THE PIFF GANG + CULT MOUNTAIN MEMBER ON HIS SOLO DEBUT
Words by Lily Mercer
As one of the most promising rappers in the UK, Milkavelli’s heavily tattooed appearance and lyrics full of London slang have people wondering, “Who the hell is this guy?”
Viper talks to the only rapper we know with both Queen Nefertiti and Kate Moss tattooed on his chest. Shockingly neither tattoo is his favourite, as he gazes down at the ink in the palm of his right hand and reveals, “They all mean something, I low-key like this Benzo Boyz one the most ‘cause it’s the newest. It’s for the Barbiturate takers.”
We meet in his North London home, a place christened T.H.O.T. Mansion by the many debauchery-loving friends that pass through the doors. He refuses to take credit for the name, stating, “It’s nothing to do with me, I was away when the house got the name. It’s to do with the younger generation of us not the older ones; the little twenty one year- olds that float around.” Referring to the Chicago term that translates as “That ho over there,” the name given to the house subtly reflects Milk’s debaucherous lifestyle. It’s also reflected in many other touches around the house, with “Ollie’s hat box” written across a former wine crate. Surprisingly the box doesn’t contain a single hat, just random electrical cables, a lightbulb and similar nonentities.
The twenty seven year-old rapper has enjoyed a leisurely career so far, as both a solo artist and member of rap collectives, Piff Gang and Cult Mountain. He first appeared on the scene back in the mid-2000s as “Monster Under The Bed,” competing at battle rap events across London and loitering around Deal Real Records. One of his best known videos from this era is the Don’t Flop battle, which sees him battle Pseudonym. Asked if a lot of people come across him now then realise they knew him as Monster, he admits it happens often. “I like that my cult fans know all the different levels to this shit. Shout out them, they’re the real motherfuckers, they buy this shit.”
From “Monster,” he evolved into “Don Silk,” before eventually settling on the name du jour, “Milkavelli;” a play on 2Pac’s alternative moniker, Makaveli, not to mention Max B’s Biggaveli title. Hilariously I once had to talk him out of changing his rap name to simply, “Oliver,” arguing that it would be difficult to find him on Google. The Milk part of his name refers to his pale complexion, not his love for milk, though he does love the white stuff, thanking Viper for providing him with enough milk to last many days following our photo shoot. He expresses excitement as he runs through the many cereals he’s now able to indulge in.
Milkavelli’s sense of humour is evident in his music, as is his cocky attitude. On ‘Bionic’, he begins with the words, “So basically, you’re a complete cunt and that’s the fact of life,” an unexplained insult that leaves your eyes wide before the first verse even begins. Many of his opening lines tend to have as much impact as his ad-libs, though an assumed understanding of British culture often means that the wit is lost on those lacking in knowledge of the UK’s social history. For example, “Rap game Harold Shipman, I got no patience,” is a pretty mind-blowing line if you’re aware that Harold Shipman was a doctor imprisoned for illegally euthanising his patients. It’s also effortlessly delivered, demonstrating Milkavelli’s ease with clever one-liners.
Far from being considered a negative, this inclusive understanding of British culture encourages UK fans to embrace music that references their own culture’s history rather than America’s. Growing up, I knew cultural icons that meant nothing to my life due to them being name checked on a song by Ja Rule or Nelly [Vanna White anyone?]. So hearing rappers from London reference distinctly British things, like Roots’ Manuva’s lyric about cheese on toast, has always made me fonder of the UK’s own rap scene.
UK hip hop is presently expanding in an interesting way, coincidentally at the same time grime music is enjoying a resurgence. It’s been a few years since we had this many talented UK rappers releasing music simultaneously. And the fact that the artists are friends too suggests that this scene could evolve into a new era of talented musicians, from Rejjie Snow and Loyle Carner to Jesse James and Milkavelli. Many of them are also crossing over into the US, in part because of their relationships with NYC’s alternative rap scene, such as RatKing and Remy Banks.
Milkavelli has collaborated several times with the latter, most recently on ‘10K’, produced by Sumgii and featuring vocals by producer, Budgie. The song was recorded in London in early 2014, but released in 2015, along with another song of theirs, ‘Snowbeach’. Speaking on the possibility of the pair releasing an album together, Milkavelli explains, “That’s a work in process, eventually that will just hit you from the side.” His relationship with the Queens MC is evident, with Banks’ regularly shouting out the UK collective via the Internet.
Currently taking a hiatus from recording, Piff Gang’s 10 members are focusing on solo work at present, with Milkavelli and Phaze What both preparing to release full-length projects this year. The London collective, made up of rappers, producers and DJs, was formed in 2011 with their first show taking place in East London the night the London riots began. Creating feel-good songs that showcased their highly-active social lives, the MCs caught heat for promoting a lifestyle that some didn’t appreciate. As Young Skout says on one song, “People always ask why we rap about smoking weed, fucking bitches and parties, that’s cause all we do is smoke weed, fuck bitches and party.” Reflecting on the lyric, Milkavelli laughs, “At the time that’s all we did.”
These themes naturally continue into Milkavelli’s solo work, as many would agree that he’s the worst behaved of the bunch. He looks back fondly on the time that Piff Gang spent making music, but admits the time has passed and they’ve grown up a little. He later expresses incredulity at the simplicity of their lives at that point in time, reflecting on the song, ‘Candy Cup’. “I don’t even like that, well I like it, but it was a different time. The shit I like the most is that ‘Don Silk [Baby]’ shit, that’s the illest. That was like fresh-minded writing. But my new shit is the shit.” Having always felt that ‘Don Silk (Baby)’ was a follow up to ’My Favourite Ladies’, I ask if it’s paying homage to the MF DOOM classic. “Not even, I wasn’t even aware. I just wrote it at my crib when I was living a bit better. I had like a couple girls, it’s fact and fiction, like a mix.”
The song displays the fluidity of his rhyme structure and flow, giving the impression that lyrically, he’s barely even trying. The ease with which he spits will have you think that it’s all pre-written but on first hearing a beat, he’ll immediately freestyle to feel out the instrumental and determine if he wants to rap on it. He explains, “I’ve just been on this rap shit for time, then I stopped being on this rap shit. I started to be less on the hardcore rap shit, but I got more on it as my style got more relaxed I guess. When I was younger I was bare hungry so when I rapped on a song it was like “Boom,” a machine gun hitting the shit. Now it’s relaxed and I can hit the same flows and shit but it’s more nonchalant now. Before I was so hungry to do it and you could hear the hunger but it went over years. It’s more steezy now, it’s the fun time, I can write and write and bang out tracks.”
Though this easy-going attitude to making music would have you thinking he’s one of those rappers that never writes a lyric down, he’s not that kinda guy. “I have to write because my short term memory is so shit. Writing’s good anyway, you can get mad shit out when you write. You can be pissed off and write something and you’ll feel better but you have to really let it fly, not worry about what you write. It’s definitely a good form of therapy.” From rapping we lead onto the conversation of music as therapy, with him admitting that though it’s therapeutic making music, he only realised that recently. “It is a form of therapy, it all comes from that, people having a voice and shit and getting their frustration out on a record and I feel that’s gone on forever, so it probably will go on but I think for me, it wasn’t such a struggle. It was more like we were on our happy horrorcore shit, we weren’t depressed or nothing, we were just a bunch of kids. Nowadays, I definitely feel like I get it all out.”
It’s no surprise that his original attraction to rapping had more to do with the glamour of the job than therapy or linguistics, which explains why Piff Gang’s music is more uplifting than revolutionary. “It’s like glamour, it was less like real feeling, it was fun music to go out and have fun to or drive to.” He admits, before addressing the criticism they received from those unable to understand the message, “It’s got a bad rep with certain humans but it’s not a thing, everyone grew up from that era. That was just everybody living out the rest of their childhood, just a bit late. But it ain’t like anyone’s changed, they just got a bit older; everyone’s still a kid.”
As they work on their own individual releases, Piff Gang are still hanging out even though they’re not putting out music. Milkavelli explains, “It’s not so much a group anymore, everyone’s on their own shit, it’s just like friends innit, certain people you always make tracks with. My album ain’t got a feature, I’m not trying to have a feature. The tracks I drop will have mad features but not my [album]. It’s like a personal thing, like a body of work more than a mixtape. I’ve been working on this shit for time, a good two years.”
Since taking a break from Piff Gang, Milkavelli has begun to focus on a new collective, Cult Mountain, in addition to his solo album, currently titled ‘Oliver’. The album has been a long time in the making, with one song in particular recorded in 2012. Having heard it back then, I point out that it’s still as significant now as it was when I first heard it three years ago. “I wrote the shit back then and it’s still relevant now, it’s more relevant than back then.” he says in agreement. “It’s so weird, that one took me by surprise as well.”
He expresses a critical attitude to the new school music fans in general, as his perspective in his mid-twenties is so different from the youth of today. “We’re the last analog generation that didn’t have mobile phones when we were kids and there was no Internet growing up. You had to actually ride a bike or go play football when you were young. Kids are mad fucked, everything is like a trending topic. It’s fucked up, kids born with FaceBook… I think that everything’s a bit doomed.”
As we approach the topic of prescription medication, or rather, the abuse of it, I mention that Chance the Rapper tweeted recently, “Xanax [is] the new Heroin. Don’t let em fool u.” Milkavelli laughs, saying, “Yeah, that’s real. You don’t wanna get too deep into that shit, obviously it’s not the new heroin cus it’s not an opiate, but it is. It’s the new cool drug, that’s the new cool thing to do but it’s not even that cool. And if you’ve got anxiety and it’s prescribed to you maybe it will actually do something to you, but it’s not to take day to day like you’re smoking weed or something. That shit is very detrimental to your mind and your soul, your soul more than anything.”
As an open advocate of drugs, particularly Barbiturates, Milkavelli’s view on drugs is both critical and indulgent; “Xanax and Valium are fucked because it’s the only thing apart from maybe alcohol that can kill you. Barbiturates are the only thing that you can die from the withdrawals [of it], so if you come off it, you can die. You can’t even die from withdrawals of opiates. Even [with] heroin you can’t die from the withdrawals, you can feel like you wanna die, but you won’t die. So saying Xanax is the new heroin, Xanax is probably worse than heroin in the long run.” He does take both Xanax and Valium, but is also highly aware of the damage they cause along with other prescription drugs. He even goes as far as to refer to them as one of the worst threats, as they encourage users to delve into stronger drugs; “Milk is for the kids, weed is for the kids,” he jokes before adding, “The real gateway drugs are drinking and meds, especially the two together. Don’t believe the hype about weed, it’s no gateway drug at all.”
He admits to being a stoner above all else, “I tried to have other dependancies but that shit went bad.” He laughs, continuing, “Shit, I had a few [substitute addictions], like girls… But my only real loyal girl was Mary Jane. Even though she’s fucking everyone at the same time, she’s always there when I need her.” He later admitted to a slightly healthier addiction, saying, “Milk is the real drug of choice, that’s the first drug, that’s like the first lady.”
He expresses concern over the excessive use of prescription drugs by young people today, saying, “Meds are the thing to do now, so the government’s getting rich off the kids, Plus America’s getting crazy now, certain families with a ten year old that’s been taking Adderall for three years, that’s heavy duty. It’s like smoking crystal meth, it’s fucked.” This isn’t Milkavelli’s first time in Viper, with him appearing alongside his adorable feline, Gadget, back in spring 2014. We ask what the feedback is been like for the pair and he responds, “Shout out Viper for hooking me up with that weird animalistic hate mail.”
For 2015, his plans include the release of a new Cult Mountain EP, plus his solo album, ‘Oliver’, which despite the strong scene of musicians around him, is set to be feature-free. That said, he pays homage to his fellow musician friends including Jesse James, “They’re very ill with it. Jesse’s ridiculously ill, so talented and it’s young talent too. I think people think Jesse’s a lot older than he is, he’s wise beyond his years. He gets the most props, he’s so ill.” Not to mention his Cult Mountain collaborators, Lee Scott and Trellion, “Lee, he’s so ill with it and Trellion and Sniff. My 616 gang holding me down.” The Cult Mountain collective are set to release their second EP in Spring, with Milkavelli revealing that the “new one’s out within a month or two.”
Stay tuned as this cult rapper reaches new heights.