In 2006, Detroit's music scene suffered the loss of two of the city's most prominent hip-hop figures: Jay Dee a.k.a. J Dilla and Proof of D12. With a new year however, comes new hope: Black Milk is poised to carry on tradition in 2007. With a track record that includes the likes of Lloyd Banks, Canibus, Pharoahe Monch, as well as various Detroit artists such as Slum Village and Phat Kat, there's no question that Milk is a talented producer, but can he spit?
Hit or Miss?
Black Milk wastes no time as he sets the tone for the album from the moment it begins. He proves himself to be worthy of the producer/rapper challenge as he boasts: "Producer-rappers get the most criticism/ Until they heard Black, now they gonna feel different/" Soon afterwards on the same track, Milk stresses another point that touches on the topic of polarization in hip-hop culture: "I don't walk with no backpack on/ Don't put me in a box, dog, we do it all/" Nowadays, anything below the level of "mainstream" has become synonymous with either "hardcore" or "conscious." At times, Black Milk can be both, but for the most part, he's neither and he lets you know that. Sure he'll drop a bit of knowledge here and there as well as beat his chest, flexing some good ol' braggadocio. But all in all, Milk pumps out gritty yet alluring lyrics that ooze with soul, and embodies the sound and feeling of the city he reps. Call it blue collar hip-hop.
Take "Sound the Alarm" for instance: over this grimy and grueling head-bopping beat featuring the mutually domineering presence of fellow Detroiter Guilty Simpson, Milk spits cleverly: "N****s fold when the gun go blast/ Half-a** rappers we just fold in half/ Thrown in trash." But with this indefinable spunk and style comes a greater challenge.
Black Milk "Beats" the "Rap"
Milk has no doubt proven himself to be a brilliant beatsmith, but once he decides to drop rhymes as well, he faces higher risks. The potential for a great beat to be essentially "ruined" by mediocre lyrics is a hazard every producer/rapper faces and for Milk, this is no exception. For instance, on "So Gone," the beat screams "banger" but Milk fails to deliver on the lyrical end. He's got the swagger ("fine b*****s come, fine b*****s go/ all they want is a piece of that bank roll), but he's not saying much; this doesn't mean he should drop the pen and pad and stick to beats, but it just goes to show that both production and lyrics are essential for good, memorable music.
The hit and miss frame of mind consistently clings to Popular Demand. Fortunately for Black, it's mostly "hit." While swagger doesn't always equal catchy lyrics, it can. In fact, Milk often shows the greatest wordplay when boosting his own ego. On the AHK-featured track "Shut It Down," Milk confronts haters and critics: "Rhymes congruent, yeah I still rhyme fluent/ Just because I do beats, n****s thought I might lose it, nope!" Like he said before, "don't put me in a box." Milk demonstrates that it's not just about himself. On "Action," he shares the booth with a "reunited" Slum Village, including Baatin. This track celebrates unity, toasts a fallen soldier and let' the listener know what Milk believes his purpose is: "Don't hurl, get a cup then fill it/ Pour out a lil liquor, toast to my n***a Dilla/ Still in it still reppin' the cause/ To put the D on my back like the shirt that I bought."
The Bottom Line on Popular Demand
Popular Demand not only introduces Black Milk as the next big producer/rapper, but further affirms Detroit's prominence in the world of hip-hop, from its soulful beginnings of the Motown of yesteryear, to the expressive sound it continues to pump out to this day. As the saying goes: the show must go on. But Black Milk doesn't simply take the torch: he shares it. As boastful as he might be, Black Milk is clearly representing the D, spreading the wealth and uniting the city in the wake of its losses.
Sure Milk is gonna be compared to Dilla, it's only natural; but the more accurate reference point here is Kanye West. Black Milk resembles the young Louis Vuitton Don in many ways, from his original, soulful compositions to his trademark confident swagger. If Popular Demand proves anything, it's that Black Milk has the potential to be the next Mr. West. Before you find yourself getting mocked for jumping on the bandwagon too late, do yourself a favor and seize the opportunity to get on board while you still can.Top Tracks from Popular Demand
- "Popular Demand (Intro)"
- "Sound the Alarm" (feat. Guilty Simpson)
- "Shut It Down" (feat. AHK)
- "Action" (feat. Baatin, Elzhi & T3)