Black Milk – ‘Tronic’

December 27, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Vine, December 26, 2008.


Black Milk
(Fat Beats/Shogun)

Hip-hop is a long-suffering genre. A fresh declaration of its supposed demise is etched into pop-cultural discourse each every year. If we’re to believe the hype, 2008 was no different. Kanye’s vocoder pop no longer counts.

True, this year’s standout hip-hop releases – the blood-spattered urban melange of The Bug’s London Zoo and the skewed, shattered bass frequencies of Flying Lotus’s Los Angeles – were products of comparatively exotic experimentation and genre traversal. They weren’t the kind of records that spoke to the hip-hop heartland or its inhabitants. Tribe legend Q-Tip’s long-awaited joint The Renaissance changed that in November, but it seemed too little, too late. Where were the new comers? Where was hip-hop’s youth?

Enter 25-year-old Detroit kid Curtis Cross, aka Black Milk.  The precocious producer/rapper does everything right on Tronic, his second official long-player and follow-up to soul-fried collage of 2007’s Popular Demand. His layered tropes nod to the rugged electro-bass of late Motor City hero J-Dilla as much as the loose-limbed, smoke-hazed organics of Madlib. But Black Milk is definitely his own man.

Over 14 cuts, he not only straddles bouncing soul and spacey electronics – he does so simultaneously. It’s freakish. The further this record rolls out, the closer veers toward masterwork. Opener ‘Long Story Short’ explodes out of the blocks, gunshot beats and warped, squealing synth lines smashing apart a pensive piano line. The swirling horns and rattling snares of cuts like ‘Give the Drummer Some’ and ‘Hell Yeah’ follow suit.

But it’s where he piles on the electronics that he really scorches the ground. Like his Midwest contemporary Dabrye, Black Milk seems well versed in the deconstructive dynamics of IDM, though unlike his much-hyped counterpart, he never lets sonic verbosity weigh him down. The lurking synth lines and brilliantly nimble groove of ‘Bounce’, stabbing bass and laser gun beats of ‘Hold it Down’, and the dense frequencies and thundering boom-bap of ‘The Matrix’ pulse with rugged Detroit swagger. The spaced spaced-out atmospheres, soul-hooked chorus and bass-melted groove of ‘Repin for U’ and the raw Motown hook of ‘Try’ offer another whole palette of hues and nuances.

Like his chief muses, Dilla and Madlib, Black Milk is a producer ahead of a lyricist. Most of the verses on Tronic are relatively unimposing. That’s not to say that his skills aren’t impeccably tight. The gritty street story of tracks like the aforementioned ‘Bounce’ shows an MC on top of his game. The telling factor is that this kid has a head on his shoulders. While he knows he can rap, he leaves the big noting out of it; he realises the importance of his beats to the mix.

With The Renaissance, Q-Tip proved the latest call for hip-hop’s head to be overstated. With Tronic, Black Milk shows it be absurd. Welcome one of rap’s future leaders.

Dan Rule


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