Black Milk – Album Of The Year | Album Review

There never seemed to be a doubt as to the intentions or expectations of Black Milk’s latest creation once the title was released. Accompanied by the frosty sirens and granite-covered drums of speculative single “How Dare You” weeks before the album was unleashed, Milk was prepared for naysayers and directed a pre-emptive strike with the line:

‘Speaks his mind / never been scared to / Album of the Year / critics saying how dare you’.

The song dripped with confidence and it appeared fans would be offered a continuation of the wildly fancied previous album Tronic. The fact that these preconceived notions are slightly off-target presents the unexpected yet refreshing nature of the Detroit native’s production.

The title’s double entendre becomes obvious with triumphant opener “365” as Milk explains riding the waves of emotion that accompanied the news of founding Slum Village-member Baatin’s death and the health of manager HexMurda. The unusually introspective lyrics are complemented by the combination of Black Milk’s celebrated production and live studio musicians and it is these moments on the album that represent some of his most compelling work to date.

Black’s drum mastery has long been his calling card and his talent continues to progress with each new album. The results remain impressive whether he stacks and builds the beat like skyscrapers on “Keep Going” or simply lets the monstrous bass reverberate on “Warning”.

He even brags that ‘It’s getting too easy’ on “Round of Applause” before he and drummer Daru Jones proceed to conduct an afro-Cuban concerto on the extended jam session that ends the final two minutes and thirty seconds of the track. The same occurs on “Distortion” where the kicks, snares and guitars deliver a cinematic backdrop for more confession-laced lyrics.  It’s captivating without feeling forced and the lack of restraint helps create an intense atmosphere.

This is a producer attempting to take risks and push the boundaries of what a Hip Hop album can convey. However, the Achilles Heel of most producer-emcee albums is the lyrical content. Fortunately, Black has made strides in this department as well.

In the past, Milk’s mic was peppered with the usual displays of bragging and boasting and the occasional ode to fine women, and that approach is worked to appropriate perfection on “Deadly Medley”. Standing tall against two of Detroit’s most respected emcees, Royce Da 5’9” and Elzhi, the producer delivers a few quote-worthy lines and manages to share the spotlight instead of being outshone by the glare, as what may have happened in past.

His flow naturally marries the production and it no longer sounds as if he is wrestling with the beat for supremacy. The confidence allows him to be more reflective about the tragedies in his recent past and the vulnerability adds a layer of humanity that had been missing in his previous electric symphonies.

Black Milk is undeniably one of the most talented producers working in Hip Hop. Whether he’s able to make the leap to Kanye West-status could prove to be one of the most enthralling stories of Milk’s next 365 days. Luckily, Album of the Year has more than enough material to keep his growing fan base rapt and waiting.

–Jermaine Dobbins

Black Milk’s Album of the Year is available now via Decon/Fat Beats.