An album title can make or break a project. For all I know Terror Squad Presents DJ Khaled – Listennn – The Album is the greatest hip-hop masterpiece since Illmatic (great title, by the way), but one look at the all those n’s in “Listennn” and I’d rather talk politics with Kat Stacks than press play. Black Milk’s Album of the Year, on the other hand, is genius. Milk can always say the title isn’t egotistical, but rather a metaphorical reference to the past 365 days of his life: “Every life experience I had during …
DJBooth Album Review
Of course we wouldn’t be having this conversation if Album of the Year was nothing but back to back LOL Smiley Face remixes, but Black Milk has crafted a work of such absolute quality that it simply can’t be ignored, even if it doesn’t eventually make it onto any Best of… lists come December. If his last album Tronic placed the Detroit representer and unofficial Dilla torch bearer just under the radar of the average hip-hop fan, Album of the Year might just be the work that helps Black Milk break through the surface.
Since it’s much easier to mask poor rhyming with incredible production than vice-versa, let’s start with Black Milk’s work behind the boards. Like the aforementioned Dilla, Black Milk’s strength is his ability to take extraordinarily complex compositions and make them sound clean, uncluttered, even simple (unlike, say, Timbaland whose production work constantly screams, “Yo, check out how crazy this beat is!”). In order, AOTY’s lead single Welcome (Gotta Go) begins with a pounding bass drum, muted percussion, what sound like finger cymbals and barely heard sound effects. From there he adds in a rolling, distorted bass line, a soft synth melody that slowly transforms into human singing, a stuttering hi-hat and a cavalcade of other subtle sounds that fade in and fade out as the record crescendos. Sound like a lot? It is, and yet the beat never sounds over-thought and flows easily through your ears and into your brain, where I promise it will become firmly lodged. The much louder Keep Going is far less shy, propelled by live, rock-edged drums and a sometimes eerie chorus of back-up singers, a sound shared by the impossible to categorize Round of Applause, and true to its name, Gospel Psychedelic Rock so thoroughly re-imagines its components it become its own living entity. (Best Produced) Album of the Year? Now we’ve got a debate.
There are two ways you can approach Black Milk’s work as an emcee on AOTY; either focus on his lack of rhyme skills in comparison to his production skills, or recognize how far he’s come on the mic. I’ll take the latter. By any measure Distortion, which is also the album’s most openly autobiographical record, is an impressive work lyrically. Primarily centered around his reaction to his manager Hex Murda’s near fatal stroke, Milk delivers some crystal clear, expertly flowing and compelling rhymes that have to be considered some of his best work ever as an emcee. Hell, the man even more or less holds his own next to Royce da 5’9” and Elzhi on Deadly Medley, even if for every dope line (“my sh*t is Martin Luther, your sh*t is Martin Lawrence) there’s at least one questionable moment (“ugly as Lady Gaga’s wardrobes”). I don’t think Black Milk will ever be considered a truly elite emcee, but from his work on the deeply personal Over Again to the banging Black and Brown, he longer needs his beats to cover up for his rhymes. They’re strong enough to stand on their own.
And so Black Milk’s Album of the Year will go down in hip-hop history, not only for its ingenuously clever and bold title, but more importantly for the music found inside its sonic walls. Ultimately a name is just a name, but dope music can make a man immortal. Long live Black Milk.
Listen to More: Black Milk Written by Nathan S.
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