Black Milk foregrounds production skills on measured new album

3.5/5 stars

When you think of hip-hop in the city of Detroit, Eminem, Danny Brown, Tee Grizzley and J Dilla probably come to mind. That last name is particularly important in this context. While Eminem altered the perception of hip-hop in the mainstream, J Dilla influenced an entire generation of producers, whether it was independently or with Slum Village. Since his death in 2006, we’ve lived in the era of Dilla’s disciples. One of the standouts has been Black Milk, who got his start in the early noughties working with Slum Village.

FEVER was touted as Black Milk’s most important body of work yet. In the years prior, he had worked extensively with Danny Brown to release his best album to date, Atrocity Exhibition. He had never owned the spotlight, being the person running everything behind the scenes.

FEVER starts with ‘unVEil’, our first look at the operator behind the curtains. It’s a soulful track with personal lyrics, detailing the shock of a sobering reality. It features a beautiful melancholic sample, putting Black Milk’s production skills on blast. ‘Could it Be’ feels like an outright Dilla track, with the pitched-up vocals looping on the sample. The heavy influence of Dilla doesn’t suffocate the personality of Black Milk’s production style. Black Milk doesn’t stay tethered to any particular genre when it comes to sampling. He takes a little from funk, soul and even progressive rock. Production-wise, the album is succinct and finds a good balance between experimentation and coherence.

The album is dominated by the incredible production, which gives a beautiful sense of nostalgia. Lyrically, Black Milk does quite a good job. He touches on subjects such as sobriety, love and police brutality. While those can be cliché subjects for hip-hop, Black Milk isn’t starved of creativity. Songs such as ‘Laugh Now Cry Later’ capture the dark cloud of despair that hovers over race relations in the United States. Delivery can be the enemy of Black Milk, as the charisma he does possess can be a little restrained. This is to the detriment of his lyrical quality, as it feels like he’s just rapping in the background.

As has been mentioned frequently, production is this album’s greatest strength. While the features and lyrical content are good, it’s usually overshadowed by the quality in the beats and samples. The depth, in terms of lyrical content, leaves a little to be desired sometimes. It can feel like just as Black Milk indulges the listener in a story, the track ends. All in all, FEVER is one of the more successful projects to be released in 2018. It’s certainly a step forward for the underground Detroit producer. Dilla would be proud.

Image: WMA Agency

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