Music

Black Milk: Album of the Year

Photo by Nina Oliver

Black Milk attempts to push the boundaries of Detroit hip-hop even farther than 2008's modern classic Tronic, but ultimately delivers a very, very good album that is mysteriously easy to lose in 2010's glut of great hip-hop.


Black Milk

Album of the Year

Label: Fat Beats
US Release Date: 2010-09-14
UK Release Date: Import
Amazon
iTunes

With Black Milk, and especially Album of the Year, I feel like it's necessary to talk about preconceptions and double standards. The most common knock on Black is that he isn't much of a rapper. His flow is direct and intense, a sort of unraveling that feels urgent and precise. It puts Black in a position where his words carry a fantastic amount of weight to them, pushing them up to the forefront of his equally boisterous productions. As a producer first, this seems to have listeners at odds with how to approach Black. Somewhere, much like Kanye West, it was written that Black at his best could only be a capable rapper. He might have something to say, but who cares how he is saying it?

Speaking of Kanye, in the wake of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it is definitely harder to judge Album of the Year. After all, however you feel about Black Milk, it was pretty much common knowledge that Album of the Year would emerge out of its embryo as 2010's production pinnacle. But now it's hard to look at it in that context, though the album is littered with live instrumentation -- particularly live drums, keys, and bass guitar -- that often has Black's work rivaling the vibrance of Ski's work for Curren$y and Smoke DZA this year. But it's definitely stuck in an older hip-hop ethos, so to now try and put it against Kanye's opus seems laughable. Another contextual blemish on Black Milk's own intended masterwork.

Somehow, in context, Album of the Year has become a forgettable album. The cultural overlooking of this record reminds me of Clipse's Til the Casket Drops in some ways: seminal artist of the decade takes chances to push his sound forward, underwhelms against expectations, and through no real fault of his own drifts into the static. But from the very opening moment of Album of the Year, Black Milk is on an intense mission that feels even more distinctly Detroit than either of his previous solo albums. "365" rehashes the concept of "Long Story Short", Black playing narrator as he takes us through his torturous 2009 and then dropping us into a world littered with slamming drums courtesy of Daru Jones. These drums are really the talking point of the record, crashing around with the abandon of an MC5 record, and at times, as on "Keep Going" and "Oh Girl", dominating the tracks to somewhat ludicrous degrees. Oftentimes these drums are handled more succinctly, though, such as "Deadly Medley" and "Black and Brown".

The girl record on this album, "Oh Girl", doesn't hit as pop as "Without U" did, but its soulful futuro-Motown feel that somewhat recalls PPP is a good sound within the album. Black explores Detroit in other ways, such as "Distortion" -- a track that fades out with a wailing guitar and vocals from Melanie Rutherford -- that has as much in common with '70s garage rock as '00s hip-hop. On the most Black Milk-like tracks of the album, "Deadly Medley" and "Black and Brown", we are presented with two of the collaborations of the year. "Deadly Medley" oozes with an attitude I wish permeated more of the album, as it matches the rest of the tracks' urgency while feeling more complete and accessible, while Black and Elzhi kill their parts and Royce Da 5'9" provides an unrivaled presence. Meanwhile, "Black and Brown" features Danny Brown at his best, providing another contender for verse of the year in a personal lexicon already full of contenders. These two songs ultimately loom large over the album not for these guests tearing it up (Black does too), but because they just feel more tethered to something, more complete than conceptual.

I won't accept criticism that Black Milk is a poor rapper, here -- his honesty is refreshing and his delivery is unique enough. And I won't really accept that the drums are too much -- they come close, but more often their signature is what makes this record what it is than what it isn't. What I will accept, though, is that despite Black Milk's obvious progression as both an MC and producer, he's somewhat mystifyingly turned out a product that I rarely have a desire to listen to. After it's first week on my hard drive, it was sometimes hard for me to even remember Milk released an album, and I finally came to review it out of a need to get my lists in order for PopMatters' year-end content. This album has a very strong mid-section, but it's opening and closing often lose me with either overbearing production or just general lackadaisical listening.

Ultimately, I am more than fine giving Black a certain benefit of the doubt. When I do fire this album up, there are a lot of sounds I love, and a lot of ideas I truly appreciate. It's just that, when taken as a whole, Album of the Year is certainly more exhausting than it deserves to be. While it's primary purpose is certainly fulfilled -- Black is able to exhume his soul of his previous year, addressing his close friends' deaths on "Distortion" and "365" with an openness I quite frankly wouldn't have expected -- the secondary purpose of being hip-hop's definitive moment of 2010 is woefully whiffed on.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.