It’s quite a bold move to claim your LP is the Album Of The Year before its release, even if it is nothing more than a mirage to generate interest and speculation. Detroit producer/emcee Black Milk has carried the city on his back, falling somewhere between Marshall Mathers and J Dilla with articulate rhymes of everyday life and production that stays true to Hip Hop’s Boom Bap roots while consistently progressing and staying ahead of the curve. On his fifth album, Black Milk takes a step back from his usual methods of beat making and undergoes a surprising renaissance as a lyricist.
Claiming the Album’s title is the conception of everything that has happened to the Detroit native in the past year, Black Milk opens “365” with an instrumental reminiscent of Kanye West’s early work as horns blare over a break that sounds ripped from a marching band. Black Milk reflects on all the hardships of the past year including passing friends and family members. It’s apparent from the track’s opening bars that Black stepped up his spit game, gaining an abundance of confidence and perfecting his execution. “Welcome (We Gotta Go)” displays Black Milk’s superior drum kit and songwriting ability. Serving as a well placed follow-up to the Album’s opener, Black Milk seems less concerned with being wordy and proves he’s worthy of going song-for-song with rap’s greats. The bass heavy “Distortion” is minimal in distortion of any kind beyond its title, but it’s not missed, as Black Milk hits the mark with another song dealing with life’s tribulations. Claiming he’s “done with ’09,” Black tries to piece his life together reflecting on how the funeral of Bataan (of Slum Village) was the first of many that he would attend that year, as well as the unforseen paralysis of good friend and manager HexMurda. It seems that whenever emotions run deep, Black Milk is at home over his own production, forming the ability to channel his emotions into artistic expression.
Album Of The Year’s undisputed standout track is the Detroit collaboration between Black Milk, Royce Da 5’9″, and Elzhi, which is a shoe-in for a top ten underground song of the year. Black Milk opens with a furious verse, unleashing the beast with lines like “yeah, truth be told, this is what you call the truest after newest folds./The people watching our every move like it’s the Truman Show/coolest flow, signal to my crew the cue to go./With their finger on trigger, gun powder under cuticles./Newest flows, yours ugly as war zones./Yea, shit as ugly as Lady Gaga wardrobes.” Royce also steals the show with a vicious punch-in (“I can cut into you in my sleep, like steepin’ to the weak/I can catch a bullet in my teeth”), while Elzhi’s verse is also commendable. “Over Again” is another strong effort from the Detroit producer driven by a chopped trumpet sample accompanied by a smooth jazz keyboard loop. On his admirable instrumental, Black Milk speaks on life’s redundancies from sound checks, hotel rooms, blowing money, and settling for mediocrity. Despite the mundane topic, the vibe of this record is one of most extraordinary from Black Milk’s latest Album. The appropriately titled “Black and Brown” featuring Danny Brown is a surefire banger. The classical sample fares better than many of the other ones used throughout Album Of The Year. The only critique that could possibly be made for this joint is the lack of second verses from each rapper, and the fact that C-Rayz Walz used the Axel Foley reference made by Brown nearly verbatim years ago.
Black Milk’s voice sounds perfect as he rides the tremendously self-produced “Warning (Keep Bouncing).” Sounding inspired by fellow Detroit native, Royce Da 5’9″, Black Milk brags, “in the air out of here you can find/a few months out the year, yeah, I’m on Europe time/I’m on this mission on the rise sky high/while other n*ggas fall down fast as a skydive.” This is without a doubt an underground club banger and is probably the closest to mainstream you will find from Black Milk on Album Of The Year. It’s likely that Black Milk titled the second-to-last track “Gospel Psychedelic Rock” upon making the beat, and it’s unlikely that anyone could fathom a title that perfectly articulates the track’s composition. Relying on an excellently flipped guitar sample and a backup choir, “Gospel” is a contender for Black Milk’s best produced track to date. Besides, Black Milk kills it with his air of superior flow, proving he’s not just another producer-rapper. The aforementioned track plays perfectly into the Mr. Porter-assisted “Closed Chapter.” The album closer is a well compiled smorgasbord of dope verses featuring tongue-in-cheek quotables such as “so ahead of the class might as well skip school.”
With all this hotness, there’s still room for error. “Keep Going” features an untraditional sample which doesn’t work well with the jumbled drum break. However, Black Milk’s flow has the ability to capture nearly any listener’s attention as he maneuvers through bars with ease (“here’s the new candid with the proof handed/yeah, the truth landed like a spaceship on its new planet/new plane/new terrain/new fame/new standards/I spit like a loose cannon ’til this booth shatters“). Vocalist AB joins Black Milk for “Oh Girl” which has a drum break comparable to “Keep Going,” but synchs up much better with the instrumentals on this track. Milk waxes poetic over the differences between girls from various areas before focusing on a single woman who’s caught his eye. “Round of Applause” is another case of too much going on within one instrumental. The horns in the sample sound perfect, but the drums don’t fit correctly and distract listeners from Black Milk’s vocals.
Some of the off kilter beats may be a little too futuristic for Black Milk loyalists, but new listeners will certainly be intrigued by Milk’s skill both on and off the mic. At first glance, the title Album Of The Year appears unjustified. However, upon closer inspection it makes sense. A year can bring forth changes for better or worse. Black Milk certainly stepped up his spit game, but may have lost sight of what made his production so relished by fans and producers alike. Regardless, Album Of The Year is a solidly assembled LP, but may not live up to the hype surrounding the title alone.