BLACK MILK: Bringin’ Detroit Back
Make sure you’ve warmed up your cookies, because this glass of Hip-Hop milk is best served black.
Words & Interview: Kortnee Leigh
From supernatural icon Stevie Wonder, who’s multi-decade career as a musical legend has never been surpassed; to Berry Gordy Jr., who opened Motown Records in the heart of the city during the mid ’60s; to Marshall Mathers [also known as Eminem] who went on to become a Grammy-award winning and multi-platinum selling artist, Detroit seems to have the right creative mixture in its water supply to spawn hit-makers on the regular. The city has long been on the radar as a prime hub for innovative music despite the ever-evolving music scene. These days at the cultural center of the Motor City, a new breed of Hip-Hop has emerged and its soldiers dare to give you the first taste.
Black Milk, born Curtis Cross, has been a major influence in the cultivation of this Detroit scene since he first appeared in 2002. A rapper first, Black Milk made his talents known within the cipher circles of the underground— battling local acts, while gaining credibility. After releasing his first solo effort in 2005, Sounds of the City Vol. 1, Black Milk caught the attention of Fat Beats Records, a collaboration that would later afford the then up-and-coming artist three additional solo albums. Although battle-rapping got his foot in the industry door, producing helped Black Milk solidify his presence. Working with other Detroit heavyweights such as J. Dilla and Slum Village, a beat produced by Black Milk quickly became as sought after as an original 16. Today, at the close of a huge year for Detroit rappers—Kanye West’s protégé Big Sean, the emergence of Shady 2.0 and the quirky in- your-face newcomer Danny Brown— STARK sat down with one of the more iconic men behind the music of Detroit, who will mark his decade footprint in Hip-Hop come 2012…. Mr. Black Milk.
How do you feel about coming from Detroit and representing your city? Do you feel pressure to create a certain “Detroit sound”?
I love being from Detroit. Being a musician, producer and an emcee in the Hip-Hop world, I don’t know if there is another city I would rather be from or represent. The music history here is so rich. From the Motown era, to the electronic scene, the techno scene, the funk scene—there are so many different styles of music that go through this city—that have been going through this city— it’s beautiful. I love being able to say I’m from Detroit. I rep my city hard, and a lot of music lovers and music heads that really know their music, they know the reputation that Detroit has and they know the “Detroit sound”. [But] There is a wide range of sound within the “Detroit Hip-Hop” genre. It may not be big on a commercial level, but it is definitely worldwide. It is dope to be able to do the style of music you love, and have a big following and support base behind you.
Was there a producer you heard that made you want to jump into producing?
The producer that made me really want to get into producing my own stuff was a producer out of Detroit by the name of J. Dilla [RIP]. He’s my favorite artist on all levels. From producing to creativity, he’s the guy for me.
Do you have a favorite album/track produced by Dilla?
Of course that’s hard to pick — favorite song, favorite album— but I’d have to say Slum Village’s Fantastic Voyage Vol. 2 has to be my favorite Hip-Hop album of all time. That was the album that changed my life. Vol. 1 and especially Vol. 2 were the albums that really made me want to get into not just production, but into Hip-Hop period. J. Dilla changed my life musically. But yeah, Fantastic Voyage Vol. 1 & 2, favorite albums of all time.
Let’s talk about your most recent project, Black and Brown. How did you meet Danny Brown, and how did that project come about?
I already knew Danny Brown, from him being an artist on the Detroit Hip-Hop scene. We were already cool previously before the Black and Brown project. He did a track for my album last year called Album of the Year, released September 2010, and we were already collaborating here and there in the past. So yeah, I decided [to do this project together] when I featured him on my album. It was the first time we were both in the studio at the same time. The album came out, it did well and I noticed that the song we did was a lot of people’s favorite song off the album. I was like “Man, I wonder if I should take it a step further and do a small project…” The title was already there Black and Brown, and after touring, I finally got a chance to call him, get into the studio and record some vocals. I did what I do best, which is producing—I put that hat on, mixed it all up and made a little project out of it.
On Black and Brown you seemed to use more drums in your beats than sample-flipping. Was that your intention for the album, or possibly how you planned to recreate the “Detroit sound”?
It really depends on how the samples come to me, and what samples worked best with what vocals I had of his. The process is basically going through a whole lot of records until I hear something that I like. If the sample requires hard drums up under it, then that’s what I do. If the sample is dope enough to be a straight loop with not much to be done to it, I leave it alone. There’s a mixture of both of those style of beats on that project. The track “Zap”—that’s the only song that he actually rapped to that original beat. All [of] the other tracks are a remix, where I took the original track he rapped to and created a whole other beat under his vocals. “Zap” is the only song I kept the original beat for it.
It is an EP, so it’s only 10 tracks. Is there a reason why it is shorter than some of the other free mixtapes that have been coming out recently?
We didn’t necessarily do that on purpose, it was a combination of a few different things. One: we both were busy. [Danny Brown is] signed to Fool’s Gold, just dropped the Triple X project and he’s been doing his thing with that. We both have been doing a lot of things with our solo careers. That kind of hindered us from being in the studio and recording more music [together] because we both were never in the city [of Detroit]. I never really planned on doing a full-length album. I kind of wanted to do something that was short and to the point, something that the fans could still enjoy and keep the momentum going for both of our buzzes. People really liked it, and it gave me a chance to do something that had a specific style that I didn’t get a chance to do on my solo album. I like the project because the production I did on there probably wouldn’t have fit on my solo project. We were being experimental again, and it came out dope. I love doing projects like that.
Is there anyone you would have like to have worked with who you have not been able to work with yet?
That’s tough…. But I’m gonna keep it Hip-Hop, I would have to say Biggie. I would have loved to have heard Biggies’ dope ass voice, dope ass flow and dope ass bars on one of my beats. That would of—yeah, that would have been fresh as hell. Now? I don’t know if this is one guy or a group, but there is an artist, Jai-Paul. I heard a track of theirs that pretty much made me go, “Goddamn!”— gave me some inspiration to create. I also like Little Dragon stuff too, but that list can go on and on… but I’m gonna say Jai-Paul because that’s the most recent artist that came to mind that I’ve heard and got excited about musically.
What can STARK readers and Black Milk fans expect from you in 2012?
I want to try another solo album in 2012, but I’m taking my time and letting the music come to me. I’ve been listening to all these records I brought back from Europe, trying to let it sink in my brain and see if I can come up with the sound of what I want my next album to be. I know I’m dropping an instrumental series called Plugs, Freqs, and Colors — just straight up beats— and I’m gonna try to make it a little more interesting than your average beat tape. I’m also working with this vocalist from Detroit named Melanie Rutherford who was featured on my last album Album of the Year. We’ve been working together and experimenting, and hopefully I can drop an EP with her sometime next year. I know I’ll be touring; our next run should be as early as March. 2012 might be more production than anything, but as for another album, we’ll see.
With various projects in the works, Black Milk falls comfortably within the role of renaissance man. With an instrumental series in the works, a possible new vocal protégé on the horizon and countless fans to please from Paris to Sao Paulo, Black Milk has definitely entered the “G.O.A.T” echelon of Hip-Hop with no sign of retiring anytime soon. Guess now we know why they call Detroit “Motor City”.
Listen to Black Milk and Danny Brown’s Black and Brown EP, HERE.
Follow Black Milk on Twitter, @Black_Milk