“Open the f—— pit,” begins the track “Greens,” backed up by a floor-shaking 808 bass drum, off of R.A.P. Ferreira’s newest album, Purple Moonlight Pages. It’s a startling first moment for anyone familiar with the artist’s former discography, which was previously recorded under the name Milo. But with a candid giggle, Ferreira quickly returns to form, delivering vivid spoken-word imagery over a wandering upright bass and choppy vocal samples. Moments like this are sprinkled throughout Purple Moonlight Pages, as Ferreira plays with the expectations of his previous persona in stark contrast to his new sound.
Milo was best known for intricate, lo-fi “art rap,” inspired in equal parts by East Coast hip-hop and German existentialism. But freed from the constraints of his old moniker, Ferreira finds space to redefine his sound on his new record. There’s still the annotation-demanding lyricism and the jazzy do-it-yourself ethos, yet this is a wholly different record for Ferreira, inspiring confidence for the future under his new alias.
The most immediate distinction from his previous work is just how confrontational R.A.P. Ferreira sounds on the mic. Although the artist has always had a level of self-assuredness in his delivery, he approaches his flow on Pages in a distinctly different manner: Where Milo’s charisma was comparable to that of an eccentric professor or a slam poet, R.A.P. Ferreira is a master of ceremonies in every sense. The energy and bravado of his microphone presence is somewhere between an old-school funk singer and a circus ringleader.
There’s a noticeable change in production, too. The Jefferson Park Boys are longtime contributors to Ferreira’s work, and frontman Kenny Segal has one of the most recognizable styles in underground hip-hop. But the band’s presence on this album is less loopy lo-fi and more old-school, big-band jazz. On “Leaving Hell,” Ferreira’s sing-songy, self-confident hook is loaded with charisma, his verses as dense as ever, but the band’s incredible drum fills and brass section swells give the track a fresh, upbeat energy. “Absolutes” sees R.A.P. Ferreira take on a ferocity comparable to modern hardcore hip-hop artists Denzel Curry and JPEGMAFIA, while the production invokes the character of classic ’90s jazz rap.
The album also has moments when Ferreira’s incomparable wit really shines: “Doldrums” is both an exploration of rap as a commodity and also an underhanded jab at grocery stores, with Ferreira saying, “I wrote this outside of Wegmans. After they kicked me out for, for, kickin’, kickin’ too many rhymes.” Likewise, R.A.P. Ferreira waxes philosophical about ritual and washing machines on “Laundry,” a track that doubles as a touching ode to his four-year-old son. And “An Idea Is A Work Of Art,” featuring Mike Ladd, is a nostalgic dedication to his heroes, with Ferreira emulating the bombastic flow of his mentor, Busdriver. Between the two emcees, this track contains enough thought-provoking lyrics to warrant literary analysis.
The album isn’t without its flaws, however. At just under an hour, its length certainly starts to feel noticeable. “Pinball” feels like one of too many introspective tracks in a row, though the guest verse from Open Mike Eagle picks up some energy. Earlier in the tracklist, “Dust Up” is a slow-building crescendo that ultimately fizzles out, leading into another slow song. These tracks are solid in their own right, but with their arrangement, the album simply loses its momentum.
Despite these pacing issues, Pages is an undeniably successful statement of purpose for Rory Ferreira’s newest moniker. Close enough to what makes his music so engaging yet stylistically distinct from his previous ventures, the album could easily please incoming and longtime fans. And with stellar, big-band production from the Jefferson Park Boys, as well as excellent features, the record proves to be a refreshing rejuvenation of the “art rap” movement. Conscious of greater hip-hop trends without losing sight of its old-school ethos, Purple Moonlight Pages is excitingly modern — an effective homage to the genre’s past.