A veteran of Detroit’s hip-hop community, Black Milk (born Curtis Cross) sees his sixth solo album readjusting the dynamics of his adventurous songwriting once again. On his latest outing, Fever, the rapper and producer continues his endeavours with widening the perimeters of his hip-hop to generously include the live band set-ups that he had only flirted with on a number of past projects. Orchestrating a rhythm of pumping synthesizers and live drums (sometimes sampled and processed through a usual host of machinery), Cross explores a spectrum of influences that includes jazz and electronica to produce a shifting-sand of styles that defy the genre trappings that have often ensnared lesser hip-hop acts.
Cross has always been a consummate songwriter, designating complicated left turns in the even more complicated, spiderlike structures of his designs. This time he masters an even more difficult practice in maintaining a balance of disparate influences. Mining the works of jazz greats like Sam Rivers and Sun Ra as well as early ’80s Bronx groovers ESG, Fever pulses with an energy that resonates with the rhythms of urban hustle and bustle.
Cross draws a parallel between funky hip-hop swing and the daily exploits of inner city living; the hurryings to catch a train and early morning dashes to make an appointment are often referenced in the kinetic rumbles of these electric compositions. Numbers like “True Lies”, a burbling synth roiling within the boxy shuffle of live hip-hop drums, stalk the concrete grounds of their urban environs with unrest. On the disco-rubbed funk of “Could It Be” an elastic bassline shoulders sensuously with the clocking rhythm of an almost-but-not-quite hip-hop groove. Fever feels like it was made for restless city folk who cannot be troubled by the capricious speeds of metropolitan life.
Cross’ rhymes often dart with the impromptu turns of casual conversation, edging closer to a nimble jazz-speak than they do straight-up rap. But his poetry is dexterous and crisp, surveying the skyline of his thrumming cityscapes with a cold, clear eye. Fevers are certainly fussy and distressing afflictions, but this one here is regenerative and sobering.