Archive for the ‘Pharoahe Monch’ Category

Black Milk’s Album of the Year

September 20, 2010

Drums, drums, and more crashing drums. It was difficult for a large swath of Dilla fans to overlook the obvious characteristics that Black Milk’s sound shared with Dilla’s since he came on the scene: drums, drums, and drums. However, on Album of the Year, Black Milk really stepped up his game with live drums (utilizing a live 4-piece band); this becomes the emblem of AOTY and easily carries the album. “Keep It Going” sounds like “Give The Drummer Sum” part two, which was the signature track of Black Milk’s last album, Tronic. He also has some great baselines throughout AOTY, particularly on the introductory “365”. Sonically, Album of the Year doesn’t let down.

I found Black Milk’s guest spots curious, and agree with Kyle: several of the featured artists add minimally to AOTY’s overall sound. From the range of artists that Black Milk has worked with, I would think he’d be able to do better than Danny Brown. Listen, I know Danny Brown gets props in Detroit, but his spot on the cleverly named “Black & Brown” is weak. (I thought the same thing about him on Dilla’s “Dilla Bot v. the Hybrid” from Jay Stay Paid. It’s too bad, too, because that “Black & Brown” beat bangs. I also agree somewhat with Kyle regarding “Deadly Medley.” Elzhi doesn’t sound like himself (not sure if this is recording, or anything circumstantial). Being a huge Elzhi fan, I wasn’t moved by his verse. I think Black Milk and Royce both go hard on “Deadly Medly,” however, and that track is going to get lots of spins.

One aspect of AOTY’s sound I really like are the “interludes” between tracks, i.e. how Black Milk changes the beat up and lets it ride out during transitions between one track and the next. It reminds me of what Questlove & Dilla did on Common’s Like Water For Chocolate. I often think that adds to an albums overall progression, and adds a little something extra musically.

Lyrically, Black Milk is, as he’s always been for me, hard to pin down. He doesn’t have the punchlines of Elzhi, nor is is his flow Phonte [formerly] of Little Brother or Blu. But he’s got something few emcees do: he’s a producer, and it sounds like either he makes beats to suit his flow, or he tailors his flow to enrich the beat. Like Dilla and T3, Black Milk has a flow that sticks and moves, and even without the hard punchlines, he sounds good. This isn’t to say he doesn’t have some good lines. However, Black Milk rhymes like a producer: with the overall sound paramount, and demonstrating care in making sure his delivery fits with the beat (rather than a battle emcee who’s always on the attack, e.g. Guilty Simpson). One listen to “Gospel Psychadelic Rock” and you’ll hear what I mean. Black Milk shows some lyrical growth on “Distortion;” not solely because of the material/topic, but because he does so without sounding corny, speaking on the medical condition of his manager & the death of Baatin. I always respect when artists are introspective/personable, but it’s not always easy to pull off, especially in the midst of an album that is sonically akin to a thunderstorm. There isn’t much going wrong on “Distortion”: banging drums, grounded baseline, and mood-exuding guitar.

“Gospel Psychedelic Rock” is an incredibly dope track: the perfect compromise between straight hip-hop and a cornucopia of sounds; the track utilizes drums, guitar, insane baseline, scratches, samples, and a great hook, “Better watch out here we come, here we go.” Black Milk can be heard in the background saying something to the effect of “yeah, we destroy shit,” and that’s pretty much what he does on this track. Beat is crazy (and gets doper as I ruminate about it). Classic Black Milk. This track and “Keep Going” are exactly why I love Black Milk.

“Closing Chapter” serves as a proper ending to any album of the year. Topically, Black Milk explores his influences and sources of inspiration/strength over a guitar riff and, consistent with the rest of the album, great drums. Like “Gospel Psychedelic Rock,” Black Milk’s flow is perfect for the beat. The only thing “Closing Chapter” is missing is Common’s Pop (yeah, of Pop’s Rap fame) extolling some knowledge as the beat simplifies and fades.

So, does Black Milk have the album of the year? At the very least, he does have the album of his year. On the production side, this album is nearly flawless. I would be hard pressed to enumerate anything more I would have wanted sonically. Album of the Year seems to need some lyrical power to put it over the top, however. I can only imagine what this would have sounded like with Blu, (more) Elzhi, or Pharoahe Monch on it. Or, alternatively, what it would have sounded like with only Black Milk. A handful of thin parts of the ice, namely Danny Brown and “Oh Girl,” which I could do without, while weak, do little to damage the full scope of the album.

Advertisements