The Unheard Legend Of Black Milk
Often today it’s said that “now music” sucks. This sentiment is generally uttered by those over the age of 33, fifteen years removed from high school. I’d imagine in 1983, one of my favorite years of music (Thriller, Synchronicity, etc.), 33 year olds who grew up on the Beatles and James Brown felt the same way. Funny but very true. I suspect.
I’m truly a music enthusiast. I make a conscious effort to move with the times while never losing touch with memories of the music that has resonated with me in my formative years. Detroit’s Curtis Cross, aka BLACK MILK, is an artist who, in 2014, has rewarded me in a major way for my extended enthusiasm for modern music.
I first discovered Mr. Cross back in 2002. He had produced a few tracks on the Slum Village (my second favorite rap group at the time, Outkast still being número uno) “Trinity” album – their first project without J Dilla. Over the next couple of years, I became more familiar with his beat work and learned later he was a blossoming emcee as well. Ahhh the producer/emcee. I’ve always been a fan of that particular hybrid. QTip. DJ Quik. Kanye. Erick Sermon. Just a few men who have done it and done it well. In 2007, I copped Milk’s Fat Beats debut “Popular Demand” (his second album overall). The soulful soundscape was on point and I was ultra impressed, to say the least. Milk’s wordplay, while more than adequate and typical of a 23 year old hustler out of the rugged D, did not quite match the level of the music. Cohesiveness and greatness was on deck.
The following year, Black Milk released his third album “Tronic”. A synthesizer heavy LP, this was Milk’s first grand slam. The album’s centerpiece is the dynamic “Losing Out” featuring fellow Detroit emcee Royce the 5’9″. Built around an Alan Parsons sample, to put it bluntly, the song is simply one of the best hip-hop tracks of the 2000’s. Still, mass appeal was not on the table for Curtis. Critical acclaim, yes. Commercial appeal, not so much.
Subsequent albums “Album of the Year” (gotta love dude’s confidence!) and “No Poison, No Paradise” helped maintain Milk’s core audience and continued to endear him with critics. I, however, wondered had he peaked as he approached 30 or did he have more to offer? He wouldn’t be the first or the last to flame out at 28ish. Then BOOM. 2014 arrives. Amazing what turning 30 can do for a person’s focus, internal drive and ability to connect…
An outstanding 9 song EP from Milk “Glitches in the Break” dropped in early 2014 and it changed the trajectory of his music momentum. While his maturity was on full display on the melancholy, emotionally drenched “No Poison, No Paradise” project, it was now matched with a self awareness of an artist that knows who his is, and more importantly, who he is not. Tracks like “Cold Day” and “Dirt Bells” are short, succinct tunes of sheer brilliance. A must have EP for sure. More Milk weaponry was on the way…
Recently, Black Milk’s “If There’s A Hell Below” hit shelves and the web. Four years after releasing his “Album of the Year”, Milk has HIS for real this time. A cinematic tour de force, Black Milk’s sixth album maximizes his entire repertoire. Often compared to Dilla, a comparison Milk appreciates but downplays, I can truly say that no one samples like Mr. Cross. Simply put, the man has his own style. “If There’s A Hell Below” is the hip-hop hour of 2014. No tricks. No songs for obvious radio play. All substance and stout. The lead single “What It’s Worth” says it all. Incredible production and lyrics that match, if not exceed the beats. An artist in his prime marching to the beat of his own SP-1200, Black Milk’s time is now.
Ten Essential BlackMilk recordings:
-Jermaine Raetone Johnson
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