When Flo Milli raps, delight materializes. The Alabama rapper’s Ho, Why Is You Here?, out since July, remains the year’s tightest mixtape, a master class in how to inflect syllables with microscopically calibrated levels of zing, for the illusion of total effortlessness.
A budding star on the strength of Ho, Why Is You Here? — the title alone made viral fame inevitable — Flo Milli tweaks contemporary rap conventions. She inhabits a world where she rules all she surveys, briefly toying with suitors, haters, and other mortals before swatting them aside so she can rattle off another rapid-fire verse. Broadly, she fits the defiant, magisterial model of hardcore rap that’s currently in vogue, but she’s less stern and more playful than the norm.
Performers like, say, Megan Thee Stallion have established their personalities by projecting a fury that scans as empowered but, underneath the braggadocio, suggests a need for control — the austere beats and precisely enunciated syllables mark an approach where every gesture is deliberate, every note calibrated by the queen in charge. Flo Milli’s musical calisthenics are just as exacting, but her performance is gleefully unbothered. She sounds like she’s breezing along; it’s as if she speeds through a verse or two out of the generosity of her heart, just because she knows you love to be entertained.
Though she’s never offbeat, there’s more give in her flow: pausing before punchlines, stretching out words, finding rhythms that move orthogonally to the beat rather than aligning with it in a straightforward way. She raps with elasticity, like she can expand or contract her flow at will. As a result, she comes across less like a focused, secretly nervous hustler and more like a dizzy spirit of chaos, smirking while she holds the mic, wreaking havoc with supremely confident delight. She’s so in command of the rules she can break them at will.
Ho, Why Is You Here? is shorter and more slapdash than most successful rap mixtapes, triumphantly tossed off. A few critics have grumbled about the perfunctory beats, like the cheap pan flute loop on “Scuse Me” and the piano line on “Not Friendly.” But that casual insouciance lends her project its spark; it’s that sense of effortlessness that captivates. “Beef FloMix,” her breakout hit, wobbles with unpredictable buoyancy; she stresses each line’s final word with a certain disbelief, as if the creativity of her improbable rhymes amuses her (“groupie”/“Tuesday!” “cavity”/“strategy!”). A freestyle over the beat from Ethereal & Playboi Carti’s “Beef,” the song repurposes Ethereal’s groggy track to new ends; the abrasive keyboard stabs suit Flo Milli’s aggressive flow better than Carti’s murmur, which mostly disappears into the beat.
“In the Party” pairs her fastest chattering verse with a beat whose whine matches her own: whenever the chorus comes around, the song’s piano hook switches to a loop of Flo Milli herself, humming the same melody. Layered on top of each other, her two voices entwine and morph into a single bratty cadence. On “Pussycat Doll,” she zigs and zags between moods: alternating long, breathy, drawn-out lines with short punchy ones, she moves with a honeyed menace, like she’s smiling to your face while plotting your demise. Consisting of a restrained pitched percussion loop and the scrupulous clicking of another drum machine, the beat’s simplicity is key, as its precise, relentless clicking mirrors the precise control of Flo Milli’s verse.
These rhythmic games provide the album’s deepest pleasure. But Flo Milli delights in one-liners too, and Ho, Why Is You Here? abounds with new coinages other rappers will surely cite and revise for years — especially when she says to a supposed hater, “Actin’ like we got beef? I didn’t know that you exist!”
If the album doesn’t quite reach the excitement level conjured by rappers who veer entirely off beat — for instance, Blueface or Teejayx6 — Flo Milli achieves a similar dynamic tension. While she’s always in control, she bounces between meters, stretching rhythmic boundaries with slightly too much force; these songs are as tight as jewelry boxes even while they flirt with coming totally unglued — one false step and the flow would hit an awkward jam (especially on tracks as skewed as “Beef FloMix”). Her nasal, ad-libbed giggles express a triumphant mock surprise at having landed every beat perfectly, although you never doubt beforehand that she will.
Such thrills are particularly rare given that Flo Milli is essentially playing a cartoon. These are one-dimensional songs; they all sound the same despite, or perhaps because of, the variety in her flow; they all follow the same formula — she dives with gusto through her zippy verses and quits while she’s ahead, twirling around and briskly leaving the party — and the beats hardly vary (metallic drums, minimalist synth loops).
Her lyrics construct the narrowest of fantasies, as she’s so focused on proving her dominance that she neglects several handy tropes that hardcore rappers have traditionally used to develop their personalities: the motivational saga of struggling for years before becoming a star; the moody heartbreak confession and subsequent vow never to catch feelings again. There’s not even a cheerful sex jam; “Weak,” which glides over a chirpy, sped-up sample of SWV’s R&B hit of the same name, gestures toward this latter genre, except she’s complaining about the unworthy men who compete for her affections (“Eeew!” she exclaims in response).
Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, whose serve as models for Flo Milli, are equally fabulous characters, but they’re also Everygirls, given to strategically endearing shows of vulnerability; thus they offer listeners the hopeful message that one can be an Everygirl and still be a fabulous character. Flo Milli’s snickering flow outpaces them, but she’s a less generous performer. If Ho, Why Is You Here? were any longer, her delight at her own technical facility would likely have run thin, as a single mood can only sustain for so long. She dazzles without empathy, without reaching out or letting you in.
At a concise 30 minutes, though, such fierceness smolders. She’s not trying to be your friend — she’s trying to be larger than life. To marvel at Flo Milli’s power, not to mention her joy, is its own pleasure.