It was back on Black Milk's 2005 debut album, Sound of the City, that he proclaimed that he was more into making beats than rhyming. Fast-forward five years later, and 27-year-old Curtis Cross' fourth solo disc, Album of the Year, has him being regarded as one of the top MC/producers in hip-hop. This exclusive class of artists, who are both exceptional on the mic as well as on the beats, has included the likes of Pete Rock, Q-Tip and J. Dilla. In Black Milk's case, while he always thinks of himself as a producer first, he feels that his talents would go to waste if he didn't also wholeheartedly embrace the role of MC.
"Some of the music I produce that I send out to other artists, they might not hear or see the vision at that time," Black Milk says. "They kind of force me and put me in a position to record my own projects so people can hear the shit I'm on." The current stop on this musical journey of his is a new solo project, Album of the Year. At first, that title sounds like a bold statement, but upon listening to the first few seconds of the album, it has more of a double meaning. It's also a look into a collection of personal events that has happened since 2008's Tronic. The calendar year of 2009 was a tough one for the young Detroit native. The death of his aunt along with the passing of Baatin of the group Slum Village shook his world. Baatin played an important role in Black Milk's career — he explains: "Baatin introduced me to Slum Village. He obviously thought my CD was dope enough to present it to Slum. He was the cat that helped me get my foot in the game. Felt good to produce and be associated with my favorite group of all time."
The madness didn't stop. Along with getting in a car accident, Black Milk's manager — the infamous Hex Murda — suffered a near-fatal stroke that would leave him partially paralyzed, unable to walk or talk. Hex Murda has been his manager since Black Milk was scouted by Fat Beats Records back in 2005 and was in need of representation. "He's the best producer/MC alive," Hex Murda says of Black Milk. "Eminem's the best MC line for line, but with all due respect to Pete Rock and Mr. Porter, I think [Black Milk's] the best producer/MC pound for pound."
Along with the personal aspects of Album of the Year, Black Milk wanted to show that he is still progressing as a well-rounded artist. The album is much more music-oriented, combining live instrumentation into his regular MPC-based beat making process. An idea took root after Black Milk toured in Europe with fellow collaborators Daru and AB, when he decided the live instruments they played over his tracks gave them a different feel. So he took that idea to the studio. As Black Milk describes: "Going into the album, my main goal was to just do something better than my last album. I got to try to top Tronic. I want people to see the growth from me as an artist, from my lyrical ability and on the production side of course."
Black Milk is riding comfortably in the role of a well-rounded musician. Inspired by all-time greats such as Marvin Gaye, Prince, J. Dilla and Stevie Wonder, he knows that he still has a long way to go into mastering his craft, but he feels like he's on the right track. Future projects such as the Random Axe super-group with Guilty Simpson and Sean Price, along with an album with singer/songwriter Melanie Rutherford, will look to diversify Black Milk's resume.
Look out everybody — he's not looking to stop anytime soon. | RDW
Black Milk's Album of the Year Release Party • 9/18, 9 p.m. • St. Andrew's Hall • 431 E. Congress St., Detroit • livenation.com • 313.961.6358 • $5 • 18+