Black Milk D-Town Underground

Black Milk D-Town Underground
Photo: Jonathan Stafford
On the eve of the release of his latest full-length project, No Poison No Paradise, Detroit beatsmith/MC Black Milk took the time to chop it up with Exclaim! to discuss everything from the evolution of his live show to who's bubbling in the Detroit scene to how he's taken his production skills to the next level on his latest offering.

You're currently in the middle of your North American tour in support of your new project, No Poison No Paradise. How's that going for you?
Oh it's going straight man, we um, good so far. We actually headed to do the second half of the tour right now, we about to do the East coast. We just came from the West Ccast and from doing a couple states in the South so, we actually leaving New Orleans now. So yeah, everything's going good man. The crowd's been responding pretty well.

Speaking of your live show, I actually caught it a couple years back and it was dope. I've read some positive reviews of your current live gigs. What does your band Nat Turner mean to you and how would you say your live act has grown in recent years?
Chemistry. Chemistry man. You know, the chemistry between me and those guys is like, you know, we get tighter and better with almost every show. You know what I'm saying? We're like anything, the more practice, the more work you put into it, the better the show becomes. Me and the guys rock out and go hard every show.

The new album is your first full-length since 2010's Album of the Year. How did you spend your time between records and what was the recording process like for No Poison No Paradise?
We did a couple tours, but you know like, the last year and a half, I kinda spent most of my time just trying to polish up my, I guess you could say my skills as a producer and an MC and as an engineer definitely. I was trying to reach a certain place sonically with my music, you know what I'm saying? For the last year and a half I was really on some engineer type stuff for a while. I finally got to a point where I was comfortable enough to put out music again and I liked the way stuff sounded so I thought it was time to release some music. So yeah man, then I started piecing together this album and the two other projects that I got in the works that will be coming soon after. I just had to take some time to work on my craft a little more.

Speaking about your production, in my opinion your sound has always been a healthy combination of classic, jazzy instrumentation and scratch-your-head WTF is this guy doing? Does this come naturally or is this something you aim to create strategically?
I'd say it definitely comes natural man. I kinda go with how I feel and most of the time I let the production and my record collection guide me into the direction I want to go into musically. So that's what it be, man. A lot of different digging and digging for the most obscure sounds and samples cause a lot of my production is real sample-heavy and sample-driven, so I kinda let my production tell me a direction of where to go and I always challenge myself to take what I've done in the past and try to take it a step further. That's what this album is. It's kinda a combination of all three of my projects, but more polished up. You get some of the live instrumentation of Album of the Year, you get some of the more soulful stuff like Popular Demand, you get some of the electronic, Detroit, ghetto-type of production like on Tronic. You get a combination of all of those projects. I feel like I've kinda mastered some of those styles and those sounds this time around.

Your label recently sent me the video for the dual single "Sunday's Best/Monday's Worst," very cool video. I understand that you share directing duties on the video?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, definitely, definitely. "Sunday's Best/Monday's Worst," that record kinda explains itself, you know, it wasn't really hard to put the visuals together because it was pretty visual with the song already. But yeah man this was my first time being behind the camera and directing a little bit with the main director Gerard Victor. The outcome of the video came out way better than what I expected, so it was dope man.

And I also understand from the press release, that the actors in the video are also family members of yours. Is that right?
Oh yeah, yeah. The young kid in the video, that's my younger cousin and the guy that plays the older version of him, that's my older cousin. It was cool to have some of my family members in there and have all of the people I know around Detroit come out and support the video. Even at the beginning of the video, the opening scene, the house — that's the actual house I grew up in, that I spent the majority of my life.

"Codes and Cab Fares" features Black Thought. In my opinion, he's in the top five MCs discussion guaranteed. What was it like working with him on that record?
Oh man, it was cool. It was kinda funny, cause with this record, I told him I wanted to see something where he was the more introspective side of Black Thought. The storytelling side of Black Thought versus just straight spitting bars. At first he was like, "Man, next time we do a record, it's gotta be some straight spitting, some lyrical, lyrical…" That's kinda what he wanted but I kinda wanted something a little more prolific. It came out great man. You know his verse, he's talking from a standpoint of a young kid actually being from Detroit, you hear him drop little details, little things about the city of Detroit and I didn't expect him to do that and it was dope!

Switching gears here, give me your two cents on the current state of rap. Everybody laid an egg over Kendrick's verse on "Control." What did you think of it?
I thought it was great man. It was incredible. I can't remember the last time something sparked people like that on a lyrical level. Probably the last time that happened was a few years ago when Jay Electronica put out "Exhibit C." I wish we had more of those kinds of moments, so we didn't have to wait every few years for those types of things, those types of reactions to happen. It definitely put artists in a certain position where you need to really put your all into your craft and accept artistry. That's how I felt when I heard it, that's how I felt he was trying to come across in that verse.

Big Sean got killed on his own record though. However, it's kinda tough going on a record with Kendrick and Jay Electronica right?

Detroit. What's going on in the scene right now? You're holding the torch pretty high yourself, but is there anyone else bubbling in the underground that we should keep our ears open for?
There's always new talent popping up. I feel like the artists in Detroit, it's getting to the point where people are finally starting to realize that Detroit is going to be a force in the music industry in the next few years. You got cats like myself, you also got cats like Danny Brown who's dropping his new album, Eminem of course, that's obvious, but you got new cats like Boldy James and Quelle Chris, an artist that I'm actually on tour with right now. I can't wait to see where our position is in the music industry in the next two or three years.

Obviously you can't do an interview without a question about the late, great J Dilla, I read online about a Dilla-inspired donut shop, Dilla's Delights. Is that open now and how has the city embraced it?
I'm not too sure. I think someone mentioned the donut shop or that one of his family members is opening it. I knew Dilla but I don't know the exact details of what's going on.

What's on your plate for the rest of the year? Are we going to get another Random Axe record with Sean P and Guilty or no? That shit was crazy.
Thanks man. I got some music in store so hopefully I can jumpstart the new chapter I want to go through. We gonna be dropping some singles next year, if not the full project. I'm actually already working on my next full-length album and another EP that I'll probably be dropping for free at the top of next year so there's lots of new music coming that I really can't mention right now. I wanna have some impact in the next two-and-a-half years.