Black Milk: Artist of the Year

Some may mistake this young Detroit producer/MC’s next album as a way to rattle up Hip-Hop stans out there—you know, being that his next project takes the name Album of The Year –but in fact it’s way more Rick Ross’ish—you know, “deeper than rap.” Curtis Cross, known by his chilling luxurious alias Black Milk wants you give you so much more. Enter the realm of a project that reflects some of the tragic events to affect boom bap rap as a whole, as well as highlight some of the precious memories of moving success in the game as a growing artist.

Before the congratulations album drops, and Black Milk went into the details of the record, and more. The beat maestro also explains the reason for such an egotistical album title, talks his upcoming projects while he reminiscences through incidents with lost ones Baatin and J Dilla. Black Milk also weighs in on social networks, Lady Gaga and his beloved Motown city, Detroit. Your album name takes after some of the events that happened this past year following the release of Tronic. Can you speak on some of the events that lead to the album title, Album of the Year?

Black Milk: For one, Baatin. You know the artist Baatin from Slum Village passed away. He was kind of a close friend of mine. He was the dude that really introduced me. He got me into the game by allowing me the opportunity to produce for Slum Village when I first started making beats or what not. He passed away and then after that, my manager Hexmurda had a stroke.

He's not just my manager; he's a real close friend of mine too. And after that happened, I got in a car accident, so it was a lot of ups and downs since my last album Tronic. So yeah man I feel like I just basically have to express it in the music, you know. It would've been impossible for me to not put it down on record. Now, some of those moments and events kind of sound negative. I've heard snippets from the album and it all sounded great! How did you take those past events and transform them into a positive outlook for this album?

Black Milk: I guess I have to add on that list. Yeah, it does sound kind of negative. I guess I will have to say, on top of that, I had an incredible tour earlier than year. Well, right after Tronic, I did an incredible tour in Europe and that was basically probably the best tour I've done since I've been on the road. So far that was the craziest tour ever, and that was the first time I was able to take my band out on the road with me and do a full run like that. We just had some incredible shows and damn near every show was sold out. It was just a great time.

That happened in the beginning before all the ups and downs and the crazy shit started to happen. You hear me talk about that also in different parts of the record. Just the support I've been getting from fans and just getting that love makes me want to keep going and keep doing what I'm doing. It feels like it puts me in a position of power— kind of. So yeah, you definitely hear me talk about those moments too on the album, along with the down and crazy moments that happened. If you’d ask me, the first single from the album, "Welcome (Gotta Go)," highlights some of the ups and downs of the music industry. I know you're on Twitter, and such. How do you feel about industry and this digital marketing that most artists engage in? What's your take on Hip-Hop now since everything is digital and certainly has changed?

Black Milk: It has its positives and its negatives about it like most things. It's good to have social networks to let your fans be able to kind of talk to you or feel connected to you in some kind of way, you know? And I definitely use it as a tool— from Twitter and Facebook — to just building my own blog for people to come and connect with me, to see what they're thinking and wanting as supporters of the music. I think that's like the biggest positive and it would be great if more artists use those things to their advantage.

It definitely helps with your image and your perception as an artist when people get to see a certain side of you that they might not get because they're not around you. So if they can check your Twitter page out, and kind of get a glimpse of your personality, just as a normal person outside of the music-- that's always dope. But also, of course being digital you have to be careful of what you say, when you have thousands and thousands of followers and just thousands and thousands of eyes on you, watching you, what you do, and what you say. You still have to be careful not to say nothing too crazy and put yourself out there. We probably both seen multiple artists already on that type of shit. And I've kind of had to take that as a mental note too. Sometimes I want to just vent on twitter and tell people the real, and how I feel about certain shit, but I just take a breather and take a step back. It's more than just me. I have people around me so I don't want it to backfire on them either. But like I said, it's just its ups and downs. Now when it comes to the second single, I would say, the song should be called “Deadly Lyrics” or “Deadly Flow” instead of “Deadly Melody.” You really came hard, especially opening the track. I read that you write behind the mic as you record. Is that the same writing process you went in, with this track? How was the whole studio session and writing process going into "Deadly Melody?"

Black Milk: It depends. I don't write behind the mic for every song. Sometimes I'll write a verse down in my phone, or sometimes I might just gear pieces together in ProTools behind the mic. But "Deadly Melody," that particular track, I wrote the verse down. That was the joint I kind of pieced together in my phone. I just write everything in my phone. I knew I had to be line for line, bar for bar, on that particular song getting on the track with Elzhi and Royce Da 5'9''. Those two cats I look at as like the illest lyricists out right now. When you're just talking about talent, it's not too many emcees that you can compare to them lyrically. So I knew I had to say some crazy shit so I wouldn't get overshadowed by those dudes. But yeah man, it feels good to be able to hold your own and people respond back like “Yo, all three of 'em killed it.” That's always dope. Across the board, I feel like everybody loved the track and I definitely got a lot of people's attention with that song. That was the plan, and it worked.

Black Milk - "Deadly Medley" (feat. Royce Da 5'9" & Elzhi) Random, but in one of the lines in that song you said something like your “Flow is as ugly as Lady Gaga's wardrobe." So if you said that about her, then most likely you're not a fan of Nicki Minaj—well at least of, her style. So with that said what do you look for in a lady, style wise and stuff like that?

Black Milk: See, that's the thing, I love a chick that has a dope sense of fashion, just fashion forward period, that's not in the box and just plain with what she wears. So nah, it wasn't really calling her [ugly], even though I used the word ugly. It was more so like, everybody knows Lady Gaga dresses bizarre. Some might take it as ugly, some might take it as style, and some might take it as whatever, whatever. I just chose to use the word ugly because the shit rhymed. To me it was dope. So I don’t care what Lady Gaga or with what she wears, it's all good. I actually think Lady Gaga is a talented artist, one of the few talented artists in the pop world that can actually sing, actually play the instrument. So it wasn't really anything against Lady Gaga. Would you actually consider ever working with Lady Gaga, since she is talented, music wise?

Black Milk: Yeah, I would love to bring Lady Gaga in my world of music— which is soul/funk. Because as far as I can acknowledge, she has a dope voice outside of the pop shit she do, and she's a dope pianist. So yeah, that'll be sweet. One of the other songs on the album, "Keep Going," gives me a sense of your inner rock star. Do you listen to any rock music at all, by any change?

Black Milk: Yeah, especially when you're talking about old school. A lot of old rock bands from the 70s’ and shit like that, just because I dig, you know what I'm saying? Me being a producer, I'm always digging for records, always in the record stores trying to find some shit to sample. So I'm always coming across crazy, psychedelic, rock music, and all kind of crazy shit. The only rock bands I can think of, when you're talking about modern day, the only one that really comes to mind is White Stripes. There’s a few more but my brain is kind of cluttered right now, but that's the first on that came to mind. Speaking of records, the album is being released through Fat Beats Records along with Decon. I just have to know, how do you feel about Fat Beats closing in LA and New York? Do you have any memories from the record stores at all that you'd like to share?

Black Milk: I got a couple memories. When I did my in-store for Fat Beats for the first album they put out on me— which was Popular Demand — that was the first time for me experiencing a crowd of people coming to support what I do, me sitting there giving people autographs and just choppin' it up with people coming to holla at me for a quick second. That was like my first official album, so I definitely had my first experience of doing an in-store and a lot of people coming to support and just chop it up with me. I did that in a Fat Beats store.

Actually, you know, I look at Fat Beats, that's like the last place where any indie artist could actually get their music in some type of store. If they don't get into a Best Buy or a FYE or some shit like that, Fat beats is one of those places where they would support different indie artist and put their particular CD in the store for people to come grab or people to come get exposed to. So yeah man, you're not going to have that kind of outlet for independent artists anymore, because that was like the biggest one. Another thing associated with your album is the drums. I hear a lot of drums. I kind of felt like Dilla came back for a second. Did you feel some type of essence of Dilla as you were making some of these beats?

Black Milk: Dilla is always an inspiration. No matter what I'm doing, no matter what project I'm working on, he's always an inspiration and an influence in what I'm doing. And as far as the drum, the actual drum sound, sonically the way that they sound, yeah he's the drum king to me. So if my drums don't sonically sound a certain way, then I feel like I gotta keep working on them until they're on a certain level. But when you're talking about actual drum patterns, drum rhythms, and drum beats, on this particular album, this doesn't sound like anything I've ever heard in Hip-Hop. Every song on the album that was created started off with the drum machine— the MPC — and I just incorporated live musicians to play on top what I already started.

So even on a track like "Keep Going," where you might not hear the drums I did on the MPC, because the live drummer is like, going so crazy and so live, they're still there. You can actually feel them, even if you can't hear them. So like that whole formula, I use that whole formula throughout the album, like more than half of the album. So I kind of feel like I developed a new little style for myself, and just a new little sound that I haven't heard really anyone do, or at least do it the way that I did it for the album. So I don’t know, people still hearing like a Dilla influence, that's kind of crazy to me. Of course the drums are smackin'. Dilla drums are smackin'. But when you talk about the actual rhythms and the patterns, I feel like these patterns don't sound like nothing I ever heard. They're so organic. Everything on this album is kind of organic. The arrangement is a lot, it's a lot. Before Dilla passed, did you get to chance to do any recording with him?

Black Milk: The only record that Dilla and I have had collaborations on would be… I think the last joint was this track I produced for Slum Village called reunion; he actually did a verse on it. It was him, Elzhi, and T3. Yeah, that was one of the joints I got a chance to hear Dilla on one of my records. It was a couple other records I did a while before then, on this album called Dirty District Vol. 2 which I was in a beat crew with B.R. Gunna and Dilla actually came through and gave us a couple verses for that joint. It was dope man, to hear Dilla spit over one of your tracks. You know, he didn't really collab with a lot of people. So if he did anything over somebody's track, that meant he respected what you were doing as an artist a lot. That's probably like, one of my favorite moments in my whole career, being able to say I got the chance to hear Dilla spit over one of my records and one of my beats. Did you get to do anything with Baatin before he passed?

Black Milk: I actually did through the Slum stuff. And I actually got the chance to work with him on this project I put out in '05 named Sound of The City. It's a lot of songs that never even got released. I remember back when I first got cool with Baatin, he used to come through at my mom's crib, come in the basement and record. So yeah man, he and I definitely collaborated on a number of occasions. But like recently, in the past two, three years, nah I didn't get the chance to do nothing kind of new with Baatin, because a lot of personal stuff was going on in his life and it was hard to get to him. Detroit, you guys just have this eccentric sound and everybody sounds like their own person. What do you think is in the water that makes everybody so musically inclined, makes everybody so dope?

Black Milk - Man, I have no fuckin' idea, for real. I try to not come off cocky or arrogant with the whole Detroit thing, but I mean, it is what it is. It's like the city of Detroit— the music that comes out this city is crazy. Even before us, back in the day; take it back to the Motown era. I don't know, I don't know what it is. The only answer I kind of come up with when people ask me that question is, I feel like, it's kind of a great city, its blue collar city. So you know, it's not like a New York or a L.A. where it's a lot of things that can distract you from whatever you do, working on whatever you work on, your craft. So I guess the only thing you can do in this city is create and master whatever you're trying to do, you know what I'm saying? Master your craft. And here, like I said, it's not a lot of distractions to take you away from that. So you can just sit in the studio all day, practicing and practicing and working on shit, or sit at home all day in the basement, or wherever you're at, wherever you create at, and just work on your shit. That's the only answer I could come up with. Maybe we have more time on our hands and like to just work on our shit than other people. I also asked because I know that you have a trio named Random Axe with Guilty Simpson and Sean Price and you guys were suppose to drop a project this year.

Black Milk: I mean, yeah we supposed to be dropping the album end of this year, hopefully. If we can't get it out this year, no later than 1st quarter next year. So yeah, Sean P, Guilty Simpson and I. It will be through Duck Down Records. Sean P was actually in Detroit a few weeks ago to finish up all his verses, and it's all on me now to flip the beats and wrap up all the production and the mixes. I'm working on that right now. It's going to be a dope project. It's going to be straight, dirt. It's going to be nothing like my album. My album is like musical, and experimental. Random Axe shit is going to be like, straight raw, street shit. Everybody already knows how Sean P gets down, know how Guilty get down. So that's what you're going to be able to expect. Hard beats, hard lyrics, and just some raw Hip-Hop shit. It was fun to work with Sean P on this joint, because he's like one of my favorite east coast lyricists right now. He's just in my top five right now. So yeah, it was dope to work with him man. It was dope to collab with him and Duck Down, they’re just supporting. It's another super group that people are going to love. There’s also a third project you have in the works and I love this chick's voice. Searching for Sanity with Melanie [Rutherford].

Black Milk: I got cool with Mel back in like, 05’, 06’, because she started working with Slum and I still was doing productions for them back then, and she started doing little vocals here and there on their projects, and that's how I met her. I always felt she was incredible back then, and I came to point last year where I'm like “Yo, I really want to do an album with a dope male or female singer.” I thought about Mel and was like “Why not?” People need to really hear her voice, she needs to be heard. I called her like “Yo, let's do this project.” This will give me chance to do some shit I'm not able to do in the rap world, get you some exposure, and I think we can make some dope shit because I'm not hearing any R&B singers come out with some shit that I would want to hear. It's been a long time since I heard an R&B album from somebody that I thought it was some incredible shit. I was like yeah let's do it. Let me make some shit that I would want to listen to and hopefully it'll be something that everybody else been looking for too. So yeah man, we plan on putting that out probably next year, right after Random Axe I'm going to dive right into that. She's incredible man, the voice is effortless.

Black Milk Broadcast: 2010 Preview Random again, but how did you end up getting “7 Pounds” on GZA's Pro Tools?

Black Milk: Damn, I can't remember how that shit came about. I think my manager sent his manager some beats. I didn't even know he used the beat until a week before the album dropped. We took care of that thought, you know, we took care of all the business so it was all good. So I didn't know until last minute that I even had a track on GZA's new album. I got the chance to chop it up with him for a quick second over the phone and he was telling me he was up on what I was doing, and the beats that he heard from me was fire. And I was like “Damn, that's dope, that's a honor.” So yeah, hopefully we get something in, in the future. Are there any artists that you wanted to get on the project with you that you didn't have a chance to get to?

Black Milk: I got all the people I wanted. I didn't want to have a lot of features for this album anyways. I wanted to kind of keep it short, 12 songs, straight to the point, no fillers, hold it down myself, and put a few features here and there. It was more so having singers on the album, more than rappers. I knew I wanted to have a lot of female and male singers on the hook just to give the album a more melodic feel so it wouldn't be rap, rap, and rap. I wanted to break it up a little bit. That was more so where my head was when talking about features, just trying to find dope singers to compliment what I was doing. Last words for Hip-Hop?

Black Milk: September 14, Album of the Year.