Whether it is a boastful declaration or a tongue-in-cheek descriptor, Detroit MC & producer, Black Milk has caused quite a stir and perhaps gained some detractors in the music world with the title of his 5th solo LP. As solid an album 2008’s Tronic was, there was little indication that Black Milk would expand upon the sound after a comparatively inactive 2009. Employing the services of drummer Daru Jones and various members of the Will Sessions Band, Black Milk isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel in using live instruments in his production. Still, does this album live up to its seemingly hyperbolic title? Read on.
The LP begins with “365,” a blistering collage of busy live drums (Jones), triumphant horns (Will Sessions Band) and the much improved rhyming of Black Milk. One of hip hop’s most gifted narrators, Black guides the listeners literally through the events of his past year such as the unfortunate deaths of his aunt and Slum Village member Baatin and the coma-inducing stroke that struck his manager Hex Murda. The song’s greatest feat is that while the subject matter is most certainly grim, the music backing Black Milk’s busy verse it is anything but. “Welcome (Gotta Go)” is an excellent, bouncy track that, like the one before it, displays more strong verses from Black Milk. The track doesn’t appear to employ the live instruments of the preceding song but there is some strong keyboard work from Black Milk that is reminiscent of his production on Tronic.
The once obligatory girl rap gets an upgrade with “Oh Girl” featuring the vocal talents of AB. Earnest without being overbearing, the track is another busy production that somehow works and kept steady by Black Milk’s rap performance. AB’s harmonious vocals build the book and Black Milk’s strong snyth work provides the necessary melodic glue to hold things together. “Deadly Medley,” featuring Detroit powerhouse MCs Royce Da 5’9 and Elzhi, firmly jolts the listener back to a grittier landscape and all three MCs deliver some of their sharpest rhymes to date – and it can be argued that Black Milk stole the lyrical show. Black Milk revisits the turmoil described in the opening track on “Distortion” and the MC is at his most revealing about the tragic events. With vocalist Melanie Rutherford’s haunting vocals, Black Milk places the listener in the center of his storm; the producer’s voice is rendered almost somber.
The LP ends with “Closed Chapter” featuring Mr. Porter and continues the excellent musicianship present throughout the album. The celebratory track culminates all of the artist’s efforts neatly and the vocals from Mr. Porter are an enhancement. Black Milk has created an album certainly worthy of being a contender for hip hop album of the year. There are moments where the dizzying rhyming becomes a lesson in improving one’s attention span and some tracks seemed to have the music mixed louder than the vocals. But when everything gels, there are few who can match the audio creativity of Black Milk.