The Blacker the Milk

       Curtis Eugene Cross best known as “Black Milk” is arguably one of the best and most prolific Producers/Rappers in the game today. You would be hard pressed to find another artist of his caliber with the same amount of output and if you can, it’s a very short list. With a career spanning roughly 15 years at this point, listening to his sound progress over that time has been nothing short of remarkable. From his early days of sampling and looping soul breaks, Black has seemingly reinvented himself sound wise and I’m sure personally every year he’s been active in Hip-Hop.

     Admittedly, I was a bit late to the party because I didn’t know who he was until about 2007 when he released his 2nd full length LP “Popular Demand”. That year was particularly difficult for me because I had just purchased my first iPod and was in the middle of transitioning from physical media to MP3s. To be frank, I was a mess. I was literally adding tons of songs to my iTunes Library on a Home PC while still reading liner notes from the new CD’s that I was still purchasing.

    The CD in question that I was listening to was “Detroit Deli” by Slum Village. While painstakingly waiting for all those songs to Upload to my library in bulk, I found myself reading the liner notes of the album and began to think to myself, Who in the world is BR Gunna?! I had to restart my PC because it was 6 or 7 years old at the time so the minute I opened up a new window it would freeze. At any rate once it reloaded, I did a Google search on who he was, foolishly assuming that it was one person. Much to my surprise it was a Duo consisting of Young RJ and Black Milk. Further research from that point led me to Popular Demand and two of his earlier works “Broken Wax” and “Sound of the City Vol. 1”

     His sound immediately cut through as I was entrenched in the dirty drum patterns and perfectly imperfect soul sample chops on all three of those projects. It was in these moments that I became a fan of Black Milk. In the subsequent years, he would go on to be even more prolific by dropping four straight sonic masterpieces. On top of the solo efforts, he sprinkled in side projects that were equally great sonically and lyrically. His prodigious output during the time frame of 2008 through 2014 only solidified my fandom.

     It was in those years including 2008 where he would go on to release the following:

Tronic-2008

Caltroit (with Bishop Lamont)-2008

The Set Up (with Fat Ray)-2008

The Preface (with Elzhi)-2008

Album of the Year-2010

Random Axe(with Sean Price and Guilty Simpson)-2011

Black and Brown (with Danny Brown)-2011

No Poison, No Paradise-2013

Burning Stones (with Mel)-2013

If There’s a Hell Below-2014

Glitches in the Break-2014

    In the present day I still run and tell anyone who will listen to me that Black is the truth at producing AND rhyming. I knew back in 2007 that he would be lauded in the future because there would be thousands of people just like me that would soon discover his music for themselves and undoubtedly share the same feeling I felt way back when. In recent history Black Milk has gone on to release four more projects since 2016 with 2019’s “DiVe EP” being his most recent solo effort. In ending, I believe it’s safe to say that Curtis Eugene Cross will continue on his path of reinventing his sound while simultaneously staying true to his core. Black Milk is an unstoppable force AND an immovable object.

J Dilla’s Lasting Legacy

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James Dewitt Yancey was born on February 7th 1974.  What he was able to achieve in terms of musical progression in the 32 years that he was allotted on this earth was quite simply amazing. From original compositions and remixes in the mid to late 90’s to jaw dropping, mind-boggling soundscapes of the early 00’s, Dilla’s penchant for pushing boundaries is that something that is still lauded and awe-inspiring to this day, even 12 years after his death.

As as a youngster discovering sounds and more importantly Hip-Hop for the first time, I was introduced to J Dilla’s work long before I knew who he was. Listening to the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde, Busta Rhymes, Erykah Badu, The Roots and D’Angelo I had no idea that many of the songs that I loved from these artists were in fact produced by him. It wasn’t until early in my college career that I discovered the man behind many of the songs that I deemed classics. If it wasn’t for “J.J.” I seriously doubt that I would have made those connections when I did, so for that I’m forever grateful.

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Once that light bulb went on however, I did my Due DILLAgence and began searching, scouring the net,  the brick and mortar stores and iTunes at the time for all things Jay Dee related. From there I really got into Madlib and Nujabes, the former is one who I strongly consider to be a direct contemporary. It was no coincidence that right after I had that thought, I came across “Champion Sound” which was sadly Jaylib’s lone collaborative project. It is a technical marvel in terms of sound and is rightfully considered an underground classic.

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Slum Village-Fan-Tas-Tic Vol.1

Slum Village was another important pickup for me while I was “digging” so to speak. “Fan-tas-tic Vol. 1” was the one that I gravitated toward, falling in love with the minimalist approach to crafting songs. “Welcome To Detroit” was yet another album that I have a ton of respect for. For me it sounded like more of what I was accustomed to in terms of the Slum sound and was a great addition to an already stellar catalog.  While listening to Slum Village, I was introduced to Elzhi and Black Milk.

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Khrysis and Elzhi are “Jericho Jackscon”

Even though most of Elzhi’s work was on subsequent Slum Village albums after Jay Dee’s departure from the group, there was still a bevy of material to sift through with Elzhi tearing apart Dilla Beats.  “Villa Manifesto” was the last time all four members of Slum Village were featured on a single project…Rest In Peace Baatin.  Even with the album pictured above that was released on February 23rd, 2018 the legacy lives on with Elzhi sounding as sharp as ever while Khrysis crafts beats that are reminiscent of  Dilla’s early work.

 

 

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Karriem Riggins- Headnod Suite

When “Headnod Suite” dropped on February 24th 2017, I declared then that if  J Dilla were alive today and dropped “Donuts 2”, It would sound exactly like this. From the chopped up loops, to abrupt breaks or “perfect mistakes” as I call them, It is abundantly clear that Mr. Riggins  has studied the techniques very closely and has arguably perfected the sound altogether. It’s also no coincidence that Karriem Riggins was entrusted with completing “The Shining” which was unfortunately only 75% completed at the time of Dilla’s passing.

 

Black Milk Fever
Black Milk-Fever

As mentioned earlier, while listening to Slum Village I discovered Black Milk while reading through the liner notes. Determined not to make the same mistake I did with J Dilla, I immediately bought “Popular Demand” and was blown away.  Any album that he has dropped since Dilla has passed has felt like he picked up the mantle of pushing boundaries musically. Every album sounds and feels different sonically.  The “Fever” album also dropped on February 23rd, 2018 and I implore all of you to go give this album a spin, you will not be disappointed.

 

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In ending, The words above summarizes my senitments on J Dilla entirely, to quote Black Thought’s heart-felt and soul stirring voicemail from the song “Can’t Stop This” he states:

“My man, JD, was a true hip hop artist
… I can’t explain the influence that
His mind and ear have had on my band
Myself and the careers of so many other
Artists.
 The most humble, modest, worthy

And gifted beatmaker I’ve known. And
Definitely the best producer on the mic
Never without that signature smile and head
Bouncin’ to the beat.
 JD had a passion for

Life and music, and will never be forgotten
He’s a brother that was loved by me, and I
Love what he’s done for us. And though I’m
Happy he’s no longer in the pain he’d been
Recently feelin’, I’m crushed by the pain of
His absence.
 Name’s Dilla Dog and I can only
Rep the real and raw.
 My man, Dilla, rest in

Peace.”

As I sit here 12 years after J Dilla’s passing, I can’t help but wonder where he would have taken music had he still been with us. What new technique would he have invented that would have changed the landscape entirely. J Dilla did indeed change my life, he changed the way I heard and understood music. He made me study music theory just so I could have a better appreciation of 3 second sample from an obscure record placed at an unconventional section that would normally destroy the structure of a song. A practice that if done by anybody else during that time, I’m not sure that it would have been executed with such precision. James Dewitt Yancey was born on February 7th 1974.  He was truly a one of one the likes of which we will most likely never see again…Maybe in our next lifetime.