It almost seems like yesterday when Black Milk broke out with a nice little buzz after releasing his first project, Sound Of The City, in 2005. It propelled him in the upper echelon of Detroit music and gave him an incredible buzz on the underground, so much so that it lead to a record deal with Fat Beats Records for his first proper album, Popular Demand, in 2007. After the death of J. Dilla in 2006, there were some out there that felt that Black Milk could carry that torch, but that's quite unfair in all regards. Instead, Black Milk embarked on his own journey musically building a career for himself that would help him progress as both an artist and a live performer.
It's now a few years after the release of his highly personal Album Of The Year, and Black Milk has continued to work on his craft, and the result is the cinematic No Poison No Paradise. The new album shows a different side of Black Milk, challenging himself to hit new bounds of lyricism and musicality, opting for more of storytelling role. Black Milk is currently on tour with his live band Nat Turner, and will be hitting Saint Andrews Hall in Detroit on Wednesday, October 16, but I was able to get some words from the Detroit emcee/producer about the new album and how his career has evolved over the years.
There's been a bit of a break since Album Of The Year, what have you been up to?
Since Album Of The Year, the last two to three years, I've done some touring, released a few side projects -- Random Axe, Jack White's Third Man single and the Black & Brown EP with Danny Brown -- as well as the Black & Brown Instrumentals and an instrumental project called Synth or Soul. The last year and half though, I've mainly been in the studio recording and focusing on my talents as a music engineer. There's a certain place I've been trying to reach with my music sonically and I finally feel like I'm closer to that place than I've ever been. Now I'm back comfortable with releasing music again.
I can sense a bit of a creative soul search since Album Of The Year, what did you find?
Well, I usually let my production and record collection tell me what the next musical direction is for me. This time around, I found my production pushing me toward a more lyrical place that involved more storytelling than I've done on previous albums. So yes, I've been searching for new styles on a lyrical level and with my production. When you listen to the new album, you hear a few familiar elements on records like "Sunday's Best / Monday's Worst," but then you hear a totally different sound than anything I've done in the past like with "Dismal."
What's the all around theme of the new album, No Poison No Paradise?
In the beginning, I had about four to five songs done, and when I listened back to those songs I noticed that they all had a certain connection and lyrical similarity to the point where it felt like a story was being told. So, I built the rest of the album around those songs and created this character who's basically in a dream state throughout the album, seeing different moments from his days as a youth to his life as an adult. You get a glimpse of all these different moments with almost every song. The records "Sunday's Best/Monday's Worst" were two of the first songs I recorded, where I talk about a good kid gone bad who was raised by religious parents but pushed to succumb to the streets by his environment and circumstances. So yeah that's somewhat of the theme throughout the album.
At this point in your life, how have you personally grown since your first album?
Man, I was 23 years old when I dropped my first official album Popular Demand in March of 2007. I was just excited to be able to put out music and do shows in the states, especially overseas. With me turning 30 this year, all of my experiences from the past six years have helped me develop a clear vision of what I want to accomplish not only as a music artist but as a person in this lifetime. I've seen and experienced so much since my first album, from dealing with so many different kinds of people and personalities on all levels of the music industry, being around different cultures from traveling around the world, seeing how people's perception of my success can affect the way they act toward me, from close friends to all the different relationships with women since my first album. Those things affect how you see the world, how you do business and how you create as an artist. So my look on life is definitely different now than it was when my first album dropped.
Creatively, Detroit hip-hop is not really a scene thing anymore. Everyone is just out there in the world. Where do you find your inspiration these days?
Personally, it's hard for me to get inspired by current music, and I kind of hate that about myself. Certain things might come along where I hear a spark of inspiration, but for the most part, me waking up in the morning and knowing I can walk in a room and create whatever I want and release it to the world soon after is enough inspiration for me. Those rare times when I'm not feeling creative, I've looked towards other non-music related things for inspiration. Like lately, for whatever reason, I've been watching a lot of docs on early American inventors from the late 1800's through the early 1900's. I know that sounds boring as hell but there's something about inventors at that time who had a certain level of genius to revolutionize things in technology that have affected effected how people lived from then to now. For whatever reason, that shit makes me want to get in the studio and be more open-minded and forward-thinking about what I do and all the possibilities of what can be done musically. I know that sounds kind of crazy.
You are on tour with your band Nat Turner, have you progressed as a band?
Definitely, the chemistry between me and those guys gets better with each show. We're at a point where it's getting more and more difficult to top ourselves with each tour. I always try to keep the show fresh. I never want to be predictable when it comes to our show.
What's your key to keeping the career of Black Milk going?
I tell people all the time that I just go with my gut and intuition when it comes to being creative. I've never tried to keep up with any trends in music. I might incorporate a few modern elements that exist in music at times, but for the most part I try to stay original and innovative with my brand. I just go with what feels right to me, and having that mentality has benefited me since the release of my first project Sound Of The City in '05.
Some of the best careers in hip-hop are because of the team they have. How does your team keep things alive?
Right now my team is stronger than it's ever been. I've added on a few more people since the days of just me and my manager Hex running everything ourselves. One of the main reasons I started the new label Computer Uglyis because I felt like I finally have enough pieces of the puzzle to move forward with my own business and be more of an executive than just an artist.
Ultimately, what do you want out of life? Have you gotten it yet?
I've gotten a piece of it. Being able to have a career where I'm basically my own boss and I have total creative control over my art is just the start. Now, I'm about doing things I haven't done and focusing on building my creative house/label to help other talented artists expose their art to the world.
Black Milk will be performing live with his band Nat Turner on Wednesday, October 16th at Saint Andrews Hall in Detroit. Opening the show will be Boldy James, Quelle, Clear Soul Forces, Mahd, and DJ Sober. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. The show is all ages and doors open at 7pm. Black Milk's No Poison No Paradise is available now. For more information, visit blackmilk.biz.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Stafford