Detroit emcee and producer Black Milk has an unmistakable production style that continues to grow on his hip hop release entitled Album Of The Year. Where his third album Tronic was critically acclaimed exploring his use of synth keys to develop his sound, this album explored the use of offbeat drums (Daru Jones) and live instrumentation (the Will Sessions Band).
Much like his previous albums, this effort channels recent experience lyrically and unlike most artists, Black continues to upgrade not only his production but his delivery. For a producer/emcee to clearly have synergy with his tracks as well as for the need to improve both is quite rare. Starting out as an alternative to loss of J Dilla, Black has truly evolved and come into his own. Interestingly enough, his closeness to Slum Village and their style is still apparent in most that he does.
Live instrumentation dominates most of this album and somehow still is a superb reflection of how dynamic a producer Black Milk is. “Round Of Applause” is probably the most clear representation of this. With an off balance and funky drum cadence courtesy of Daru Jones, this song weaves the horns of the Will Sessions Band in such a way that shows the amazing chemistry of Black’s style and real music. Black even takes time to ‘give the drummer some’ allowing Daru to freestyle which takes a que from direction he’s taken in other songs on the album as well. Black, a drummer himself, clearly has an appreciation for musicianship beyond the employ of a song sample. This clearly can set him apart as an artist above the status quo of hip hop.
Even with this departure of sound at times from his previous album, the elements of what made Tronic such a success for Black still remain. His signature electro funk with heavy hip hop percussion continues on tracks like “Welcome (Gotta Go)” and “Warning”. That sound is a vybe that fits his Slum Village-esque flow brilliantly. It was a sonic experiment that he continued to weave into this album.
Black is an expert at using a lot of different sounds and elements to excite. Employing the vocals of the likes of Monica Blaire, AB, and Mr. Porter to provide soulful hooks, Black is a master of going from gritty to smooth. Nowhere is that more apparent that the extremely personal track “Distortion” featuring Melanie Rutherford’s somber harmonies. Black dives into the sadness and depression he experienced going through the deaths of his aunt, Baatin of Slum Village, and the near death experience of his manager. With a bit of guitar play repeating a solemn riff, Black once again allows musicianship to take hold of the end of the song to round out the entire experience of the track.
Black’s fourth studio album is definitely a nominee for lists of the album’s title.