One of you two astutely pointed out that I had promised to write about some guy named Miilkbone way back during someone else's Reader Review. I figured that this month was as good a time as any, except for one thing: I couldn't find my fucking copy of the dude's debut album, Da' Miilkrate. While I was able to find a copy through my local library's inter-library loan program, I wasn't able to get any fucking liner notes, which only really becomes a problem about halfway through the write-up. Fair warning and all that.
Miilkbone, real name Thomas Wlodarczyk, was a New Jersey-based rapper who was tangentially linked with the group Naughty By Nature. (I say "was" because he is no longer in the entertainment industry, and also no longer lives in Jersey.) As he explains during the intro to his debut album, he grew up around hip hop culture and felt closer to it than any other line of work (at least in the early 1990s), regardless of the non-issue of his race, so he thought nothing about spitting a few rhymes and quickly scored a record deal with Capitol, a label who were out searching for the next great white hope.
Da' Miilkrate soon followed in 1995, and its two singles, "Keep It Real" and "Where'z Da Party At?", gained regular airplay at rap radio stations. While it wasn't the hottest seller on the shelf, Da' Miilkrate earned a small cultish following, thanks to Miilk's street-based rhymes and a gaggle of better-than-he-necessarily-deserved beats (made up primarily of smoothed-out boom bap mixed with vocal samples from other, better rap songs doubling as hooks) from mostly unknown producers (although Naughty By Nature's Kay Gee steps behind the boards for a couple of songs).
1. NO GIMMICKS
This rap album intro goes the oft-used "interview" route, except the woman conducting said interview either has the worst possible script to work from, or she really isn't all that great at putting sentences together (what, exactly, is "the traditional career of other white males" supposed to fucking mean? Do white guys only get a single career path to follow?). At least our host's responses are decent.
A note to all aspiring emcees of any nationality: you want the first actual song on your debut album to (a) grab the attention of the audience, and (b) set the tone for the rest of the project. Miilkbone sounds decent enough during the actual verses (even resorting to some awkward imagery during the first few bars that made me laugh out loud), but his progress is weighed down by a shitty chorus and an ineffective Nick Wiz beat that practically begs to be put out of its misery.
3. KEEP IT REAL
One of two singles from Da' Miilkrate that I actually remember, and it holds up surprisingly well, sixteen years removed from the original release date. This is due solely to Mufi's still-pretty-good instrumental, which works in an AZ sound bite (taken from Nas's "Life's A Bitch") to perfection. Lyrically, the track is kind of ridiculous: I didn't remember Thomas getting so cartoonishly homophobic during the middle stanza (but then again, this is hip hop). Possibly the best thing I can say about our host's performance on here is that he sounds like the only guy that could ever tackle the instrumental. No, seriously.
Something new I discovered by listening to "Mindgamez": Miilkbone likes to walk around the block "with [his] cock as [his] glock". Which would be hilarious if our host had any sort of sense of humor about our chosen genre, which is inherently silly. There isn't much else on this shit-talking opus that sticks to your ribs, though, thanks to our host's immeasurably dull performance and the generic instrumental. But hey, at least he was trying.
5. TRAFFIC JAM
6. MOVE WIT' DA' GROOVE
I had forgotten that a good majority of Da' Miilkrate aimed for the middle ground made popular in the 1990s: hardcore hip hop set to a radio-friendly beat that guaranteed it airplay and television time while not alienating the street audience. These songs are notable for including a severe amount of shit-talking that tricked the listener into believing it to be much deeper than it truly was. A lot of the shit from the 1990s fits that description, including songs from artists that I champion to this very day. But you know what? This song sucked.
7. HOW YA LIKE IT?
An altogether pleasant three-verse performance from our host is accompanied by an alright-enough beat that is punctuated by a lazy use of a Method Man sound bite during the "hook". Still, this was okay: our host sounds confident enough to one day dream of becoming a compelling artist. Today isn't that day, but I liked the track overall.
8. FREESTYLE (FEAT. ? & ?)
That's actually a very appropriate title for what is essentially a glorified interlude. The instrumental was pretty good, though. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea who guests on this track, thanks to the missing liner notes and the not-so-helpful Interweb.
9. SET IT OFF (FEAT. ?, ?, & ?)
I feel so bad for the three guests (one of whom is a female rapper, the same one from "Freestyle", if I'm not mistaken) who appear on "Set It Off": they seem to have been lost in the annals of time, as the Interweb is convinced that Miilkbone is the only guy who rhymes on this track. This most certainly is not the case: I just have no fucking clue as to who does appear. (Damn my lack of liner notes! Any assistance you two may be able to provide would be appreciated.) Producer Kay Gee gives our host and his weed carriers (I'm just guessing here) a decidedly non-Naughty By Nature instrumental that sounds alright, and everyone comes off as okay enough (except for our host, weirdly), but there are many better posse cuts out in the world.
10. WHERE'Z DA PARTY AT?
The other single I remember Capitol releasing from Da' Miilkrate, with a sound bite from The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Party & Bullshit" providing the track its title. This is purely an effort to gain a mainstream audience, with its radio-friendly instrumental and party groove, but that isn't a bad thing, as this track still sounds pretty decent today. It is kind of weird that Thomas sounds more comfortable on these type of tracks than he does on the hardcore shit, though.
11. MURDER VERBS (FEAT. ?, ?, ?, & ?)
I swear, there may as well not be any cameos on Da' Miilkbone, the way you'd see it online. Luckily, this isn't a very good posse cut, so it doesn't actually matter. The Mufi instrumental was clean, but all five verses kind of float on by the wayside.
12. FAST CASH
13. KIDS ON THE AVE
14. CHECK ME OUT
The instrumental is pleasing to the ear. Unfortunately, Miilkbone's verses all sound generically "street", and the chorus is motherfucking lazy. It is what it is.
15. BAMMA FAM
I wanted to like this song, what with the spellcheck-be-damned title and the alright Butch Whip/Mufi beat, but I walked away from this shit feeling hungry. It just doesn't add up to much today: our host's performance on "Ketchrek" is the first on Da' Miilkrate that sounds like he was actively auditioning for a slot in Naughty By Nature (or at least the Rottin Razcalz), and that lack of identity hurts the track far more than it doesn't.
17. IT AIN'T THE SAME
It isn't, but you're probably not helping.
18. 2 ALL Y'ALL
Da' Miilkrate ends with what is supposed to be an outro filled with our host's shout-outs, if only he would fucking stop rhyming already. This idea was actually pretty funny, albeit unintentionally: he delivers his acknowledgments in the form of two verses, even as his producer is trying to hustle him out the front door. Not bad.
Da' Miilkrate ends with an unlisted bonus track.
19. KEEP IT REAL (REMIX)
The unlisted bonus track ends up being a remix of "Keep It Real" that not only utilizes a different instrumental, it also houses different lyrics from our host. In fact, the only bit of DNA shared between the original and its successor is the AZ vocal sample. The beat sounds incomplete and lacks the sense of melody the original track rolled around in, so it should go without saying that this remix was a failure, but Miilk's new verses sound okay enough, so this wasn't a complete waste of my time.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Miilkbone's Da' Miilkrate is an overlong debut project that doesn't hold up to scrutiny in this day and age. Lyrically, Miilk isn't terrible behind the mic, but there also isn't anything special about the dude, either: his entire style sounds derivative, as though he were rapping along to his favorite songs when he was supposed to be writing lyrics to the beats given to him for Da' Miilkrate. Speaking of which, the instrumentals on this project don't hold up as well as I had remembered: they vary wildly from pretty great to really fucking bland, but the majority of Da' Miilkrate resides in a middle ground that fails to connect with any audience. When combined, our host occasionally hits the sweet spot (see: the 'best tracks' listed below), but more often than not, Miilkbone wears out his welcome by not standing out from the crows. Da' Miilkrate is hip hop's equivalent to Muzak.
BUY OR BURN? Neither. Your time would be better spent waiting for the next post. Probably. I don't know: I can't think for you.
BEST TRACKS: "Keep It Real"; "How Ya Like It?"