Why I Cannot Properly Review Black Milk’s ‘Tronic’

Black_MIlk-AlbumCover.jpgTronic is so bloody fantastic it's frustrating. When you've spent most of the last couple of years trying to convince people how dope Black Milk is and they respond with this hard-headed refusal to give dude a chance, it makes you feel like all your hard work is for naught. The typical, mindless drone of a "Hip Hop fan" will quickly ask "Who is that?" like, "I haven't heard of him so he must not be dope." Then you respond with a rundown of some of his work. You note that he's blessed artists like Slum Village, Canibus, Strange Fruit Project, and GZA and they declare, "Oh he's on that conscious sh*t!"

Well, no. And that's the problem with people that are sleeping and why my fury will not allow me to review this album like a professional. Labels cannot apply here, especially "conscious" when used in the perjorative. Seriously, the climate is so pathethic that the artist himself (who has been in the game long enough not to give a damn) is practically doing backflips that his single was played on Hot 97. A "Hip Hop" station.

The real irony here is that, like his more widely-regarded counterpart, Milk has gone from fortifying his beats with chunky Soul loops to something more electronic. The album, at times, evokes a gutter arcade game from the '80s with lazers, robots, and triumphant rock star music. There is the occasional digitized vocal ("Give The Drummer Sum" fits Milk with the Quasimoto effect), but never once does it rely on a particular overused vocal enhancement that has become a vulgarity around here. The progression from Popular Demand to Tronic feels organic, not jarring. You don't get a sense that the artist went "I'm going to try something different" only to [1] not try hard enough, or [2] step so far outside of his lane that you think he's sniffing glue.

That he is almost universally regarded as J Dilla's heir apparent is not up for debate. There was no passing of the torch, no knighting, and Milk never evokes "Jazzy" Dilla. If Dilla was still alive, they could exist in the same time and space and remain distinct. But there are moments on Tronic where it feels like the spirit of James Yancey is reaching through the speakers. "Bounce" recalls the rubbery, throbbing base of "Ya'll Ain't Ready" from Welcome to Detroit, and "Bond 4 Life" could've easily fit on Slum Village's Fantastic Vol. 2. "Hold It Down" is "Trucks" all over again. Maybe it's a Detroit thing, or maybe I'm reaching. Either way, I'm not bothered by the unintentional (?) homage.

Black Milk's flow is even more succinct here, the vocals feeling less like a supplement to the beats than the other way around. You get a sense that when he's rapping, it's done with a self-satisfied smirk bordering on a laugh. The level of confidence, fun and melody that comes from the vocals almost merits its own album. He is 25, establishing his game at the speed of light, and having the time of his life. The braggadocio is about skills and that's the way it should be--not about prison bids, pushing ki's or shooting people. Any rapper that tries to convince us he can't go hard without invoking that nonsense is either a damn lie or basically lazy.

He goes after the establishment here and there; the fact that so many are asleep allows him to do this with impunity. On the aforementioned "Bounce" he asks where the game went over the past year, and while underground fans say "nowhere," record execs are looking for a "new dance like the Running Man." He explores similar territory on "Try," and it never comes off as bitching about the industry as much as it seems he's positing the reality of things, accepting it, and confidently moving forward with his own grind. 

While he has plenty to bitch about, there's probably more that he's thankful for, and all of that is channelled into gifting us with one of the most straight-forward Hip Hop albums I've heard all year. There are killer beats that make you do everything from nod your head to fight-dance, lyrics that aren't riddled with unnecessary metaphors and lessons, and enough sh*t-talk and conversational humor to make you feel like you're playing cards or video games with a best friend. Sometimes, that's all we want as fans. Every album does not need to be contextualized with a label like "conscious" or "coke rap" or "commercial" (he addressed this in Popular Demand's opening: "We do it all.") in order to find its way to the fans. This will probably be the album's undoing with the masses, since "Dope" will never count as a proper sub-genre.

Black Milk [Myspace]
Tronic [Amazon] [Itunes]



19 Responses

  1. You may lack the critical distance to review this as fairly as some other critic coming at this cold, but your passion sure "sold" me on the dude. Can't wait to check "Tronic".

  2. Wow, Nova... This review brought a huge smile to my face (almost brought a little tear to my eye - talk about passion!)...
    I first heard of Black Milk here not too long ago and quickly became a believer. The more I listen, the more I respect it and want to hear what else's he's got for us next.

  3. BM is the truth, folk here at soulbounce know I am addicted to that real hip-hop. If give the drummer sum didnt move you then go buy a soulja boy album:)

  4. ...i couldn't have said it better...this is exactly how i feel!!! years and years from now they're gonna treat this like shuggie otis's inspiration information album. they'll not only sleep on his opus but perhaps him as an artist. i hope not...

  5. I went to the myspace page...I will add Tonic to my "slim" hip-hop collection. I feel this will be a classic. WELL DONE. (my hip-hop collection is slim 'cause I'm alot older than y'all)

  6. "You get a sense that when he's rapping, it's done with a self-satisfied smirk bordering on a laugh."
    Yes! That's it!
    I've been listening to this album for almost a month now and I just could not articulate that 'thing' I was getting from it...right under the surface. An audible smirk. Thank you.
    This album absolutely great and it has made me a Black Milk fan for life.

  7. I'm almost ashamed that as a true music lover I havent been paying attention. This was such a heartfelt review Nova that I'm looking into him while I type this. That's why Soulbounce is what it is. Giving it to you straight with no chaser!

  8. being from Michigan, Black Milk has been on my radar for a second. sadly though, i'm just now beginning to really see what his potential is with this "Tronic" project. i've been listening to so much other stuff that i kinda put the record on the backburner. i listened to some of it today, and i'll be damned if it's not crazy! i feel like he is that heir apparent to a Dilla (or Premier), but i think he is already creating a wide lane for himself. i believe that he will continue to expand his sound, and do so without alienating much of his core audience (like an infamous rapper/producer who shall remain nameless). being a fan of Black Milk, i feel like those smart souls who got with Microsoft on the ground level, you know what i'm saying? like anyone who supports Black Milk is making an investment in the culture, for real. it may be too early to tell, but doesn't it seem like we really are entering into a second renaissance era in hip-hop?

  9. thank you very much...thank you

  10. You know Viv don't get down too much with all the hippity hop ish 🙂 But if you say so, them I'm with it. On the top of the list. Very well done.
    Not to get all mushy but really hope you realize the GIFT you have in being able to put words together like this.

  11. Reason #135632 why I love this site - you guys know REAL music! Black Milk is so underrated. This album blew my mind when I first heard it.

  12. Black Milk is AIGHT. Nothing more, nothing less. I love a lot of things - quality neo soul and quality hip-hop are among those things. But he sounds like he is making Hip-Hop Elevator music most of the time. It's something to ahve playing in the background while you read some Haki Mahubuti or Chancellor Williams. But nothing to stand alone - to purposefully make you focus your attention.
    Effort: B+
    Final Grade: C- (sometimes innovation takes u to a bad place)

  13. R.I.P. MC Breed:
    Rapper MC Breed -- who once worked with Tupac -- was found dead at a friend's house in Michigan yesterday.
    Breed -- who was hospitalized in September when his kidneys collapsed -- died in his sleep. The cause of death has yet to be determined.
    He was 36.

  14. I just recently got acquainted with Black Milk due to Elzhi's The Preface (dope) and his 'Purple' Instrumentals. I truly feel & respect his gift!
    I understand what it's like to be passionate about music, about an artist that no one else seems to 'get'. Much thanks for this review!

  15. Okay, but the part in his song, "Sound the Alarm" he does say, "I can't kill G-d." (in regards to his personal majesty. Negro, who ARE you, I say to that) Okay, what type of foolishness is this? When people mess with the Most High, I gotta cut 'em off with all deliberate quickness.

  16. I am officially put on...i will be spreading the word about Black Milk. Glad to finally download some new hip hop.

  17. Thank you! I've been trying to spread the word about Black Milk since early 07. I'm glad he's finally starting to get a fraction of the appreciation he deserves. Go'on wid ur bad self BM 🙂 x