September 14, 2009
My Gut Reaction: Black Milk - Sound Of The City: Volume 1 (2005)
In 2007, a producer based in Detroit, Michigan, seemed to explode completely out of nowhere. The man's production skills were likened to that of his peer, the late, great J. Dilla, who was also based out of Detroit. Even though the man wasn't a brand new name to the hip hop scene, he was unknown enough to surprise everybody with his fully formed persona and his skills both behind the boards and on the mic.
That producer was Black Milk.
Now, Black Milk didn't actually spring up from out of nowhere: he had been working hard in Detroit for quite a while when his stock suddenly rose. Detroit rap enthusiasts, and there are a lot of them, know of the man as one of the producers who worked on Slum Village's Trinity: Past, Present and Future, which may be best known as the first Slum Village album recorded after group founder J. Dilla left to pursue a solo career. He also worked with a myriad of other Detroit-based artists, and even found the time to venture out of his home state to lace the beats for several random rappers, including Starang Wondah (of the Originoo Gunn Clappaz), Canibus, and, when his name carried much more weight, Gza/Genius, KRS-One, Buckshot, Kidz In The Hall, and Bishop Lamont.
Most importantly, though, he is better known now for promoting his own damn self through his musical backdrops and his rhymes, which have steadily grown more confident and nuanced through the years. It makes sense that interest in the man's back catalog picked up after the 2007 release of Popular Demand, Black Milk's equivalent of a major label debut, even though he's signed to the indie label Fat Beats. I wasn't really aware of the guy until after his name started appearing on everybody else's blogs, so I figured that the best place to start would be with his actual debut album, Sound Of The City: Volume 1, which, for some reason, I've been sitting on until now. (Okay, I will admit that I cheated and picked up Popular Demand first, but this is the first time I've ever heard his first album.)
Hopefully, this goes well, so that I'll be more likely to look for his other work, especially his most recent album Tronic, which for some reason I have yet to hear.
Yeah yeah, I know, I'm behind. But I'm trying to make up for it.
On which Black Milk shouts out seemingly every Detroit artist ever except for Eminem (although he does mention D-12, so I should let that one pass), Royce da 5'9”, Kid Rock, Madonna (no, seriously), and all of the Motown legends. He warns listeners that the intro will be long, but it ends up being an acceptable length, and you'll only hear the fucking thing once in its entirety anyway.
2. N---A WHAT
Ridiculous title aside, the first actual song on Sound Of The City: Volume 1 isn't bad. It's obvious that Black Milk is fully aware that his lyrics need to be tightened, but the effort and enthusiasm put into the writing is admirable. The beat he laces our ears with is also decent, but as a whole, it's a good thing that the song itself is so short.
3. DANGER (FEAT T3 & PHAT KAT)
This is actually really fucking good, and Milk's beat is overly dramatic in the best possible way.
4. PIMP CUP
Milk's instrumental plods along like a cross-country Amtrak ride. Unfortunately, the drums and the faintest hint of melody may cause uncontrollable drowsiness, so you may want to move on to the next track, or, at the very least, you may not want to operate heavy machinery while this song is on.
Black Milk brings listeners some interesting imagery: “Don't let the barrel skeet-skeet on your shirt”. Admit it, that's kind of funny. The vocal sample used repeatedly gets old very quickly, though, so thank your lucky stars that this song is short.
6. SO GONE
Milk's obsession with women makes him come off as every other rapper in history, whether underground or mainstream. He has a catchy way about his observations, though, so you'll be entertained, at least until you realize the guy is saying the same shit you can hear on the radio at any given time for free.
7. THIS THAT (FEAT MARV WON)
I like Marv Won. He has a key guest spot on Royce da 5'9”'s “Happy Bar Exam 2”, one of my favorite songs on Royce's The Bar Exam 2 mixtape. This song isn't really on that level, but I still thought it was pretty good. Milk handles his own behind the mic very impressively.
8. DIRTY HORNS (INSTRUMENTAL)
More of a brief interlude than a full-on instrumental, but it still sounds okay anyway.
9. BANG DIS SHIT (FEAT NAMETAG)
No, I won't, but thanks for playing!
10. SWING DAT FAR
Just like every other rapper ever, Black Milk is a fan of a woman with a fat ass. Not that there's anything wrong with that. His sample usage helps this song not turn into Sir Mix-A-Lot re-imagined. The hook is pretty terrible, though you should have seen that coming if you follow my thoughts on hip hop choruses at all.
11. SOUND OF THE CITY (FEAT FAT RAY & ELZHI)
I liked the rhymes a lot more than Milk's beat, which embeds itself into your brain in the worst possible way. Pass.
12. DIRTY GUITAR (INSTRUMENTAL)
There's an awful lot of chatter at the beginning for something that's supposed to be an instrumental. That being said, this is pretty catchy.
13. ETERNAL (FEAT BAATIN)
The beat sounds very similar to everything else on Sound Of The City: Volume 1. (It's up to you to determine if that's a good thing: for my money, it's not.) Baatin, late of Slum Village, recently passed away, so hearing this is more bittersweet than it should be, but it was still pretty nice.
This was really fucking good. Once Milk starts spitting, he goes in, only losing steam near the end when he delivers a hook, which is unnecessary for a song that is essentially a one-verse wonder, but whatever.
15. HOLLA LIKE U KNOW ME (FEAT QUE DIESEL)
Milk's beat would have sounded better with some additional rappers on it. Or, at the very least, if that title wasn't really the actual name of this song, since it gives the track an inadvertent generic tone. Que Diesel's appearance was also entirely unnecessary.
One of the shortest rap album outros that I've ever stumbled across.
Sound Of The City: Volume 1 concludes with a hidden bonus song.
17. HIDDEN TRACK
This brief instrumental manages to sound both sinister and warm, which is no small feat. Well played, sir.
THE LAST WORD: Sound Of The City: Volume 1 sounds like what producer-rapper Kanye West's pre-The College Dropout album would have sounded like if (a) there were such an album in existence, and (b) Kanye's rhymes (over the soulful samples he was synonymous with early in his career) were less polished but more aggressive. Black Milk takes his J. Dilla inspirational messages and runs with them, carving himself a nice niche in the hip hop game. He doesn't sound bad on the mic, but his flow has definitely gotten better since his debut disc. But the kid is a beast behind the boards, and that aspect of Sound Of The City: Volume 1 is what shines the brightest. True, the disc has an incomplete feel, and some of these tracks flat-out suck, but this is a consistently entertaining mess. As such, this is for Black Milk enthusiasts only, but don't get me wrong: there is a lot to admire on this project, even though a second volume was never actually made.