Review: Black Milk : "Album of the Year"

“This is who you call the truest/out the newest fold/to people watching our every move like The Truman Show.” ---Black Milk, “Deadly Medley”

It’s an ambitious title. Yet, Black Milk is an ambitious artist. Before he could buy a drink, he was contributing music to Slum Village and building a name for himself as a producer. Manning the boards for much of Trinity, Detroit Deli: A Taste of Detroit, and B.R. Gunna- Dirty District Vol. 2; it was the death of his mentor and friend, J. Dilla, that finally pushed him out of the shadow of a giant.

As a Producer/Rapper, who is very good at both and with his Detroit roots and sound, comparisons to Dilla came quickly to Black. He was crowned the next best thing and heir to the throne, however, Black Milk’s work ethic and tenacity would soon allow him to carve his own path and establish his own notoriety and fan base. His own unusual name is now synonymous with hits.

It’s been through diligence (no pun intended) that Black has carved out his own niche and become a critically acclaimed artist beloved and respected by fans around the world as well as other rap artists. Despite industry politics, like little to no local airplay, Black has successfully released a solo album a year, except 2009, for the last five years. Beginning with Sound of the City, when he broke ties with Barak Records in 2005, Broken Wax (EP), 2006, Popular Demand (2007), Tronic (2008) and now Album of the Year; which is released on FatBeats Records/Decon. Not to mention collaborations like CalTroit (with Bishop Lamont), The Setup (with Fat Ray), The Preface (with Elzhi), and Random Axe (with Sean Price and Guilty Simpson).

With Album of the Year, Black Milk takes us on a musical journey of the last year of his life. The album is full of his usual masterful production and crate digging skills, a newer addition is more live instrumentation, including drums from Daru Jones, bass from Tim Shellaberger and horn and string arrangement from Sam Beaubien. The live instrumentation adds another layer of complexity to rich musical landscape that Black paints with music and words like a master.

“Keep Going,” is one of the best tracks on the album and it’s just the third track in. It continues to go uphill from there. “Over Again” is an ode to those who hustle for a living, vocalist Monica Blaire provides a great compliment on the thought-provoking track that asks, “Why do I even bother?/Seems like it just gets harder/to do it over again.” Album of the Year features ONLY Detroit artists, like “Black and Brown” featuring Danny Brown, who lyrically stands out on every performance. “Warning”, one of the 4 tracks that Black Milk flows on alone, causes a bit of a lag toward the end. The track sounds too much like another that he produced (“Stupid”, Dirty District 2) and is the album’s only skip-worthy song. Any flaws in Album of the Year, of which there are few, are redeemed by the monster single, “Deadly Medley” featuring Royce Da 5’9” and Elzhi. Despite the fact that it features three extraordinary emcees, the song doesn’t sound like they are trying to outdo each other, instead they seem to compliment each other. However, with lines like: “Seems/they love when I’m performing/they laugh at your performance/my s**t is Martin Luther/your s**t is Martin Lawrence.” Black Milk reminds listeners whose album this is. Royce goes in as usual proclaiming “shoulders with his whole, entire city on.” Elzhi shines as well, “It’s fatality/to ever try to handle me like a piano key.”

Finally, Album of the Year closes with a feature from Mr. Porter nee’ Denaun Porter, a legendary producer in his own right, member of D12, who is currently filling large shoes as Eminem’s “hype man”, a void left by Proof. Mr. Porter adds lush vocals on the hook of a track that gives shout outs to those both here and gone that have contributed to Black’s musical life. Album of the Year is an excellent effort from an incredible artist well on his way to becoming one of the greatest to ever do it.