Kicking Rhymes and Taking Names

Considering the latest chapter in rap artist Rory Ferreira's quest for freedom.

From the “Leaving Hell” music video. © Ruby Yacht 2020

What’s in a name? The nommes de guerre of the best in hip-hop tend to say something, to wink or to yell about the intent of the artists behind those monikers: OutKast, Run the Jewels, A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy. Many provide strong brand recognition, the most iconic have become globally recognizable calling cards. There’s power in claiming a pseudonym as your own — but names are also inherently limiting. To release your art under a name at all is to trap it in space and time, furthermore allowing onlookers to safely box the content into categories that make sense to them.

After a while, your listeners might feel like they know roughly what to expect from a new album by “milo.” And if you’re anything like Maine rapper Rory Allen Philip Ferreira, your quest to escape limits will take you back to the start, to that most personal of names, the one on your birth certificate.

Nine years into a career that’s involved more aliases than a sting operation, the elusive rap artist has released his first album under his Christian name, R.A.P. Ferreira. In accord with this move, purple moonlight pages is the purest expression of his ambitious take on rap music to date, four albums and numerous mixtapes worth of enigmatic essence distilled into fifty-two minutes of intimate, funky transmissions from everywhere and nowhere, living rooms, space-faring vessels, and the edges of consciousness.

Ferreira built a cult following on tapes of bookish, spoken-word adjacent nerd raps atop experimental glitch-hop production. As his status grew, he became increasingly enamored with natural instrumentation, dusty grooves, and honing the fundamentals of spitting on a beat. His strongly abstract edge carries, but purple moonlight pages is a true blue jazz-rap album, sharing a great deal more DNA with the greats of the genre’s 90s heyday than the IGLOOGHOST beats of his early work.

The jazz half of the equation comes courtesy of the Jefferson Park Boys, a brotherly trio of longtime Ferreira beatsmith Kenny Segal, bassist Mike Parvizi, and electronic polymath Aaron Carmack. Together they spin instrumental jazz tapestries that form perfect bedrock for Ferreira’s rhythmic hymnals. Early highlight “Greens” buffets his two-stepping flows with swinging bass chords and one of the meatiest drum patterns of the year, ringing and snapping around the beating heart of a thumping bass drum. Ferreira’s latest alias is also a pun: “R.A.P.” stands for “rhythm and poetry.” The former is stunningly taken care of.

Segal, Parvizi, and Carmack spread their wings upon a huge variety of skies. Straightforward jazz tunes like “Noncipher” and “Mythical” work in tandem with the lo-fi loop digging of “Laundry” and “Absolutes,” among a dozen other subtle detours. Near the album’s center lies the one-two gust of “Dust Up” and “Cycles,” exploratory ambient trips that contain some of Ferreira’s most meditative writing to date. The slew of sounds across the board works beautifully in complimenting the rapper’s versatility. It’s a symbiotic dual shapeshfting act that never upsets the record’s cohesive atmosphere, a million visually disparate paintings pulled together by their unified approach.

And the production chops should not be neglected. Not only is each style on purple moonlight pages constructed with precise attention to detail, the actual sound at every moment is irresistible. Effectively combining Segal’s desk-dropping drums, Parvizi’s nimble fingers, and Carmack’s unparalleled mastery of the pocket, with melodies that feel inspired by all three and a lush mix that’s lovingly loose in its obvious expertise, the beats are a spectacular meeting of distinct musical voices into luscious, spacey, blissful harmony.

No matter how great the beats are, they would not work were Ferreira not pulling his weight. Luckily, this is the mercurial MC at his absolute best. His fan-favorite spoken-word style proclaims ponderous insights with a level of literary granularity and authority that dwarfs the plurality of his catalogue. Frequently though, it takes a backseat to pure rapping, impressively crafted bars that still manage to enfold dense meaning in their head-bobbing meter.

Let it be known: Rory Ferreira knows how to ride a fucking beat. “No Starving Artists” hosts verses that flit nimbly in and out of cool synth chords and filtered, pitch-shifted vocal samples, culminating in a repeated mantra: “No starving artists / Just artists starving to know.” One of Ferreira’s greatest talents is his unfailing ability to gracefully weave towering statements of purpose and philosophical quandaries into his bars without skipping a beat. Lead single “Doldrums” is a slow-rolling cool jazz anthem of independence, with striking lines like “Might cook all day / And I call that luxury / If them supremacists need a enemy” glowing through a relaxed cadence like sunbeams through a family home’s curtains.

Ferreira in the music video for “Doldrums.” © Ruby Yacht 2020

The most charming development here is the pleasant domesticity that dresses the windows of the experience. Ferreira has previously exhibited understanding the positives of leisure and even boredom, but the ball game is different now. He isn’t just a rapper-producer and small business owner anymore, he’s also a husband and father. And home life looks good on him. Direct references are here in spades — he enjoys a great deal of naps, he walks to the dumpster, raps are played for his baby, “Laundry” is an overt love letter to the happy routines of his household and the utter bliss of fatherhood. Aided by overwhelmingly cozy instrumentals, the warmth of dedicated domestic existence even pervades through the most abstract lines.

Exact meaning in Ferreira’s music is always tough to get a handle on, but the palette of ideas he’s concerned with has never been clearer. Scattered about obtuse references and seemingly random asides, purple moonlight pages is ultimately about personal journeys great and little, the ultimate pursuits of happiness, self-actualization, self-sufficiency, and artistic fulfillment considered alongside smaller actions like doing laundry with his son and discovering unexpected wisdom while pooping a gas station. Crucially, they’re all treated with equal importance. Life is a work-in-progress, and every second, every ounce, every drop matters.

Guided by guitar strums and aching strings, he spits a rapid-fire laundry list of the most crucial truths in his notebook on “Ro Talk”; among the nuggets are “Pure will in every moment,” shoutouts to patrons of his record store, “remain adamant,” and numerous other personal doctrines spit in ceaseless sequence. On the aforementioned “Greens,” he invokes the importance of multiple kinds of sovereignty, “Ruby Yacht land ownership / Let’s build a monument, and stand over it,” adding to his own mental fortress of resolve and ambition with each passing moment. No two songs share even a broad surface topic. The meditations are all connected.

Every one of Ferreira’s great albums has an X-Factor moment, the song that makes it all as close to crystal clear as he’ll get, that’s so good it immediately justifies the impossibly lofty heights he’s set for himself. “An Idea Is a Work of Art” is purple moonlight pages’ moment. Ferreira spits his verse with immeasurable urgency, nearly yelling testaments of his stalwart grind through a staccato flow. Soaring horns push the song’s stakes higher and higher before the album’s thesis crystallizes on the chorus: “It’s the other who others whoever / On a quest to get open and free.” Charting a course for peace through art, Ferreira forges forward with explosive confidence, and the results are dynamite. The comedown of Mike Ladd’s feature is just as essential, an elder guard of the artful rap style whose crown Ferreira has donned chiming in to echo and elaborate on his student’s contemplations.

It’s hard to overstate the unique treasure of Ferreira’s singular vision, or how well he’s expressed it here. Every line flows forth with bright-eyed importance; he raps in perpetual epiphany, constantly cresting waves of immense discovery and the uncontainable joy that manifests at its genesis. Over the years he’s built an Alexandrian library of cultural references, philosophical topics, musicians that inspire him, genres of rap music he’s tried his hand at. The Jefferson Park Boys’ revelatory instrumentals pull something new out of him: here, every element assembles into an impeccable, unfaltering gestalt that his songs fly over with a severe fisheye lens; though every line, every verse is zoomed in on something different, you never lose sight of the goliath whole behind each luminary part.

Ferreira performing live circa summer 2019.

purple moonlight pages exists at the bizarre meeting place of Daniel Dumile, Susan Sontag, the folk band America, Open Mike Eagle, Jack Whitten, Yasiin Bey, and a plethora of forebears we’ll likely never know about, but every ravishing second is well and truly the creation of one inimitable mind. You could never mistake this music for anyone else. Every moment is both relaxed and perfectly calculated, pulling casually from Ferreira’s massive archive of ideas and influences to create incisive moments of clarity.

An album’s bookends are frequently illustrative of its underlying purpose; that’s very much the case here. Intro “Decorum” juxtaposes an artistic manifesto of intent and a “Bistro”-esque cast listing with an ambling improv jam, perfectly setting the stage for the expedition ahead. “Masterplan” closes out the album with a flawless demonstration of all the wizardry that makes it special. It begins with a few seconds of bandmates riffing about bobbleheads before moving into an easygoing cover of a Pharoah Sanders song.

“Masterplan” is simple on the surface, and it could even be perceived as throwaway — which is partially why it works so perfectly as the outro to an album that finds inspiration in the instinctual magic of great collaboration, and in the lowkey victories of the everyday. It’s as much a manifesto as “Decorum,” one that spells out the dream, the ultimate goal of Ferreira’s entire endeavor: “The creator has a master plan / Peace and happiness through all the land.” These are ostensibly Sanders’ words, but as the song continues, you realize they also belong to one Rory Allen Philip Ferreira, a supremely talented wanderer poet on a quest for peace, happiness, and freedom.

For the first time, it all sounds well within reach.

two-stepping through banality

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