There is something about Detroit that has always seemed to define American industry. New York might be the center of arts and culture, San Francisco the symbol of the west and American progressivism. But its the middle west, Detroit in particular, that emblemizes the idea of blue collar American work ethic and tenacity. The eroding of that great city has long been the center of conversation of the death of the Great American Industrial Metropolis. But in such talks of decay and loss, missing is the acknowledgment of the rich culture and brilliance that abides in the shadows of the former titan. Enter in Black Milk. His album No Poison, No Paradise is an inspired collection of sounds, lyrics, and images that shatters genre-expectations and celebrates the urban forgotten.
Black Milk is a product of Detroits soul culture. Indeed in the town known (and forgotten) as THE Motown, soul music runs deep, still nourishing the land. But more than the classic R&B records of yesteryear, Black Milk takes his Generation Y/Millenial status to powerfully merge soul, jazz, and hip hop to reflect an eclectic and audacious blend of beats. Known most for his producing work with Slum Village and other hip-soul acts, that influence of musical brilliance clings to his own sound, like heavy, sweet-scented smoke. In his music you feel the aftermath of legendary acts like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. A man who is a producer first, this is an album driven more by the sound than the lyrical content.
He spends the album oscillating between pure hip-hop records to absolute jazz numbers. Like much alternative music, Black Milk challenges notions of status quo, viewing the underclassin this case the ghetto- as not a point of shame but as both a place and ideal to be celebrated and revered. What to some could feel bipolar, going back from funky jazz to 90s style hood-rap, Milk forges a space for creativity in his music. The title even, No Poison, No Paradise reflects the precious balance this music rests in, where no one genre is favored over the other because there is a symbiosis.
Sonny Jr. is one of the a purely instrumental number that in itself seems to create its own genre of urban jazz. But other tracks, like Ghetto DEMF takes one genre of music and explodes it. Ghetto DEMF operates like a cipher with verses trading back and forth between Black Milk and Quelle Chris. A play on the more traditional Detroit Electronic Music Festival, this song claims electronic music for the sake of the ghetto.
The partnered songs Sundays Best and Mondays Worst show hip-hop at its best in its ability to tell autobiographical stories that act as epic allegories. The usage of the sampling of scripture Never seen the righteous forsaken, or his seed begging bread to start Sundays Best has beautiful irony with the hunger and pain described in Mondays Worst. Perfected on Puritan Ave has the best display of genre bending, as the song sets off with melodic rhymes and ends with the chaotic surging of trumpets going off meter. In the multiplicity of sounds in Milks work, he presents the cohesion. And genius.
Black Milks music appears off the beaten path of mainstream, so its no surprise that he remains relatively under wraps while fellow Detroit (emphasis on the D) native Big Sean has seen much and more attention. And yet Black Milk makes music of such great quality and soul, it deserves to be made in to a staple of modern hip hop, and indeed be canonized as soul music.
Tracks We Like: Sonny Jr., Sunday’s Best, Monday’s Worst, Perfected on Puritan Ave.
Black Milk “No Poison, No Paradise” Track 5: Sonny Jr
Black Milk “No Poison, No Paradise” Track 6 and 7: Sunday’s Best/ Monday’s Worst
Black Milk “No Poison, No Paradise” Track 8: Perfected on Puritan Ave