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Black Milk

Album of the Year

[Fat Beats / Decon; 2010]

By ; September 23, 2010 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

Album of the Year is like a sudden assault. It’s taken Black Milk some time to get attention, and this record is a product of his joy at starting to get it. More than ever before, Milk sounds cocky – sure of himself on his beats at last. Since Popular Demand he’s been thought of as a producer/rapper rather than then other way around (just peek at his wikipedia page for proof). Frankly, that’s not going to change by way of this album, but Year does find an MC more developed and assured than we’ve heard him. That said, is this that much of a step up from Tronic?

Well… yes and no. As a bunch of comments across rap sites across the web have already declared, this album may well offer the best production of the year thus far. Milk’s skills (one hopes) can no longer be ignored, with various MC’s across the country talking him up and his work very much speaking for itself, you shouldn’t be surprised if his name starts popping up on production credits across the mainstream. Maybe a major signing? In the current state of things, that’s probably dreaming, but there’s no reason Black Milk won’t be able to secure himself a position akin to, say, Curren$y. So, while this may not be Milk’s breakthrough album, it may be the one that sets him up for it.

To get an instant idea of what this record’s bringing to the table, hop to “Distortion,” whose drumbeat bursts with such a simple groove it’d make Questlove jealous, sliding on for over a minute before Milk finally drops in. He doesn’t come softly either, hurling darkly, “I ain’t never been depressed/ that’s why I party all weekend to take out all the stress… I wanna take off her dress, not even thinking’ bout what could possibly happen next/ My nigga dyin’ on this hospital bench … they say he might not make it, they don’t even care…” To top it all off, he brings Melanie Rutherford back from Tronic to handle chorus duties. She returns again later for “Gospel Psychedelic Rock,” and as with most ‘indie’ rap, this album features collaborators largely familiar from Milk’s past. Other album highlights include “Black & Brown” which boasts another great drum line, with dramatic strings to boot and “Deadly Medley” for its groove and the chemistry of the three rappers lacing the track (and a Royce da 5’9” feature is never a bad call). Other tracks are decidedly less old school, “Warning” and “Gospel Psychedelic Rock” are more electronic thrash than simplistic, sounding like something DJ Khalil might put out, if worked with rawer materials. “Closed Chapter”, the album’s conclusion, is also grand, taking advantage of a riff that would’ve felt at home in the ’80s as Milk reflects on his past before letting things come to a close.

Backtracking to the start, “365” kicks off the album about as you’d expect: Black Milk looking at where the last several years have gotten him, and reaching for where he intends to go. The song more or less represents the majority of the album: damn fine, and occasionally superb, production with a tighter MC rhyming over it. Yet, as much as Milk has progressed as an MC, there’s still not too much to him. Or at least not that he sells. You could say every outstanding MC needs a character of sorts and if one were to apply that to Milk’s persona, he’d be a relatively flat one. His rhymes are somewhat cleverer than before, but is he saying much of anything?

It seems to be a resurging tendency – rapping about rapping. Or simply, rapping about rap. Not to say that grandstanding is anything new, or that old school MCs didn’t love to talk about their flows, techniques and so on, but there was usually a message to boot. More and more, respectable MCs seem to be just talking about how respectable they are. Sticking to this keeps Black Milk from being truly interesting in his own right, finding himself outstripped by a few of his guests. He can tighten up his flow, sharpen his rhymes, but so long as Milk is sticking to the universal he won’t be a particularly interesting figure.

That doesn’t keep this album from being a smooth listen. You’ll likely return to it all year long for the beats, but the content isn’t exactly spellbinding. You could call it the equivalent of a visually brilliant film with a weak plot. Yet, with the tracks sounding as fantastic as they do, it’s only a slight detractor. Hate to say it, but in a year in which even Train of Thought put out an iffy record, a hip hop album that simply holds interest places highly among the better records of 2010 so far. Album of the Year? Maybe not, but it’ll hold a comfortable position amongst the better rap offerings.


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