Producers, who also rap, haven’t been glorified as much as rappers who happen to produce. Kanye West broke that barrier down because he was (half of him is) great at both. There aren’t a lot of dual threat artists who can produce and rap well, but there is definitely one man who’s been doing both, but severely flying under-the-radar, and it is Black Milk. I’ve been talking about how much I enjoy and respect this man’s music, and given the fact that it’s been 2 years since he dropped Album of the Year, the fans were due for some much needed music. The Detroit native has shown examples of just what type of sound he can go for whether it is a Soul sample of Synthesizer. On this album, he stated (during a live Q&A session via Skype at a listening party) that he combined the sounds of Tronic & the aforementioned AOTY into one, and that it would be cohesive than the other two – meaning that a story was going to be told within it. The essence of albums has dwindled in a way, because everyone is more concerned about the hits and what’s popular. The fundamental groundwork of an album comes strictly from substance, and that’s what Black has proved to have with his music, as a rapper and a producer. Where there’s no bad, there can’t be any good, and the album’s title would be the theme of a personal good vs. evil story to play out.
Interpret Sabotage as the opening song gives you an atmosphere that’s portrayed as a TV show or movie as the static changes the tone from a serene intro to hard hitting bass and synthesizers, which has been his staple sound. As he starts to rap, I couldn’t help but catch myself grooving to how he was flowing on the track – there has definitely been an improvement in that field, and there are 2 stories that he rhymes about throughout the verses: 1 being the story of Sonny, which is the character that Black created to (in a way) represent his own story.
And the story goes
Never how the story’s told
Young niggas with a goal
Tryna’ find a path down that glory road
Suffer from a sabotage
Choose where you rather fall
Red pill, blue pill
Digital and analogue
And the 2nd story would happen to be Black’s real path as an artist, recognizing the struggle that the path has brought and also recognizing the complacency of peers who aren’t treating the art with the same passion that he is, and also that he needs to continue doing his thing as he moves into a new chapter of music in his life. What I liked, besides the production, was the lyrical growth and emphasis on introducing a story. I like stories, because not everything about rap has to be about punch lines and metaphors. If you’re a good story teller, you’ll captivate more ears than most that aren’t. These days, it seems to be a forgotten staple in Hip Hop.
Continuing with the story, Deion’s House created an image that I can relate to when you have the dialogue that younger kids would have when wanting to hang out and then the mothers of said children who don’t want them to be caught up in the wrongdoings of their friends. It’s basically how I looked at my adolescence, because I had a curfew and all that jazz, and I know what it’s like to be questioned if I had any traces of weed or cigarette smoke on me – not all that fun, but it was a regular thing.
“Have him back at his crib before Mom Dukes finds out
Cause lord knows nothing gets past Ms. Jones
Like before when she smelled marijuana on our clothes
Marijuana on my coat
Told me like “Son you got to go”
Told me like “Show respect when in my home”
“Know you was raised better”
Said to her “I don’t mean no disrespect ever””
According to the story, Sonny is the friend that was good, but had a bunch of friends who encouraged him to do things he wouldn’t regularly do like cut class. Sonny also had both parents in the home, and because the narrator (Black) didn’t have 2 parents in his home, he was looked at being the bad seed because ‘that’s what’s supposed to happen.’
“Deanne think I was a bad influence
On her son but she probably thought different
If I asked her
Only had him skip a couple times out of class
But Sonny had mom had dad huh
But I ain’t see my dad much
Didn’t have no real direction
I ain’t see my dad much
So, when the trouble comes
I don’t mind to take the blame
They already expect me to be the one to be insane”
You never know who’s ever going to be the bad seed in a group when you’re younger, but because of stereotypes being that they are, it’s always perceived that kids with no stable household are the detrimental ones that’ll end up not going anywhere in life, as the narrator describes on the track. It gives us a sense of who Sonny is, his household, and the people who were his friends. It’s neat that it’s being told from someone else’s point of view – it makes it that much more interesting to know that someone from the group is making sure that Sonny stays on track with his life goals.
The flow of this album made it feel like a dream sequence because the songs meshed within each other time after time, and that’s careful crafting and placement that needs to be noted most definitely. It all of a sudden gets very dark and gloomy with Codes & Cab Fare as the verses from Black Milk & Black Thought convey deeper and more introspective soul searches from the characters being portrayed (or maybe their own tales of being in the dark looking for life). The metaphor of life being a journey is expressed here as BM is in a cab searching for his life and figuring out his meaning while getting there. The image of the taxi can be related to how Frank Ocean’s Bad Religion was portrayed in a similar light. Detroit is a city where there’s not a lot of shine and glimmer to it, but rather more dim and sombre moments that Black has seemed to bring together on this album thus far. I like how towards the end of it, the cab pulls up to what sounds like a club and faintly, but building up, Ghetto DEMF is playing and it fully comes to full volume. It’s those little transitions that make the difference between good and great albums (to me, at least). This was really the last song before it segued into Sonny’s story from his perspective, whereas the first half of the album was from the outside view. Giving the listener a glimpse of life in Detroit, it’s rugged and gritty that both Black & Quelle Chris (who I had the chance of meeting at the Toronto show for the NPNP Tour) ripped.
The instrumental break that comes through on Sonny Jr. (Dreams) is 3 minutes and 24 seconds of strictly musical greatness as it starts off simple and then you get the build up from the different elements as they progress their way in. I happen to jam to it whenever I hear it. I have no idea where Black was able to find Dwele hanging out, but I’m glad that he made use of his vocals here. Dwele is really one of the underrated artists that have provided solid contributions throughout the years in Hip Hop. The keyboard breakdown at 2:41 will leave you squishing your face as the music starts to skew as the dream comes to an end. It’s just downright good music.
Sunday’s Best/Monday’s Worst were the first two songs to be released to promote the album, and it’s one that I definitely connected with (Sunday more than Monday). The story is now in the POV of Sonny, and if you’ve ever had to go to church as a little kid against your own will, you know how hard it is to wake up in the morning and have to sit in a church while the preacher yells and people sing in triumphant jubilance for 2 and a half hours. The message doesn’t always sink in, but to ‘show face’ at church is the part that many people would feel that counts. I like the fact there’s a choir in the beat that support as background vocals – it fits the imagery of the traditional Sunday morning. He goes from being that innocent kid at church to being the rebellious young adult that no one expected him to be (if you remember back to Deion’s House).
“Fast forward, got older – a younging that’s gone bad
Let me rephrase that, a younging that went down that wrong path
No matter how religious moms or pops was”
It’s funny how Sonny was the one that had 2 parents in the home, but yet the atmosphere of the area he grew up with was the benefactor in dictating which life path he had taken in his young life. Sunday is supposed to be a sacred day, and it’s really only a couple hours in the day that people take to forgive their sins, and their right back out of church doing the same thing (if you’re going to be a heathen, be consistent). The transition to Monday (everyone’s most disliked day) is presented with 2 stories in one. Before I get into that, the beat is thunderous with a soul sample that’ll make you lift your hands in the air filled with rejoice (okay, maybe). Sonny isn’t on that right path, and he’s one to live for getting quick money, so the plot of robbing someone is a common idea for someone basically living day-to-day. The 2nd story is the story of a random guy who just happens to be going through issues of his own, and he takes it upon himself to find his happiness at the bottom of a bottle. The two stories collide and then you have the dramatic finish along with the background playing a great role to build that drama. It’s two separate songs (you could argue would be better served as one) that show the contrast of one person and gives you the reality of what’s common throughout Black kids growing up (I could say all kids, but let’s just keep it with personal experiences). I went to church with a lot of kids, and although they meant well to go to church (mainly because of grandparents), some of them didn’t pan out to lead positive lives. It happens every day, and Sonny is just one example of them.
Perfected on Puritan Ave. takes us back to where Black Milk grew up as he reminisced on his past like as if he was walking down the street gathering thoughts – some happy, some not so happy. Talking about a past friend that died really changed the area and the perspectives from that day on. Moving into present day, Black had a line that made a lot of sense because it’s about painting a portrait as to what you were surrounded by when you’re young and ignorant to the world you grew up in.
“Puritan Ave lookin’ over your shoulder
Don’t realize you from a ghetto till you get a little older”
You often hear interviews from rappers and athletes (predominantly black, depending on which sport) talk about where they lived and the common phrase “I didn’t know we were poor/broke” is often used when talking about the upbringing. Obviously at certain ages, you grow an ideal mind as to what situation you’re in financially, but when you’re just a snotty nosed kid, they’re no worries in the world. Now that you realize that you came from that type of living, to celebrate the (somewhat) lavish lifestyle that some success can bring you, it’s a humbling thing to look back on. The beat is simple, but when it all of a sudden goes into a mini jazz percussion explosion then reverts back to normal, it’s that sporadic element that gives the album such a fresh vibe.
The dark and eerie sound returns with Dismal and it’s looking at Sonny being brought down to Earth and having to crawl deep within his thoughts to try and get his mind right when he’s down and out. He was down and then saw his ascent with a promising career, and then somewhere during the journey, he fell off and now he’s struggling. It’s a great fear many have, but it’s one that’s common for all people.
“I swore to God, I said I’d never go back bein’ broke
Feelin’ like I’m back at square one, fuck a nigga bein’ po’
Guess he didn’t answer your prayers or help your affairs
Now that no one cares, what’s the point of bein’ here?”
“Now you askin’ “Was it worth it?”, since your fame did surface
Now you see your purpose, didn’t turn out picture-perfect
Thousand-dollar purchase, guap all in your pockets
Used to be on top but now they sayin’ you ain’t got it”
This song can relate to the everyday person just trying to make a living and things don’t appear to go right by them at all. It’s not easy to get what you want (especially if you’re coming from the hood) and make it out of a damn-near impossible situation – but it can still happen.
What would an album be without the inevitable girl song? You get that funk-soul vibe to it with Ab on the hook providing a gem. Parallels is softer in both content and sound, since it’s not as hard hitting in bass or dark in theme. It’s softer and mellow as the story of Black and his love interest gives you that nostalgic feeling (or if you’re even in a relationship) with an added 2-step you can bounce to. X Chords has a sexy feel to it (you can hear it with the gasps of the woman in the background) and there’s no need for any lyrics, given that you can use your imagination. The groove doesn’t stop from where Parallels left off, and at least (for the moment) there’s a happy ending to the album (you see what I did there).
A lot of people consider the Sabbath to be Saturday, and if you look back on Sunday’s Best/Monday’s Worst, you could say that from that time when the story shifted to Sonny’s point of view, it played out what a typical week would be for him (if you count from Sunday’s Best, there are 7 songs = 7 days in a week). Black Sabbath had that gritty feel to it, but like a good majority of the songs, the emphasis was focused on the beat itself. It’s like the Sonny was going to sleep at this point, having started his story off, waking up.
After the poison settles, we welcome Paradise. That Paradise in question would be Money Bags as Black explains the meaning of the importance of money and the type of people (Single parents, minimum wage workers) who are out to get it by any means, even if you’re doing something that you absolutely hate (I’m sure a lot of people can relate to that). The pros and cons to money can go right back to the title of this album. Having no money (or going about whatever means to get it) is poisonous, then there’s definitely no shot to paradise. You need to make money to get where you eventually want to be.
“Tryna floss on em
Past due bills but actin’ like a boss on em.
They don’t need to know how much it really cost for em
Ain’t no money out there, so you fake it till you make it
Some never make it, they pick up the pistol and take it”
Now, we live in the era where showing off what you have is glorified even when it’s all based on a lie. People flashing their welfare cheque money that’s meant for rent, or their paycheque money meant to pay bills, but they go out and buy flashy things to show off to other people – you know that ‘holier than thou’ approach. The thing is, that’s how humans act, and money is truly the root of a lot of evil (I don’t believe it’s the root of all evil, because it wasn’t money that made Adam eat the apple). It is, however, something that spawns a lot of evil to occur like greed and jealousy, so in that sense, money is poisonous in a sense (the O’Jays told us first).
I love this album, and here’s why. I’ve listened to it multiple times and it hasn’t got boring to me. The sound is fresh and even if you have it on shuffle, no song sounds the same. There’s not only a story being told, but it’s told in such a manner that it feels like you’re going through a short movie. The different perspectives that one story is being told by is creative and an element of Hip Hop that still resonates even through a changing era. This album shows the musical maturity and growth of Black Milk and with every album he put out being better than the others, it’s enticing to hear what he can come out with from here. NOW SHOW HIM SOME DAMN RESPECT, PEOPLE! But for now, this is my opinion, this is my review
That’s My Word & It STiXX
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