Not that 2008 is his debut year per se, but it certainly is the year Curtis Cross, better known as Black Milk, officially stepped up and out from behind the scenes to become a hip hop phenomenon.
If you want to start at his beginning, you would have to absorb some Slum Village (namely What Is This from SV's sophomore LP 'Trinity' in 2002, and the majority of the production on their next two albums), some B.R. Gunna stuff from 2004, and Black Milk's official first solo album, Sound of The City Vol. 1, from 2005.
After signing with Fat Beats on the strength of that project, the Broken Wax EP surfaced, as well as his sophomore indie label project, the Popular Demand album, not long after.
It was definitely dope, but it didn't impact the masses like his vibrant potential suggested he could. Something was still missing to turn him into "that dude," but the young J. Dilla disciple soaked up the experience and kept milking his opportunities for all they were worth in artistic elevation.
At the close of 2007, the cross-coastal collaboration CalTroit (as in California/Detroit) was released, where Aftermath Records superstar-in-training Bishop Lamont and a gang of California's finest MCs united with Black Milk, and crafted what many heads consider the mixtape of the year (that Kardinal Offishall appears on, twice! A real good look, even if he's not from the Motor City or The City of Angels.) (Download the mixtape here.)
Which brings us to 2008. First, the slept-on collaboration album with neighborhood homie Fat Ray The Set Up was released in March. Then Black Milk shaped the foundation of 14 of the 16 selections on Elzhi's long-awaited debut 'The Preface' which surfaced in August.
As word leaked that Black Milk's follow-up album Tronic was going to be released in the fall, people began to speculate if Black Milk would go the way of other buzzing producers and lose momentum, or keep it Kanye. Then he swung. Give The Drummer Sum caught heads off guard with its atypical sequencing and insistent percussion incisions, signaling the beginning of a new era in independent new millennium hip hop. It was James Brown meets James Lavelle from UNKLE. This uncomfortably funky record was the first step into the world of the new album, the head-noddin'-til-your-neck-broke electro-techno Tronic, arguably one of the best rap records of the year.
Was it a struggle to put Tronic together? Is it how you envisioned it to be, or are there a lot of unreleased songs and unfinished ideas surrounding the album for you?
I'll say, I like the way the end results turned out for this album. There were a few things I wanted to do, but didn't have enough time to get it done. At the end of the day, I think the album is my best work, my best body of music out of all the projects I put out, so I'm definitely more than satisfied with the outcome of the album, and all I been getting is a lot of good responses. So, if the people like it, I love it, ha ha. It's dope. Hopefully I do get album of the year on a lot of people's lists, ha ha.
Yeah, and I live in Toronto. It's a good look to see Colin Munroe up on this. Most people don't know about him, but I do. How'd you link with him?
I was looking for him around the time Kanye's Flashing Lights video dropped, I was just on YouTube to check it out, and I came across Colin's remake. I came across his remake and I was like 'this is dope!' it was just as good, if not better than the original, and I thought the video was dope too. Checked out his myspace, heard some dope songs, and was like 'This dude is real talented!' I just hit him up. And I seen he had Dilla in his Top 8 on myspace, so I was like 'Yeah, that's wassup! Ha ha!' He sent me a track two days later with his production and his vocals on it, and that's what you hear on the album. We might even put out a small project in the future... but that's a talented cat right there, Colin. Funky white boy!
No doubt. That's a white boy with soul there. I'm a big fan too. I was wondering, who are some of your influences outside of hip hop? Some of your beats are really next level, your album is called 'Tronic', Detroit has a huge house scene... do you get into other genres?
Oh definitely! You gotta be open minded, and keep your ear to all sorts of other styles of music. Being a producer, that helps your creative process when making music. There's a lotta different groups I was listening to during the album process, like Stereolab, Prince, a few alternative groups, a few rock groups, James Brown, afro-rock bands... stuff like that. All kinds of things inspire what you hear on 'Tronic'.
So what do you make your music on? Minimal, or is it like the cover of your album?
To tell you the truth, basically I have the same set up I had for Popular Demand. Everything starts off with the MPC 2000XL. Start with a whole bunch of vinyl, a few keyboards... that's how all the beats start off. As time goes on, I start working on the tracks, and it evolves into something else. I might want to bring in live musicians to play on top of the samples, or I might have one of my DJ homeboys come thru and add some different type of feel to the track. But it all starts off with the MPC.
Is it being just a disciple of Dilla that is the reason you have accumulated so many credits and finished so many projects in such a short period of time? Is it your work ethic or your manager Hex pushing you or what?
Ha! Well, I don't... really do anything else but music, basically. That's my life, you know what I'm saying? It's kinda boring. If I'm not out on the road touring and doing shows, I'm in the studio. That's my day to day thing. After a certain amount of time goes past, two or three months, just spending time in the lab every day, I gain a certain amount of material, and it's time to put out another project! That's basically how I work. I'm in the studio all day every day if I'm not on the road, and I'm making beats every day, recording songs. At the end, I'm just trying to find new creative ideas and what kind of project I can put out and, what kind of style I haven't touched on yet.
It's cool that you have worked with big name cats on Aftermath Records, but also stay close to your friends in Detroit that are unsigned. Do you want to let the people know about some artists you have on your personal radar that they should know about?
Definitely. One of the MCs that people should be up on with cause I've worked with him a lot, but still up and coming, is my man Fat Ray. One of the MCs out the D that is ridiculous. His voice, delivery, style... this other dude named Danny Brown, he's got a crazy voice, and is dropping next year on Fat Beats, I got some beats on his project. Also, man Nametag, he was featured on a couple joints I did. He's a young dude and ridiculous lyricist. And producers, my man 14KP, he's real dope, and he just dropped a CD called 'The Golden Hour', you should check for that. Those are a few of the dudes people should be aware of...
Word. And how do you feel about the way the city of Detroit is. People have said some things about how hard it is to live there, depression is high, the auto industry is hard... how do you feel? Do you want to stay or move away eventually?
I don't plan on leaving Detroit no time soon. I'm there and I think living in Detroit do influence the sound of my music that I put out. I don't want to go anywhere just yet. And yeah, there is a lot of stuff that goes on in the D that can be depressing at times... seeing people not being able to get a job, seeing people not having money, crime rates in the city. All that definitely plays a part. It's a beautiful, ugly city. All that is going on, but at the same time, the producers are doing hard and grimy, but also soulful and melodic music. I just want to keep that Detroit bounce, that Detroit sound, that Detroit feel in my music...
Word. So let me put the next question like this: do you see yourself more like Eminem, or Dr. Dre? Do you see yourself as an MC that produces, or a producer that raps?
Ah, definitely a producer that raps. I emcee and I like to rhyme and write, but I mainly love producing and the behind the scenes side of it. If I had to pick, I'd definitely pick that over emceeing. And one of the main reasons I emcee is that it gives me the opportunity to do shows, and travel and guess you could say, make even more money on top of me doing beats, ha ha! I have the ability to and talent to hang with the best of them on the mic if I want to. But producing's my thing. I want to be more known as a ridiculous producer than as a ridiculous MC.
So what's the origin of the name Black Milk?
There's no deep meaning behind the name, actually. I knew it was going to stand out and not be the typical name. Once cats heard the name, I knew they weren't going to forget it. Kinda make you want to hear the music behind the name. By the time they heard the music, what the name was wouldn't even matter. It was me writing different words on a piece of paper, and somehow Black Milk just came together.
So, for real for real, we're a few days away. I know I'm in Toronto, but I'm going to be affected by it too. I gotta ask, are you gonna vote? How do you feel about Obama and the possibility of a Black president?
Definitely, definitely, definitely. Obama all day. It's time for it. Hopefully this will make some type of change, not just in the U.S., but in the whole world. We all know it's been a bad last 8 years under the president we just had, and hopefully this makes it better. It's not going to be easy, or fast. He's definitely got a lot of work to do, but I'm gonna vote for Obama.