Producer's Corner: Black Milk
The title of Black Milks 2007 album, Popular Demand, was more prophetic of his future than it was indicative of his status at the time. Sure, the Detroit producer/emcee had already served seven to eight years in the game, scored extensive beat placements with Slum Village and Phat Kat both as a solo producer and as part of the tandem BR Gunna, and he was turning heads with his Sound of the City Volume 1 mixtape and his Broken Wax EP. But once the aforementioned disc dropped earlier this year, things have gotten a lot busier for the 24-year-old. While continuing to lace the emcees in his city, hes also nabbed placements with Pharaohe Monch and Lloyd Banks. Rounding out the year with the Caltroit album/mixtape with Aftermaths Bishop Lamont, Milk is having a direct hand in some of the most anticipated music to hit stores in 08: a full-length LP with Sean Price and Guilty Simpson, an EP with Michigan underground staple One Be Lo, and much more.
In an in-depth interview with HipHopDXs Producers Corner, Black Milk talks about his continuous growth, managing a seemingly infinite workload, and gets readers ready for dream collaborations in the works.
HipHopDX: Youve been doing you for a minute, but now youre getting recognition. Does it seem fast, or like a long time coming?
Black Milk: I dont feel like it came fast. Ive been grinding out, doing music for the past seven or eight years, basically since 99-2000 Ive been making beats. I took it seriously around 2001, so Ive really been grinding for a minute. It probably dont seem like it, 'cause Im still young, I started in my teenage years making beats and selling beats. Im only 24 now, so I feel Ive still got a long way to go, man. It feels like it took a minute, but I feel like Im blessed to be able to accomplish what Ive accomplished so far at this age. Ive still got a lot more things I want to do and accomplish in the game.
DX: For a while, you were compared to J Dilla, but as of late, youve really found your own sound and hose comparisons have dwindled away. How difficult was it to get into your own groove?
BM: Well, it wasnt difficult. To tell you the truth, people compared me to Dilla, but people didnt compare me to Dilla until he passed. It seems people didnt realize I was doing beats, or didnt know who I was, or didnt know I was already producing for artists before Dilla passed. I never heard that before, when he was alive, when we did collaborations together and stuff I did for Slum and other artists, production-wise. Of course, were from Detroit, we work with a lot of the same people in the same circles, so I can see where the comparisons come from. In a way its a compliment, but when people say, Youre the next Dilla, or Youre the next dude to hold the torchI want to separate myself from that. I dont want to be the new Dilla, thats not why Im here.
DX: So when those comparisons came up, did you feel the need to change what you were doing?
BM: A little, a little. My style of music is always going to have some kind of Detroit sound and feel to it, its a certain feel that we have in Detroit. I cant really describe the sound or the feel, but its something that we have that people can recognize and connect with and know that its a Detroit producer: from me, to Wajeed, to Karreim Riggins, to Dilla. So its a certain Detroit thing that will always be in my beats. The soul vibe of it, which Dilla basically kind of created, he laid that blueprint out for all of the Detroit producers. But me, personally, my sound is going to change regardless.
DX: Yeah, it seems like youve changed quickly. I remember listening to Popular Demand, but I heard the beat CDs from the MySpace page, and they sounded light years ahead of it. How do you come up with new directions?
BM: A lot of people feel what I do. I get more love from what I do than bad criticism. But the criticism that I do see thats negative, in one, two or three reviews, or some internet shit or someone on MySpacesome stuff I recognize as just hate and I dont pay it no mind, but sometimes I do take certain things under consideration. Like, Okay. They say they wasnt feeling this, so I go back in the lab like, I gotta show up the people that dont think Im as good as other people think I am, or as good of a producer as some other producers. Ive got to perfect my craft. Im all about perfecting my craft, and making sure its nothing you can say about my production thats bad. [Laughs] Thats probably why the sound changed up from the album. Plus, to tell you the truth, the album was done for months before it came out. So I was kind of already on some other shit when the album dropped.
DX: What do you think you can get better at now?
BM: My whole thing right now is that Im working on making sure my music sounds good sonically. I do admit that was one of my flaws. Well not one of my flaws, but one of the things I was used to doing, my music being dirty and grimy. I know thats one of the elements that people liked about my music, is was it was grimy and dirty. Ive still got that element in my music, but I want to make sure my engineer skills are good, too. So if I want to do something that sounds two-track and dirty and grimy, I can do it. But if I want to flip something and sound big and just the mix sounds incredible and sonically good, I can do that toofor a commercial record, or even my record. My next album is going to sound way better than Popular Demand, sonically. Beat-wise too, but sonically, its going to sound better. Thats what Im on right now: trying to learn to make sure my EQs are right, and everything about engineering a song and a beat, and just making sure the dynamics are all right.
DX: Howd the Caltroit project with Bishop Lamont happen?
BM: The first time I hooked up with him, I met him at Slum Villages video shoot out in Cali. He was out there doing his thing, just politicking with cats. I had a CD called Sound of the City that I was pushing. I connected with him, we kicked it back and forth, he let me know what was going on, and I gave him my CD. When I went back to the D, he hit me up like, Im feeling this shit. My manager [Hex Murda] was the person that had the idea of, Why dont yall do a project on some Cali/Detroit shit? And we were with it. We looked at it from a standpoint that Im basically doing my thing on the underground levelone of the top artists on the underground, and hes on Aftermath, the biggest Hip Hop label you can be on right now. So its like, lets come together on some underground mainstream shit.
DX: Youre taking on a lot of full-length projects: the joint with Bishop Lamont, the joint with Sean Price and Guilty Simpson, the joint with One Be Lo. What do you like about taking on full albums like that?
BM: Thats my thing, I kind of figured it out. Some of the best Hip Hop projects are produced byno more than three producers. And if it is a project thats produced by a lot of different producers, its producers that have the same vibe or sound and whatnot. I just wanted to take on some of the artists that I feel thats dope out here and do projects for them.
DX: A lot of projects like this end up being urban legends, sounding good in concept but getting pushed back forever. What do you think it is about those projects that has other artists so excited to work with you extensively?
BM: To tell you the truth, I dont know. People thought Caltroit wouldve been an urban legend, cause we were working on that for a minute and talking about that for a while. But we finally dropped it, to show people were serious about it. I dont have no ties, Im not locked down in any deals where I cant work with other people. So if Im working with another artist whos somewhat in that same position and in that same boat, its dropping. If we say its dropping, its dropping. The Sean P thing, hes on Duck Down Records. [Duck Down CEO] Dru Ha was like, Yo, lets do it. He gave him the green light, Fat Beats definitely gave me the green light, and Stones Throw gave Guilty the green light. Its all good. We arent really on labels that feel like thatll hurt what theyre trying to do as a label, or hurt the artist. Were all on independent labels, so thats the good thing about it too.
DX: How difficult is it for you to work on so much shit at once?
BM: Man, it was difficult in the beginning, when everyone was throwing these ideas at me. I was excited and I was trying to do it, but there came a time when I was like, Man, Ive got to stop taking on all these projects, because its getting crazy now, and I cant keep up with all of them, plus its going to be time to do my next album in a minute. This has something to do with me getting better on my craft, too. Once I started figuring out certain techniques with the beats, and certain things with production to make mine sound better, I have a certain formula now for my beats that I can make certain tracks faster than I used to. That helps me knock out some of the stuff a little faster, because now I can do two, three or four beats in a day, and all of em are hittin hard. Thats helping me, because if we can do that and record that many songs in a week, were knocking that out.
DX: On all these projects, have there been any where its difficult for you to get on the same page as the artist?
BM: Yeah, a little bit with the Caltroit project. Me and Bishop, for that whole project, we were only in the studio about three times when we were working on it. So that was the only project that was kind of a little difficult, because I couldnt do certain things I wanted to do, just because we were working through e-mail back and forth, and tell each other our ideas over the phone, hoping that it comes out right. Thats how it was, but we still made it happen. Other than that, its been all good.
DX: Are there any projects youve gotten approached about where it sounds great, but youve had to postpone it or turn it down because youve got too many others going on?
BM: I still plan on doing a project with Pharaohe Monch. Me and him have been going back and forth talking about doing something for a minute. He actually recorded over four or five of my tracks, I was sending him beats after his album came out, plus Ive seen him at a few of these shows where Ive opened up for him. Thats a project that I really want to make happen. Im not sure about his situation with his label and whatnot, or if that project would be an urban legend or not. Thats something I really want to tackle, but Ive got to wait till I get some of this other stuff knocked out.
DX: Youre working on a lot, and you put out Caltroit online for free download. The industry is known for exploiting talent and hunger like that without a paycheck, so how do you plan to combat that?
BM: These projects, theres money involved, believe that. [Laughs] I dont really do stuff for free. These projects, its cash involved. You can still make your money even if youre on the so-called underground level, or independent level.
DX: Youve gotten a lot of critical acclaim. Do you think itll require a major label push to balance that out.
BM: Yeah, man, I do. Im just trying to figure out how am I going to be on a major label and still do what I do? Where are we going to meet in the middle? I know theyre going to want certain things that I might not feel, on some mainstream, commercial type shit. I have to figure out, what can I do to still give them what they want, but still do what I do without having to compromise too much. So when that time comes, itll come, but I think a major will definitely help me go to that next level. The good thing about a major, if any, you know your CD is going to be in stores everywhere, for people to see.
DX: Have any major labels come at you yet?
BM: Yeah, a few tried to holla at me. Its funny, a couple of labels had tried to holla at me before I even got my Fat Beats deal. But now, theyre recognizing [pauses] Im on their radar, basically. A couple of them know my situation, but theyre like, Keep us in tune to what youre doing.
DX: Michigan has had a really big year in terms of hip-hop, but I think that you, more than any other artist, have been able to expand really well. Youre still in the D, but youve got joints with Sean P, Bishop Lamont, Lloyd Banks. Do you think that youve been able to diversify your sound itself, or just that your sound is easy to adapt to?
BM: I dont think my sound is one-dimensional, especially when it comes to the production side. I feel like I can do any style of music. You want a commercial beat? Here you go. You want an R&B track? Here you go. You want some dirty, underground stuff? Here you go, I can do it all. So that gives me an advantage over other artistsnot just in the D, but just other artists periodbecause Im an emcee, plus I produce, I produce well. So certain crowds are just going to take my music and take me in just because of that. So I kind of got an advantage with the beat thing. Thats the only reason I can think of right now thats separating me from other people that are doing their thing, from out the city or anywhere else. Im not just an emcee.
DX: Im from Saginaw, so Ive got to end this off on a Michigan note. If you got to record your fantasy track with three Michigan rappers, who would they be and why?
BM: Just a track? Or an album?
DX: [Laughs] Fuck it, either/or.
BM: To tell you the truth, that fantasy track or project is kind of in the works, man. You made me remember, I forgot all about it. its another one of those projects where somebody gave me the idea and both of the artists are down with it, but were taking on so many projects that Ive got to put it on the backburner for a little bit. But, Royce Da 59 and Elzhi. I consider me as that third person. Im not even trying to come close to the mic with those two dudes. Those two guys are the best emcees, not even from Detroit, but in the game period.
DX: Its crazy, it seems like Michigan artists are working together more than they ever have in the past.
BM: Yeah, they have. I feel like everybody put what little things they had against each other aside now. Now its all about Detroit winning. Especially after Dilla passed and Proof passed, I feel like everybodys on that page right now. Weve got to work together if we want to win. Those were the two dudes that were really about Detroit winning, two pioneers of Detroit Hip Hop, easy. Without them herelike children without their parents, youve got to figure out that way to come together and make that shit happen, and live and win. So thats what I think everybody is on right now, just having Detroit win. So thats a good thing, man. Im definitely feeling it.