With the untimely demise of J Dilla and D-12's Proof last year, Eminem going into semi-retirement and Royce going to prison, the storied Motor City Hip Hop scene would appear to be on life support... or at the very least desperately in need of a blood transfusion. You could call 24-year-old Detroit native Black Milk (a.k.a. Curtis Cross) Dr. McSteamy for all the heat he's brought to previous production efforts for artists such as Slum Village, Proof, Lloyd Banks, Pharoahe Monch, Canibus and more. But now, for the first time since 2005's self-released (and rarely-heard) Sound of the City, he's stepping out from behind the mixing board, boldly proclaiming his desire to inject vibrant new life into a Motown scene that has seen far too much death in recent years.
Let's be brutally honest here: Producers, on the whole, are not known for their dazzling mic skills. For every somewhat respectable Kanye West there's a completely laughable Puffy, and even the legendary Dr. Dre is smart enough to let Snoop and Em carry most of his lyrical weight. But Black Milk, who makes no bones about his desire to be seen as the future of Detroit Hip Hop, seems determined to stand or fall on his own merits, with Slum Village (who appear alongside Baatin on the killer posse cut, "Action") the album's only guest stars whose name adds considerable clout.
Milk lets you know where he's coming from right off the bat on the opening title track, insisting over a sweet old soul groove that "I'm underground, but don't get it twisted, man/ I'm in the range and I'm thinkin' bout that Escalade/ We like a little platinum on a chain, on a ring/ I'm from the city of the gators, dawg, what you think?/ 'Cuz I don't walk with no backpack on/ Don't put me a box, dawg, we do it all/ You can catch me in the club/ from the window to the wall." It's this desire to walk the middle ground between the purity of the underground sound and the accessibility of mainstream Hip Hop that characterizes the bulk of the album, which matches the new school's intelligent lyricism with ol' school subject matter (braggadocio, materialism, etc.) over infectious beats equally suited for Jeeps, clubs or headphone listening.
From the Bomb Squad-style in-your-face assault of "Sound the Alarm" (featuring "Guilty Simpson") and the head-bobbing syncopated funkiness of "Insane" to the string-laden soul of the cinematic "Shut It Down" (which wouldn't sound out of place on the Superfly soundtrack) and the double dutch handclaps and jazzy bassline of the rollicking "Watch 'Em" (featuring Que Diesel and Fat Ray), the album leaves no doubt that Black Milk is one of the most promising up-and-coming producers on the Hip Hop scene. Not every one of these 15 tracks knocks it out of the park, but you nevertheless get a strong sense that Milk (who also engineered, mixed and provides the majority of the rhymes) is a one-man wrecking crew just beginning to hit his stride, eminently capable of putting "the D on my back like a shirt that I bought."