In a recent interview with Synthesis magazine, Curtis Cross, better known as Black Milk, said “I’m an underground artist, but I still want to appeal to the normal cat who listens to the radio and watches BET…” Considering the sorts of egos and hyperbolic claims thrown around in hip-hop, that seems like a pretty humble, and even realistic goal. Hell, all he’s saying is he wants to make music that people will like, and honestly, that’s really the ultimate end for any musician. Of course, a lot of artists are capable of making music that people like without doing anything all that impressive, slapping together some hooks, some verses and choruses and leaving it at that. Black Milk does far better than that, far surpassing his admirable aim by weaving together a smooth flowing, beat slamming, thoroughly creative affair.
On Popular Demand, Black Milk isn’t pushing any extremes. There are no gritty slices of harsh reality, a la Clipse, nor are there weird-assed prog odysseys in the vein of Subtle, or even some Roots material (remember that ten minute jam on Phrenology?). That said, Black Milk isn’t a soul searching visionary like Lupe Fiasco or a cartoon like MF DOOM. Rather, he’s an entertainer, proving his worth as a gifted producer and a decent emcee, opting for a solid flow and a few good moments of self-hype over social-consciousness or crack deals.
Take, for example, “Three + Sum,” in which Milk declares “I experienced two chicks this winter” then spends the course of the four minute song narrating his seasonal threesome. In a sense, it’s not too far removed from A Tribe Called Quest’s sexed-up rhymes of yore, only a bit more exaggerated. Not that I don’t believe him, mind you. But for a real statement of purpose, the title track sums it up best: “I don’t walk with no backpack on/ don’t put me in a box, dog, we do it all.” To be fair, he’s not aping Def Jux or Rhymesayers material, though his old school production would most certainly have crossover appeal in those circles.
Black Milk’s greatest strength lies in his production, his solid, if not necessarily mind-blowing, raps notwithstanding. “Insane” flows with a hypnotic sample bed that floats like smoke billowing over the skipping beats. A soulful sequence colors the standout “Shut It Down,” with an oddly cut and pasted vocal sample, as “So Gone” accomplishes a similar feat, repetition playing a more extreme role, with rapidly skipping samples during the verse. “Watch `Em” carries a bit more intensity, a hard grooving guitar melody creating a gritty bed for the refrain, “you betta watch ya mouth.”
As a relatively new name in hip-hop, Black Milk shows a lot of promise, and definitely puts his talent on display. Popular Demand is a good album, and, by all means, an accessible one. Whether that equals an album that appeals to both Brother Ali’s and Akon’s camps is up for debate, but those looking for a repeatedly enjoyable spin will find it here.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.