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Getting to Know M&O

Our music contributor introduces you to Chicago-based duo M&O, formerly known as Milo & Otis.

The ’90s marked a decade where hip-hop dominated airwaves and its offspring, rap, forewent the lighthearted, dancy days of yore and figured out the holy grail to mainstream success meant the more gangster the approach, the more lucrative the profits. In 1995, somewhere on record store shelves between Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and 2Pac’s Me Against the World lived one of Stevie Wonder’s lesser appreciated works, Conversation Peace—the singer’s first album after an eight-year hiatus.

Not for naught, this album birthed a socially conscious masterpiece with “My Love is With You” that, similar to Pac’s “Outlaw” album-track, addressed themes of gang–related murder and gun violence. Unlike its counterpart though, Wonder assumes the perspective of the victim, whereas 2Pac adopts the role of the killer (granted he wrestles with personal feelings of imprisonment to the gang culture). At any rate both tracks, coming from two artists at opposite ends of the spectrum, stand as a significant testament of the times in 1995 where American streets were held hostage to tragedy.

Stevie Wonder- “My Love is With You”

Of course, if Wonder’s “My Love is With You” were played in the streets of present-day Chicago, it would still accurately reflect street culture and its themes of gun violence would be just as meaningful—if not more. Interestingly enough, Chicago-based duo M&O, formerly known as Milo & Otis, credit Wonder’s socially-infused work as one of the greatest influences on their own music.

“I’ve been listening to [“My Love is With You”] since I was 8- or 9-years-old, but it wasn’t until I got older that I realized what the song was about because it’s so dancy,” says Jamila Woods (Milo), vocals and lyrics. “It makes you feel movement and feel like dancing to forget about pain, or dancing as a form of rebellion against the bad going on. I just love the layers that exist in music like that.”

It’s true. If unfocused, it’s easy to forget the grave subject matter of the song while getting lost in its bounciness and fun. The same could be said for M&O’s music. It’s easy to be swept away by the lightness and prettiness of Woods’s soulful vocals and forget that she’s singing about the execution of Troy Davis—as with the duo’s 2012 release “1108 Troy Davis” from their debut album The Joy—or singing about motifs of rejection—as with the track “Jimi Savannah” from their latest album, Almost Us.

Most of this swift forgetfulness, according to bass/producer Owen Hill (Otis), stems from the pure tonality of Woods’s sound—one that he likens to R&B angel, Aaliyah.

“A lot of singers have different effectuations in the way that they display emotion. Many of them use a lot of runs or vocal acrobats,” says Hill. “Aaliyah just kind of sings straight up and it’s much more about the tone of her voice and she relies on that. I think Jamila does that as well.”

The legendary dynamic that was Aaliyah and Timbaland is another major influence on M&O’s music and, much like the late singer and super-producer, M&O have a natural, almost kismet energy that is displayed somewhere between the notes and melodies of the stellar tunes they create together. Hill builds the space and atmosphere of the music. Woods provides the poignancy and vocals. Together they take listeners on an adventurous and soulful ride that we hope never ends. M&O’s sophomore release, Almost Us, is available now.

Stream tracks from M&O’s latest album, Almost Us, below:

“Hollow

“House” feat. Donnie Trumpet

About Marissa Wallace

Marissa Wallace

Marissa Wallace is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist who delves into the multifaceted and rich fabric of Black arts and culture. Follow her happenings on Twitter @MarsWall_ for more.