Whether he’ll take credit or not, many consider Black Milk to have played a huge role in Detroit’s resurgence after the untimely passing of J. Dilla. Rapping and producing with skill that few can compete with, his contributions have amazed and kept hope alive in an underground scene that even tends to be stagnant at points. What I really appreciate is how he has turned quality music into a business model while remaining humble and always letting his music speak for him. I was fortunate enough to speak with Black as his heavily anticipated new album No Poison, No Paradise is now hitting stores. If you haven’t, familiarize yourself with Tronic and Album Of The Year, major highlights of his relatively short career to date.
You’re an artist who challenges himself creatively with each project. To start, what can fans look forward to with No Poison, No Paradise?
They can look forward to hearing a different side of me lyrically this time around. That’s the main thing, even more than the production which is like a mixture of all three of my previous projects. There’s more raw soul sounds like Popular Demand, upbeat electronic stuff like Tronic and a little bit of live instrumentation like Album Of The Year. You kind of get all of those styles of production in this new album and lyrically there’s a lot of conceptual storytelling this time around.
Working with BR Gunna helped you get in the game, but from my understanding the business wasn’t right. What lessons did you learn from that experience?
It wasn’t just business, there were creative differences also. That was the start when I was first getting into the game and dealing with people in the industry, so I wouldn’t trade anything and I don’t regret it. Like you said, I learned a lot business wise and it pushed me in the direction to do my solo thing. I’m glad I made the decision then to start taking creative control over what I do as well as being more hands on with my brand.
You went on record saying that Slum Village was your favorite group. What influence if any did they have on you musically and what was it about them that made you such a fan?
When I first heard their music probably back in ’98, it was just something that connected with me that I didn’t have with any other Hip Hop music at the time. Of course I was already a fan of other groups’s but something about Slum’s music and style connected with me. Originally I didn’t even know they were from Detroit, my older cousins used to always play their music and Slum Village influenced my style rhythmically where there’s a pocket and flow that comes with recording music and the lyrics come after. Them and J Dilla were a big influence on what I do right now.
After Dilla’s passing, would you say Detroit sort of looked at you to fill that void?
I don’t think Detroit really looked at me to fill a void. The whole Hip Hop scene of Detroit was just looking at itself like “What are we gonna do?” as far as not only keeping his legacy alive but taking a note from what he did, continuing to put out a certain level of quality music from the city.
With the Random Axe project, did you find yourself competing with Guilty Simpson and Sean Price lyrically or were you more concerned with making sure the production was tight?
I never really found myself competing. You definitely want to come with your best verse being next to those guys because they’re lyrical beasts, but for the most part I don’t feel any kind of pressure. It’s just like you have to come with your best every time and that’s how I am even when I’m doing songs without people featured on them. With Random Axe, I do focus more on the production side of things in making sure the album has a cohesive flow to it and I put verses on whichever tracks I feel need to have my voice on them.
You did the Caltroit project with Bishop Lamont. What was that like working with the Aftermath camp and did it help you gain exposure on the West coast?
I think it actually did help me gain a little bit of exposure because as you mentioned Bishop was on Aftermath at the time and that was a major label, so the project got a bit of a major push. It kind of put me in a space where I got exposed to fans of mainstream commercial type of music, Caltroit had a nice response when we dropped it and I still mess with Bishop to this day.
You do all of your own production. If you could pick another producer to do a whole album with you rapping, who would it be and why?
I would probably try to get in the studio with somebody like Jake One, Nottz, or El-P. El-P has real dope production and I think it would be interesting to see what I sound like over his style because it’s totally different from what I do.
What haven’t you attempted to do musically that you would like to try?
There’s so many places I want to go musically, sound wise I’m experimenting every day. The album just dropped and I’m already in the lab onto a new sound. My mind is always going and thinking of new ways to approach Hip Hop production, so who knows where I’ll be in the next year or two.
You did an album with Fat Ray and an EP with Danny Brown, is there anyone else in Detroit you’d love to do a whole album with?
Yeah there is, I don’t know if I want to mention anyone right now but I try to keep my eye open for who I think I could have chemistry in the lab to make projects with. I’m definitely down to always work with other Detroit artists.
A big thing in your production is the drums. Aside from yourself, who would you say has had the craziest drums in Hip Hop?
Of course it would be Dilla, it would be Primo and Pete Rock. I would also say Timbaland too, he has a unique thing with his rhythms, patterns and his drum sounds.
A big surprise was you working with Jack White from The White Stripes. How did that collaboration come to pass?
He hit us up, it was simple as that. He emailed my manager and at first we didn’t know if it was real or not (laughs), then once we confirmed it was really him we talked. He has his own label Third Man Records where he puts out crazy 7 inch and 12 inch vinyl with crazy art designs and packaging, he does these one offs with different artists. He said he always wanted to work with a Hip Hop artist from Detroit but he couldn’t find the right one that made sense for what he does, and since I produce also he thought it would make sense to collab. I went down to Nashville with my band, hooked up with him and some of his musician friends, we got in the studio and jammed for a little while and came out with a couple of tracks. It was probably one of the craziest experiences I’ve had in music.
Detroit has been in the news a lot lately, with the bankruptcy situation and Kwame Kilpatrick just being handed down some serious jail time. What are your thoughts on how the city has been run politically?
It’s pretty sad the way our politics are ran in the city. It affects the community but the thing about Detroit is no matter how dark things get or if the city is on hard times financially, the sense of community and pride is always there. So hopefully things turn around sooner than later.
What do you want your music’s legacy to be when it’s all said and done?
I want people to look at me as an artist that never followed trends, just moving at his own pace and as an artist that was able to have an effect and make a mark on music history. I just want to make timeless music that people enjoy and will be playing at events, clubs and parties a lot of years from now.