Album Review: Black Milk – Album of the Year

Black Milk – Album of the Year
Fat Beats: 2010

Depending on when they caught on, fans of this producer-rapper always appear to be clamoring for his latest effort. While Black Milk’s third project, Popular Demand was certainly the one that propelled his name to the masses, it was his third, Tronic, that garnered universal acclaim. It featured Black Milk at the top of his game both behind the boards and in the booth. Hell, he went toe-to-toe lyrically with Royce Da 5’9” on highlight “Losing Out” while flaunting a beyond-impressive ear for crafting the perfect drum sound, especially on “Give the Drummer Sum” and “Hell Yeah”. And Black Milk wasn’t just working on solo efforts, either. Among scattered features, he produced the majority of Elzhi’s The Preface and recorded collaboration projects with Fat Ray and Bishop Lamont, respectively. But after Tronic, fans and critics alike wanted to know what the Motor City rapper-producer had in store for his next proper album.

Before he clarified the title for everyone, hip-hop heads were anxious about the announcement of Album of the Year because they wanted to know if it would actually be the finest album of 2010. Black Milk cleared the air, though, and noted that it refers to the last 12 months of his life. Yet, once opener “365” hits your eardrums, you can’t help but think that he really meant this would be 2010’s best record. And if it’s not that high on your list, don’t be shocked if at least flirts with the top three spots.

Just as Tronic was a career-defining moment for Black Milk, the same can be said for Album of the Year. And those drums he’s become so famous for? They’re here and they’re just as heavy. But, somehow, they have become more refined thanks to Daru Jones’s immense playing. Additionally, Black Milk furthered fleshed out his musical vision by enlisting bassist Tim Shellaberger, keyboardist/vocalist AB, and horns player/strings arranger Sam Beaubien. It makes for a slightly bigger, somewhat modified sound compared to what was heard on Tronic. And you hear it specifically on tracks such as drunk-jazz banger “Round of Applause” and album-closer “Closed Chapter”, which offers a warm amalgam of ’70s guitars, vibrant stuttering drums, and more than three minutes of tight jamming. But Black Milk isn’t only looking to experiment with a live band. He can still blow out your speakers with “Warning (Keep Bouncing)” and “Deadly Medley”, both acting as trunk-shattering driving anthems.

His progression as a producer and band leader aside, it’s Black Milk’s ability on the microphone that has improved considerably. He was never a lackluster or boring MC, it’s just that his talents as a rapper took more time to develop. He already showed flashes of his growth on tracks such as “Losing Out” and elsewhere on his previous LP. But on Album of the Year, his bars are even more polished. Sure, he might drop a few punch line duds here and there, and his braggadocio-heavy lyrics might not appeal to everyone. But when he’s on, he’s on.

I know everyone has quoted this line to death, but the “My shit is Martin Luther, your shit is Martin Lawrence” punch line on “Deadly Medley” reminds me of the day you would do a double-take and break the rewind button on your Walkman. Then take into account that he goes bar for bar with two other Detroit talents, Royce Da 5’9” and Elzhi, without being overshadowed. The same goes for “Black and Brown” with the seemingly always-on Danny Brown, who makes one of the best Beverly Hills Cop and Kirby references I have ever heard. His shit-talking aside, Black Milk also offers some compelling insight into just how difficult his past year has been, from losing a close friend, Slum Village’s Baatin, to watching his manager, Hex Murda, suffer from a stroke. Refreshingly, though, Black Milk doesn’t let his tone and lyricism enter a realm too downtrodden or depressing. Rather it comes across as a “I really just need to get this shit off my chest” battle cry, minus the angst or whining.

If Album of the Year has any flaws, they reside in the minor lyrical duds and its lack of replay value. That’s not to say you won’t play the hell out of this record when you first hear it. But it will become an album you reach for during specific moods, except for repeated listens to the lyrical assault that is “Deadly Medley”. Like many albums this cohesive and structured,  though, there is a time and place for this effort. And when that time and place sync up, be prepared to be amazed.

4 out of 5
[audio:|titles=Black Milk – “Deadly Medley” (Feat. Royce da 5’9 & Elzhi)]

21 thoughts on “Album Review: Black Milk – Album of the Year

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  1. None of the first 5-6 tracks impressed me on the first listen so I never really checked the rest of the album out, I wasn’t too keen on it to be honest.

  2. Wish Black Milk would stick to producing. Would love to hear the instrumental of this. Rapping is distracting and 2nd rate most of the time. Deadly Medely the obvious exception.

  3. @Gedi
    Can we agree on Distortion, Over Again, Black & Brown, and Closed Chapter literally being slower paced? Metronomes don’t lie!

  4. Boring and repetitive? When most of these songs are just a stone’s throw away from not even being considered hip hop? When no two tracks share the same style and scope much at all? Are we hearing the same album? Y’all got some splaining to do lol.

    PS I hesitate to call these “beats” when they’re essentially being played by a live band.

    PSS If you consider having a singer, keyboard player, drummer, and strings to be too busy sounding, I really don’t know what to tell you. That’s actually a wicked stripped down set up, compared to what’s out there. Look at groups like Nomo or Antibalas who rock with like 10 cats on stage. THAT’S busy.

  5. I agree with @JustPlans the production is slightly repetitive. One of the best things about the Tronic [LP] was the variety of beats. Sonically its superior to AOTY. I love “Deadly Medley” and “Distortion” on the new one. AOTY is so uptempo that I’m kinda waiting for the change up but it never really happens. Good LP but I have it closer to a (3 or 3.5)

  6. I don’t love that album, Zach, but I do appreciate what he does on there. Elsewhere, I agree with Craig that Elzhi’s talented but tolerable in small doses.

  7. Just like to throw in my two cents on Elzhi — I don’t particularly love any of his entire projects EXCEPT the Out of Focus EP is incredible. Nothing boring about that one. Other than that I agree, El can be a little boring on other solo projects.

  8. Totally bonkers stuff? that’s going a little overboard, even if you’re a fan… Afan makes a point that the beats have too much going on and they loose their identity, you don’t have to stack the protools full of stuff just to sound fresh/creative

  9. Know what, even if you weren’t bowled over by dude’s skill on the mic, there’s enough totally bonkers stuff happening in the music to keep this on. I feel like this is a band effort almost. It doesn’t live or die on the strength of just the vocals to me, which I personally believe, are solid on their own.

    PS Elzhi is boring. Yeah, I said it. Anything past a guest feature is yawn central. He’s a short distance runner.

  10. This album’s solid. I usually find a few favorites on his albums that i put on my iPod but, i haven’t found any on this one yet. I’m not disappointed. But I do agree with Alex Chase… for a hip-hop album, that cover art sucks.

  11. the production is just way of the top and too noisy for me. damn i miss 90s production.

    why every beat got to have 100 sounds. why is every beat noisy for????

    sometimes simple is better.

    album of the year.


    PS im a big fan of black milk. but this album is poor.

  12. I’m with Craig. This joint has replay value. I’m at 30+ listens between the iPod and CD in the car. He has improved lyrically, but still has some work to do in that area. Some minor change ups in his flow/voice and delivery will go a long way for him.

  13. I can’t get past the fact that he is a boring rapper. It bangs, there are some great beats, but he has nothing to say and doesn’t have anything like the charisma to hold down a whole album, for me at least. I bought this and doubt I’ll ever play it again – I’d rather listen to the Elzhi Leftovers again than this fully-fledged release. Terrible artwork too!

  14. 3 times a day every day for nearly four weeks straight here. It hasn’t lost any of its luster for me. Eh.

  15. Upon my first few listens I felt that way, too, Craig. But as time passed and I played it more and more, I realized that, for me, I can’t play it all the time. I feel that way about his other efforts, too.

  16. The time and place for this album is anytime, anyplace.

  17. Good point, Thomas. I had a hard time distinguishing if I should mark it as his third or fourth. Either way.

    Definitely his fourth, sorry about that mix-up. Sound of the City was his first, then Popular Demand, then Tronic, then AOTY.

  18. The drums rule this album. Wouldn’t this be his fourth album as Broken Wax was an EP?

  19. Man I thought the production was the biggest flaw, aside from deadly medley almost all the beats sound very repetitive after a few spins.

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