R.A.P. Ferreira refuses to follow hip-hop standards. The artist formerly known as Milo is one of rap music’s genuine poets, with a body of work directly connected with poetry and its history. At the same time, he is community-driven, gradually connecting with a group of similarly-minded artists through his label and record store. He is creating a place of his own within contemporary hip-hop culture, pushing his music in a direction that sees his work become personal and introspective, quiet and homemade in a way that feels raw and vulnerable. His lyrics hold various focal points but remain grounded in his own experiences and perspectives.
Asiatique Black Wizard Lily Funk is Ferreira’s latest release, the third of his 2023 albums only available to those who buy a digital copy directly from Ferreira’s label, Ruby Yacht. In finding and nourishing his artistic community, Ferreira has moved away from the disposable nature of streaming releases. He wants his music to be made for—and appreciated by—his fans. After navigating to the Ruby Yacht website, the record’s product description is waiting, a unique mix of poetry and standard, legally necessary information. The stand-out lines from this description are “In times of peril, there will be singing. / though there are torturers / there are also musicians.” It’s a clear statement—music is here to stay despite the trouble in the world.
Perhaps in an attempt to help force creativity and give a deadline to avoid getting stuck in perfectionism, he made the album within a week. There is a distinctly homemade feeling to it, furthered by the download of the digital album with a simple hand-drawn cover coming along with “SESSION DOCUMENTATION,” a PDF file containing ten polaroids of the musicians at work in the studio. Making a record in a week, even one that is only 19 minutes long, is an impressive feat in and of itself, but the quality seen in Ferreira’s work is stunning. The album’s charm is helped by Ferreira’s willingness to contain himself, making the album reflect the headspace he and his producers were in during that very short timeframe.
The experience of ordering the album and the accompanying digital downloadable files establish a DIY approach, which carries into the sound of Asiatique Black Wizard Lily Funk. The album opens with a delicate piano, ruthlessly chopped up and digitally toyed with. A deep voice begins talking in what appears to be either a live performance or a Q&A session. The gravelly-voiced man begins to go on a tangent: “N***** is a beautiful thing.” He sings, stops, and then begins a spoken word poem, seemingly improvised, about black life and its representation in culture.
Suddenly, a thumping drum introduces itself. Ferreira emerges with immediate introspection: “Reaching upward, always stressing, constantly flustered / All those Ls would change you, too / But my magic kept us fed like Ching Ling Foo.” Ferreira, calm in his flow and delivery, reflects openly on his current position in life as a rapper who is confident in his ability to use his talent to pay his bills. Of course, he also can’t resist his obscure references, name-dropping the stage name of a Chinese magician who passed away in 1923. The instrumental bounces back and forth between gentle and jarring, finding a rhythm before glitching and restarting. This tethering doesn’t impact Ferreira, however, who stays focused on his discussion of leaving emotional baggage behind.
Later on the track, Ruby Yacht member Pink Navel makes an appearance. Navel is a key part of Ferreira’s artistic commune, who recently released an album produced by Kenny Segal. They have a staccato flow, filling lines with internal rhymes that carry their verses along seamlessly, with a fast and snappy delivery style that consistently catches the listener off guard. Their rhymes sound great, full of plosives and repeated sounds, making any deviation from those established patterns stand out. Their verse ends with a repetition of “well, we had been here the whole time,” a mention of a feeling of stasis poignant in its slowness—especially in comparison to the slippery verse that preceded it.
In the land of R.A.P. Ferreira, words are king. He is focused intensely on his lyricism, and his topics transition wildly. One moment, he discusses his stresses; the next, he talks about how his life will be “a tale of dragons,” emphasizing the legacy he is leaving behind. He directly describes his rapping as poetry, explaining his creative process with the line, “The poem barks, and I bite back.” Ferreira is at war with his wordsmithing, forever tussling with his verses until they suit his specific needs.
Ferreira can be opaque with his consistent mix of fantasy and reality. The complexity of his lines makes him hard to keep up with. His pop culture references are light and often funny—nudging him into nerd-rap with mentions of vaporwave and Magic: The Gathering—while other moments will see his introspection move into some dark ideas. Importantly, though, he steers towards an overall sense of optimism. On “8MM Grain,” Ferreira speaks against the grim philosophy that “God created them [presumably people, or perhaps living things more generally] and then demanded that they die,” going on extended tangents surrounding the joys he finds in existence. It’s a switch between mellow and mundane to fantastical and larger-than-life. He discusses taking “the random” and finding a “pattern in supply,” suggesting that where many would see chaos and be concerned by their potential lack of meaning, he sees a more calming sense of order and purpose. Some may see their day-to-day life as bland, but Ferreira hones in on those quiet delights often taken for granted. As he says on the title track, he is content living “next to the bakery” because “the scents that escape are quite lovely.” He doesn’t need much more than his words and these simple pleasures.
Ferreira’s use of features captures his intention to build his own musical community, too. ELDON is given a full track, with the very wholesome title of “Brother Eldon Had Somn To Say.” Ferreira has previously been on tour with ELDON, and here he delivers a stunning spoken-word poem. Atop a noninvasive beat of piano and drums, ELDON talks about fighting against the “heaviness on his plate” and, instead, raising his “voice to Jah and sing[ing] a song of praise.” It is an achingly beautiful poem, freely flowing with a captivating rhythm.
Vast.ness is responsible for the majority of the production, but Abstract Black, Brainweight, and Scallops Hotel (a R.A.P. Ferreira pseudonym) also contribute to the varied and solid instrumentals. The beat for “Hey You (12 Continuous Patterns)” is largely driven by a deepened vocal sample and gentle chimes. This sample, alongside Ferreira’s singing and crooning, is oddly touching. In slowing down and pitch-shifting these soul vocals, vast.ness evokes a slightly sleepy feeling, lulling the listener into a calm state. Almost hypnotic in its sonic calmness, the song is slow and easygoing. On the other hand, the title track is far more manic and funky, with cascading keyboards and drums that crack in the ear, which drives Ferreira into performing the album’s most energetic verses with intensity.
Asiatique Black Wizard Lily Funk is an extremely complex 19-minute listen—stuffed with contrasting ideas, philosophies, and fantasies. Its features widen its worldview, and its production, though minimal at times, is intensely choppy and bursting with style. The DIY approach of gathering your community and making a record in a week is not only idyllic but also evidently leads to great results. R.A.P. Ferreira remains impossible to predict, shifting between names, styles, and inspirations readily while maintaining a greatness that sets him apart.