has always had a way with words. A Milo verse is not read or performed so much as let loose. Verses fly, lines twist, bars perambulate over beats that rarely feel perfunctory or vestigial. The words take on an importance beyond function, seem like something Milo’s manipulating physically.
It’s a performance like freeblowing glass, working the material breath by breath until it takes the right shape.
It imparts some substance of Milo’s, stemming from the brain, from that eye of Milo’s, charged with vitreous humor.
This is especially the case on this latest Scallops project, Soverign Nose of (y)our Arrogant Face.
It seems futile to try and put daylight between Milo and Scallops Hotel although the differences are readily apparent. You could probably sum up the difference with the title of another Scallops Hotel joint: Too Much of Life is Mood. Purported “second of a trilogy that expands the scallops hotel biomythoverse,” Sovereign Nose doesn’t so much shed light on the meaning behind Scallops Hotel as embellish the existing myth i.e. the catalogue.
What’s interesting about Sovereign Nose is that, on a few songs, the myth is explained—somewhat, obliquely. At the end of “Fat Tummy Rift Suite,” Milo asserts “Scallops Hotel is the building,” a claim reiterated on “Temple In The Green.” How are we to divine the meaning of this thalassic hostelry? Speaking honestly, it probably has can be explained by a line nestled in “Twenty on Five”: “Really I’m just glad I got the rights to my masters.” Or on this referential standout from “Bought My Kid a High Chair”: “In the park with my words like Studs Terkel / Curious to learn how the fuzz burned you / You know we could swap stories all day really.
scallops hotel deserves some special praise this year for sovereign nose of (y)our arrogant face, the latest album from the Milwaukee rapper better known as milo. With only 24 minutes of jazz samples and rhythms to call on, the ever-efficient sovereign nose only takes a few slouched bars to help validate every English major who ever insisted that hip-hop references to the Odyssey could be cool. Only minutes into the first track, milo slides into the line “Telemachus sneezed” with a strange charisma and sells what is both the dorkiest and the smoothest reference to Homer’s epic this side of Age of Mythology.
For the most part, sovereign nose really only needs 24-minutes to sell milo’s more literate take on hip-hop. It sounds weirdly skeletal in the shadow of too much of life is mood, the last project to bear the scallops hotel name, with songs maintaining a far more straightforward structure and beats never really deviating from milo’s set narrative threads. There are only a few of splintering deconstructions like too much of life’s sharp interruptions and faux skips. Songs keep to a standard formula, where a beat starts, milo throws down a verse, there’s a moment of repetition – serving almost as an anti-chorus – and then milo throws down another verse.
It’s a smart move for milo, giving listeners a chance to maybe parse the happenings in sovereign nose’s two-minute tracks rather than drift into the admittedly more exploratory too much of life. The man is, in some ways, a creative wordsmith, if not a little dulled at the edges. sovereign nose is full of literary device, levied in ways that are far more direct than some of milo’s contemporaries. The word choice is sharp if a little lofty – milo can make SAT words sound punctual with deliveries, selling “mala fide” and “rogue artificer” in with a riverside flow.
The references also standout, and are sometimes the most fun you could have with a listen. The way milo can reference both David Foster Wallace and a Yu-Gi-Oh anti-hero without sounding contrived is itself a feat of lyrical tap-dancing well-worth digging into. The narrative moments highlight the ease with which milo can command a sense of purpose in a scene; I even had to stop and double-take at times, like after the Studs Terkel verse in “Bought my kid a high chair.”
It helps that this isn’t a mainstream milo release, too. sovereign nose doesn’t necessarily have to live in the shadow of who told you to think?!, giving the scallops hotel release a certain air of freedom that a normal milo project couldn’t have now that he’s had his breakout. There can be some atypical structure, some more obscure writing. It also means that it’s not a big deal when YOUNGMAN outshines milo on his own album during the guest verse on “private temple hours.”
But even with his lyrical command and fluid delivery, sovereign nose feels like it lacks impact beyond just being another display of proficiency.
We already live in a world where milo is lauded for his attention to flow, his thesaurus- and encyclopedia-cracking approach to lyricism, and his ear for a tasteful backdrops. Though what he does with those technical gifts sounds like little more than cursory glances at the breakout star behind the words; milo is still sounds pigeonholed as “the jazz rapper with the social conscious who likes reading and anime.” There’s only vague hints at the scallops hotel that lies below – “You know, we could swap stories all day, really” in “Bought my kid a high chair,” “I remember Granny read that passage with bated breath” in “A method (JAWGEMS pausing in the hotel lobby),” etc. – even if the four-walled identity of the real Scallops Hotel is the album’s only real narrative thread.
Outside of that, sovereign nose is an album of songs too tempered to be singles and only loosely threaded by the image of “Scallops Hotel.” It’s enjoyable, convincing, smooth, charismatic; it’s hard to deny that milo is an artisan in his trade. I just wish I had more to think about by the end than a line about a Homeric supporting role’s well-rapped sneeze.