Black Milk

Blake Gillespie

black milk

Black Milk is about his business. He set out to make an album documenting the past year of his life, while coyly suggesting that he sequentially spent the past year crafting the best hip hop you will hear in 2010. With the record dropping today, decisions will form as to whether he approached the loftiness of his year-long task.

Album Of The Year might not receive the honors it suggests, but no one can slight Black Milk for a lack of growth on his fourth solo record. It's strange to write, as Milk still feels like a fresh new artist, but Milk is four albums deep and clearly at his most focused. There's a torch burning in Detroit, yet no one seems to be climbing the steps to seize it. Black Milk seems ready to make that climb for his city and keep the Motor City burning.

Throughout the record
you touch on the losses Detroit hip hop has suffered, in addition to a few that
happened in your personal life and given Detroit’s economic state, Album Of The Year is still a celebratory
and vibrant record. I wondering if it was intentional to shy away from brooding
on the problems and to embrace something that’s triumphant or did this sound
happen organically.

Everything with the album, for the most part, was pretty
organic. When I do music I never force the subject or… I never force anything
about my music. Everything is about a feel and the sounds that come natural to
me.

With everything that happened between my last album The Tronic, I felt like I had to talk
about it. It was something I had to put down on the record. It wasn’t
calculated. On the flipside, even though knowing I had a few records that were
personal and kind of dark, I still had a lot of great moments since Tronic, like being on tour and just
discovering new things about music. So, that’s why you can hear that vibrant
element because I was basically excited (laughs) to get in the studio and
record a new sound. I was ready to do something different from what people know
me for on my last couple projects musically.

A lot of rappers
claim to be hustling in the music business, that they never sleep, but you don’t
get that sense from their music that they are as active as they claim. In
listening to your record, I legitimately feel a movement that you don’t slow
down. I’m wondering if that was also intentional or if because of who you are,
it just happens that way.

It kind of just happens that way. I love to create. I love
coming with new ideas and sounds for the people. When I go in to create music,
one of the first things I have in mind is what do I wish I could hear from
artists that I look up to to bring that dope music. I try to create the stuff I
want to hear other artists do, on top of the things I’m inspired by.

When you get that sense from listening to my music it’s just
natural. On top of that I’m competitive, so I’m looking at other artists with a
mind state that I can do better than that. I can give the people more.

In that competitive
nature and with the live instrumentation you’ve incorporated in your record, I
can’t help but think about Kanye’s album coming out this year and he’s been an
innovator in treating hip hop with a fleshed out sound instead of producing
static beats. Do you feel that with what you’re doing on AOTY that your
competitive side is feeding off attempting to do it better?

I wouldn’t say I was looking at Kanye and that because he
did live instrumentation, so I did live instrumentation. I did some
instrumentation on Tronic. Really it
wasn’t me looking at any other hip hop artists doing live music. It was more so
looking at what I did on Tronic and
then realizing I’m in a better position now to take it further than where I
took it on Tronic.

You’ve got songs like “Give The Drummer Some” on Tronic, where it was Fela Kuti inspired
with an afrobeat and I brought in the live performers on the drum beat. On the
new record I wanted to revisit the style and really take it live.

The new joint “Round of Applause” was another Fela Kuti
tribute and I basically still started off with the MPC, but I had a lot of live
drummers play on top and I jump behind the piano to make it like a live jam
session at the end. I really wanted to take it to that next level. My only
challenge is myself.

You’ve expressed that
you build with the MPC first, then build with the instrumentation. What steps
did you take in the studio to hold true to a classic hip hop sound, but
incorporate the live work without it sounding canned. You know how live band
hip hop can sometimes sound? It can be terrible.

Well, like you just said the main step was keeping the drum
machine element in the beats. Every track that you hear on the album started
off with the MPC and most of the tracks do have samples in them. Now for
instance “Keep Going” you might not be able to hear the actual drums that I
programmed because the live drummer is playing so crazy on top of it, but they
are still there. You can still feel them. That’s what it’s supposed to be
about; that feeling.

As long as people can feel that drum machine that keeps that
classic hip hop vibe, then even if I have live horns over the sample you can
still feel it. That’s why I think people will still be able to enjoy the music
with the live element because I kept that classic hip hop element in the music.
I know how it can be when you take it away. I don’t like when some cats go all
the way live with the music and it sounds too watered down.

How many songs did
you write for AOTY?

Only about two tracks didn’t make it.

Wow. Really? Was one
the “How Dare You” song?

Actually no. “How Dare You” was a track I made after I
turned the album in. That was just a track I came with and decided, “I’m going
to put this shit out tomorrow.” “Don Cornelius” was supposed to be on the
album, but I didn’t know the Lee Fields sample [I used] was from two years ago.
When I heard the sample I was like “oh, this shit is sweet,” thinking it was some
old 70’s shit. My mans called me up after I sent it to him and he was like you
can’t do that.

There’s a song on the album called “Black & Brown” with
me and Danny Brown and it is just two verses. That song was supposed to change
up into “Don Cornelius” with my verse and another verse from Danny. He came up
to the studio and spit on four tracks. Once I found out we couldn’t use it, I
was just like fuck it.

That was the only two. I didn’t record 20-40 songs like a
lot of other artsts. I really don’t work like that. If I don’t like the beat or
if I’m not impressed from the jump, I might not even save the beat. I might
just turn the machine off.

That leads into my
next question. I’m really happy Danny Brown is on the record. He always kills
it. I’m wondering if you guys plan to do more music together.

Definitely. Danny Brown that’s my mans. I’m going to try to
shoot a video for the “Black & Brown” joint. We definitely going to be
working together in the future. He’s like the new cat from the D that people
are going to be talking about in a minute. He’s got that unique style and
unique voice.

Have you had any
run-ins with other rappers that have taken issue with your album title?

(Laughs) Naw. Some of the other artists that I know, when I
told them the title, they thought it was funny like I was crazy for that one.

It’s a double meaning though. The main meaning is that the
music is a reflection of different moments in the time since my last album,
which has been about a year plus. On top of that I do feel like the music is
that good. It could be album of the year. Hate or love the title, you can’t
deny that there’s quality music on this record.

As far as I can tell
the album strictly features Detroit rappers and musicians. Was that intentional
and did you record in Detroit?

Yeah I recorded here. I guess it wasn’t a conscious decision
to make all the features on the album everything Detroit based. I got Danny on
a song because I think Danny is dope. He’s a cat I feel like a lot of people
need to hear. Not necessarily because he’s from Detroit. Working with Elzhi and
Royce the 5’9” on the “Deadly Medley” track, I knew I wanted to make that song
before I recorded my first record. I just knew I had to do a song with them.
Not because they’re from Detroit, but because they are my favorite emcees. Can’t
nobody really talk about bar for bar, line for line, cats that can be on the same
mic as Elzhi and Royce – next to Eminem. That’s really their only competition.
Having those cats on the song, it wasn’t about being from the D, it was about
having some lyrical assassins.

With that song, did
you lay down your verse first or did you wait to hear how they brought it and
then write your verse?

Usually when I do songs I like to have cats hear my verse
and then they go off from there. When I go in and write a song, I like to put
my all into a verse so that I feel so confident in it that I can let a cat hear
it right after and still hold my own. Since this was a deadly medley, we all
wrote it at the same time.

I don’t really like to listen after. I think that’s kinda
wack (laughs). Yeah, waiting to hear
what everybody else is gonna say and then you go? That’s wack.

You’ve toured Europe.
Did you ever think growing up in Detroit that hip hop could take you that far
across the world? What’s the surreal aspect of those journeys?

It was definitely a goal of mine. It’s another reason why I
do this music thing; to expose it to as many people as I can. I was able to
accomplish that. It’s always dope to go over there and see the support. The energy
is totally different than what you see in the States. It doesn’t even compare.
You never get used to it really. For your music to reach all the way over
there, in so many different cities in Europe, Japan and Africa… even people who
hit you up online from such ‘n such a place… it’s crazy.

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