[INTERVIEW] BLACK MILK
Recently dropping his 6th studio album ‘FEVER’ the Detroit native Black Milk still has a lot more to say. The album is very refreshing, blending a variety of traditional hip-hop sounds, electronic sounds and live instrumentation to create the very groovy project. Black Milk has been in the industry for a while and is a very respected figure working with the likes of Royce Da 5’9” and J Dilla.
This album was highly anticipated being his first release since 2014. Lyrically Black Milk touched on a variety of topics from what goes down on our timeline to the current political climate and his view of where he believes society is today. Living in a period of Hip Hop where the lyrical substance has been criticised by many, Black Milk makes sure that, that was not a factor in this project. The fact that he is a producer and rapper makes every song feels whole as if it was created for a specific purpose.
Being a producer and rapper, I wanted to find out a bit more about his creative processes and understand the album and how it was created a bit more.
The name Black Milk is pretty unique, where did your name come from?
Yeah man, like I always say it was a name that kinda came from just being a younger man and being around the crew, people that were also artists that had pretty crazy, weird, unique names. That was the name that was given to me and it just kinda stuck. And I just for whatever reason never changed it. Yeah, so it was like one of those names I got as a teenager.
Born and raised in Detroit. You’ve worked with the likes of Royce’ Da 5’9” and other great Detroit artists. But in particular, the legend J Dilla. How was that experience working with him?
Man, I mean it was I guess one of those things when you look back you still can’t believe it happened. Cos you know even back then, he was looked at as a mysterious dude and a musical genius. So just to be able to do some recordings with him and hear him rap over a few of my tracks. For me personally it’s like the biggest honour, so yeah man it’s just one of those things I’m happy I was able to do and accomplish because I look at him as like definitely number 1 favourite artists on my list of all time and so not too many people, not too many artists not only get the chance to meet their favourite artists but work with their favourite artist. I had that chance so, yeah it was great.
How was his creative process? Did you sit down with him when he’d create?
Na it was never a thing of me like sitting down with him, creating at the same time or like him standing over my shoulder showing me things, it was more so like projects that I was working on with Slum Village and I was producing for them and he would come to the studio every now and again and just kick it for a short period of time. And yeah giving him the track that we wanted him to get on. And he’d take it back to his home studio and do what he do and send it back to us. But it was never a thing to like put beats together.
Touching on creative processes. You’re a producer and rapper/songwriter. Where do you begin when you’re about to create for both producing and writing.
Yeah, it always starts with production. So really it starts with digging for records, then tryna find little jewels here and there on records, samples or whatever. Taking that and creating a track out of it, a beat out of it and adding to that. And yeah, creating a vibe. And then that vibe kinda steers me where to go lyrically and yeah so it’s always production first or I’d say 99% of the time and vocals, raps, songwriting second.
Okay and with songwriting, raps lyrics side of things. How do you go about creating those? What’s your technique or structure for writing?
Well, it’s dependant on what the music is doing. I write I don’t freestyle. But I would sit there and brainstorm about song concepts, a certain particular topic for a little bit and I start crafting the lyrics around that topic. So yeah, that’s how it usually goes. It’s not like nothing super. I don’t have any kind of crazy routine, Going into writing records I kinda try to reflect on either what’s going on in the world at the time or what’s going on in my life at the time and write from that perspective.
‘FEVER’. Sonically, this project is very refreshing and goes against the grain of popular sounds we hear in Hip Hop today? Lyrically there is a lot of substance in what you are talking about on this project in regards to your personal experiences and views on society today. What was your favourite track from the project and why?
I think ‘True Lies’ was probably my favourite track on the project. Another track was ‘Drown’ that was another favourite of mine. But yeah each track has a different purpose. Yeah kinda like you said, I titled the album ‘FEVER’ just kinda to represent the temperature of the climate we’re living in right now, you know it’s pretty high and so when I spoke on those certain things that have been like top headlines for the last few years. And that’s kinda what drove me to write certain songs the way I wrote them. So yeah it’s just kinda living in this day and age that we’re living in and speaking on it. I feel like at this point in my career, I’ve had to figure out a way to always address what’s going on but do it in a creative way.
One of my favourite tracks was ‘Laugh Now Cry Later’ and the music video was crazy. Did you help conceptualise the video?
Well, it was a collaboration. With me, my manager Rosalina and this artist Sudie that’s actually on the first song of the album. She actually sparked the idea of two people having a conversation at home. So yeah, that’s where that came from.
Can you talk a bit more about the music video and what exactly it means because It’s kinda deep.
So like I was saying, it was the artist Sudie, she came with the idea of the setting. And that was one of those things where I kinda thought it would be cool if the people weren’t actually talking with their mouths. And it was kinda like a thing where he was in a trance or in like a zombified type of state. We used subtitles, I thought that would be more interesting. And visually throw people through a loop, so that’s kinda where that came from. Just tryna not be too literal with the video but tryna do something a little more artistic and creative. So yeah that’s kinda how that all came together, just by watching movies and stuff.
One of my favourite soundbites on that track was ”Some niggas fake woke.”
I mean each bar was just basically an observation of what you see, what we all see on our timeline, from super woke people in terms of super political activist type people online to people that are just joking all day to people that just say things that get you heated that are controversial. So each bar was kinda a reference to like a timeline and kinda how you go through this emotional thing when you’re on your timeline.
One of my favourite projects of yours is ”Sunday Outtakes” which is probably not very common for people to say. For that project you collaborated with The Nat Turner band who I’ve seen you do a lot of work with over the years.
Yeah, that’s the band I’ve been touring with for years now. We do a lot [of stuff together]. They’re always with me when I tour and for my live shows. So we kinda decided to do a project, the original project was called ‘The Rebellion Sessions.’ That was the project we put together, it was just like you said just a live album we did in the week and more so on a jazzy, soul, funk type of side beats. And yeah Sunday Outtakes which you just mentioned was kinda the records that didn’t make the official album that came out.
So how do you guys go about creating? Working with a band and being an artist/producer yourself. How do you go about collaborating and creating projects?
Well at this point it’s just pretty easy man cause like I say man our chemistry’s so tight. We’ve worked together for [a long time]. I’ve known them guys since, like 2008/2009, we’ve been travelling the world and recording you know, they’ve been playing all my stuff and doing the live shows so by the time we got to ‘The Rebellion Sessions’ and did that album it was pretty easy [because] that album came from basically people asking [if there] was a project with the band? Because my live show is different than my studio records. The songs you hear at the show are gonna be played a little different and there’s a lot of energy so you know, people will come up after the show and ask like ”do you guys have an album with the band?” and the answer was always no so after that I was like I think we need to kinda go in and record something just so people can have some kinda studio recording with Nat Turner. So that’s where ‘The Rebellion Sessions’ came from and like I said ‘Sunday Outtakes’ was just like the tracks that didn’t make the album.
There is a lot of live instrumentation on the latest project ‘FEVER’, was it the Nat Turner band that helped you with that?
No, this was a different group of musicians that played. There’s a few young cats from Detroit that I teamed up with to be like the groove to my production to the album. Keyboardist, Ian Fink-played all of the key stuff on the album. The guitarists’ name is Sasha Kashperko, a lot of the guitar parts you heard on the album was him. Then I had my mans Daru Jones that I’ve worked with off and on throughout the years played some of the drums that you hear on a few records like ‘True Lies’ and ‘unVEil’ and the song with Dwele ‘2 Would Try’ and I have my man Chris Dave another well-known drummer that’s been around for a while that played a few records like ‘Drown’ and ‘Laugh now cry later’ [he] played percussion. So yeah this was a different cast of musicians for the studio album but Nat Turner will definitely still be on the road with me when I go out for the FEVER tour.
And when’s the FEVER tour coming?
Ah man, we’re setting it off in Europe in May. Some Europe dates, about 15-16 Europe dates and doing U.S for the summer and then going back to Europe at the end of the year for the rest of the cities we didn’t touch in May, we’re gonna come back.
What are your views on where Hip Hop is today?
Man, I think it’s music, Hip Hop, however you wanna call it is in a good place right now. Just because you’re able to be an artist, create what you want without any pressure of keeping up with any ”trends” or popular things that’s going on or popular music. You can do what you wanna do creatively and still curate a fan base that loves what you do as an individual and make a living off of that. Still, do shows if what you’re doing is dope, whether it’s rap, whether it’s electronic, whatever genre you’re in so I think like that’s the greatest thing. Being able to create this thing online and reach people online and have fans and just exist in your own bubble without having to worry about competing with other artists for space or sound is dope. And that’s kinda how I approach what I do today, I really don’t think about or worry about competing too much, I feel like I’m my own competition.
Finally, you’ve collaborated and created with a lot of people. Is there anyone you’ve not created with yet that you’d like to create with?
I think the person that keeps coming to mind every time I get asked that question is Kevin Parker from Tame Impala. I think that’d be dope. I really enjoy his music and have been a fan of his music for a while now so yeah.
Check out ‘FEVER’ available on all platforms.