After J Dilla passed in 2006, Black Milk found himself carrying the torch for the sound of Detroit. He undertook the duty of composing the grimy symphony of the Motor City, and all eyes turned to the 22-year-old MPC puncher to maintain Detroit’s reputation of legitimacy in the national hip hop scene. Black Milk has worked with the gamut of Detroit’s rap talent during his time in the limelight, and his latest release The Set Up is a hard-charging collaboration with another local rapper, Fat Ray.
Now 24, Black Milk has been elevating his status as a rapper/producer for the last few years, but his rep isn’t established enough for him to take any experimental chances on The Set Up. Rather, he continues to establish his trademark sound and confirm his status as the Motor City’s premier beat maker.
The long history of automobile production in Detroit has perhaps subconsciously crept into the minds of local sound engineers, because every record that comes out of Detroit sounds fantastic with the bass booming in the whip. The city’s lack of rap talent has led many fans to characterize Detroit hip hop by its instrumentation rather than rhyme style. More specifically, music that is produced by or sounds like it was produced by J Dilla.
Black Milk has definitely adopted some of Dilla’s production tendencies, but his beats have enough authenticity to avoid charges of style biting. Until Black Milk demands listeners “Turn it up”, the comparisons to J Dilla will remain as a musical influence, not a rip off.
The Set Up opens with “Flawless”, an urgent track with a rapid fire filtered guitar loop and Fat Ray doing his best Dipset impression, spitting a stop and go flow that doesn’t quite hang with the Harlem outfit.
Black Milk continues to flip rock samples with expert precision, as heard on “Not U” with its looped riff and crispy acoustic drum sequencing. At the end of the track Black Milk lets the drums ride solo, exposing his razor sharp high hat and snare sequences, a treat for the listeners who care more about the boom bap than the shit talk.
Speaking of shit talk, The Set Up is full of it, and subject matter rarely deviates from standard street rap themes. Guilty Simpson joins on “Bad Man”, and even his famous scathing charm is absent during a standard “this is how hard my hood is” verse. Phat Kat and Elzhi guest on “Get Focus”, dropping threats of violence over Black Milk’s twinkling synth and bone dry percussion.
Black Milk’s verses tend to be slightly more in depth than those of his cohorts, but his efforts are better focused on his MPC. He is one of many rapper/producers in the game, but he probably wouldn’t feel so obligated to improve the lyrical content of his tracks if they featured stronger emcees to begin with. A collaboration with a wordier, more versatile rapper might finally get Black Milk’s name in the rolodexes of major label big wigs, allowing him to carry Dilla’s torch to the top of the game. – Chris Seeger
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