Hip-hop used to present itself as a larger-than-life presence live on stage in its early years with the likes of Run D.M.C., Whodini, or Grandmaster Flash & The Furious putting on concerts that gave their rock and funk contemporaries a run for their money. Over the years, the performance aspect in hip-hop has fallen to the wayside for the most part, and the genre is no longer known for the over-the-top dramatics.
Detroit's own Black Milk is one of the few that have successfully been able to bring back a solid live show to the hip-hop scene, and he is currently embarking on the Claps and Slaps Tour, his first headlining tour of North America, which hits the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor on Tuesday, March 6th.
Through all the years Black Milk has been putting out projects and touring throughout the world, he has never actually headlined his own tour through U.S. and Canada. While currently working through a creative transitional period and figuring out what to do next project-wise, Black Milk felt the need to keep the momentum of the live show going and put together the Claps and Slaps Tour himself. "I've been trying to take a step back from the scene and reinvent what I started with on Album Of The Year," says Black Milk during a recent phone conversation. "I felt like if I'm not going to put out an album any time soon, and if I haven't reached what I want to reach sonically to put out a new album, then let me at least hit the road. Besides when I'm behind the machine, the stage is like the second place I'm most happy."
Drawing from classic performers like George Clinton, Prince, Sly and The Family Stone, James Brown, and Parliament Funkadelic, Black Milk's idea is to bring that live element back to not only hip-hop, but to music in general. "That's where I get my ideas for my show," explains Black Milk. "How can I bring this feel and this energy and this level of musicianship to hip-hop shows and to live recordings? I listen to stuff from the '60s, '70s, and '80s that created all this stuff."
Anyone that has seen a Black Milk show with his live band knows that it's quite incredible. The album release show for 2010's Album Of The Year at Saint Andrews Hall in Detroit still comes up in conversations two years later. And last year, Black Milk played Jack White's famed Third Man Records in Nashville; a performance that would later get a vinyl release on White's label and arguably become one of Black Milk's strongest releases in his already extensive discography.
The band for the tour, collectively known as Nat Turner, consists of Aaron "Ab" Abernathy (keys/vocals), Malik Hunter (bass), and the newest addition, Zeb Horton (drums). Nat Turner actually is the name that Abernathy and Hunter have been performing under for years in D.C., and for this tour run, instead of just being known as Black Milk's live band, they asked to be billed as such. Horton replaces the previous drummer, Daru Jones, who was unavailable for this tour. Horton is from Detroit, and scored the gig after auditioning for Black Milk recently.
For the Claps and Slaps Tour, most of the music is from his Tronic and Album Of The Year projects, but with new change-ups and breakdowns, the songs will be heard in a brand new way. "I got the live band, so that gives me freedom to take the songs to a whole other place with the arrangements of the studio recordings," describes Black Milk. "Along with that, it just gives me a chance to improvise where we just wing it depending on how the vibe is in the room."
Believe it or not, none of Black Milk's live band shows in the past were rehearsed. With members of the band spanning from Detroit, New York, and D.C., it made it hard for early preparation. This time around though, they were able to get in a few days of rehearsing. "That was like the first time as being a band that we ever rehearsed for a show," explains Black Milk. "Before, we never had a chance to rehearse so we always had to throw together the show and rehearse during sound check before the show. We had such good chemistry that we clicked real fast. Everybody musically was on the same page."
The Black Milk Claps and Slaps Tour hits the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor on March 6th, and will also feature opening support from J. Pinder and A.Dd+. For more information on Black Milk and the complete tour dates, go to www.blackmilk.biz.
Photo by Mel D. Cole for Village Slum