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Interview: Black Milk

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Black Milk at The Gibson Guitar Lounge in DC
  • Erin Lassahn
  • Black Milk at The Gibson Guitar Lounge in DC

Black Milk, the Detroit producer and emcee famously affiliated with fellow Motor City hip-hop acts Slum Village and J Dilla, began his musical career as a beatmaker. Over the years, his productions have progressed to include noticeable live instrumentation and his personal skill set has expanded to include emcee work. Next Wednesday, March 23rd, Black Milk will perform at The Jazz Kitchen subsequent to speaking at the Jazz Kitchen-hosted Red Bull Music Academy On-The-Floor lecture. The session will consist of moderated Q&A with the performer about who he is, where he came from, and what he’s doing now. Below, Black Milk talks with us about touring and current projects.

NUVO: You recently got back from a string of New Zealand and Australian shows, right?
Black Milk:
Yeah. We did Australia for about a week and got home at the beginning of February.

NUVO: Was that a good run? Did you have a good time over there?
Black Milk:
Oh, definitely. That was one of the best runs I’ve had in a while. We did the Big Day Out Festival. They majority of the music is rock, but they had me, Lupe, and a few other hip-hop artists. It was good to see people all the way out there out there, supporting what I do and getting familiar with the music.

NUVO: Speaking of world-renowned music festivals… you’re headed to SXSW very soon.
Black Milk:
Yeah, I’ll be down there for a couple of showcases. I was at the festival last year for the first time.

NUVO: Is there anything you’re particularly excited about for your second time at the event?
Black Milk:
Actually... I’m goin’ down there trying to basically… well, of course I’m gonna do my own thing. But I’m gonna go down there and just try to find some new music, some new cats that are doing their thing. Outside of having good shows, that’s what I’m expecting this time going down there.

NUVO: Your 2008 album, Tronic, showed a noticeable development in your skill set as a producer as you began experimenting with live instrumentation in your beatmaking. And then that evolved to the point where now you employ a team of studio musicians and session players. Is that correct?
Black Milk:
Well, I don’t really like to call them session players or studio musicians. That kind of sounds like I just hired random players that all I have a relationship with is through playing. That really wasn’t the case. The musicians I work with, I also have a friendship with them outside of just recording music together. So, for the last album, Album of the Year, I brought in a funk group from Detroit named Will Sessions. The drummer that I brought in to play on half of the album, Daru Jones, and my keyboard player, Aaron "AB" Abernathy, both tour and perform with me.

BLACK MILK "Give The Drummer Sum" from Yours Truly on Vimeo.

NUVO: How has this impacted the way you write and create music?
Black Milk:
I guess it did change it a little bit, but I think the basic formula of how I create is still the same. Every beat you heard on the last album started off with the MPC [music production center], which I’ve been working on for the last 10 years. It’s still the same basic foundation because, you know, I wanna have a certain funk and hip-hop feel for the cats that might not really be that into a lot of music. So I kinda wanna bring both worlds together and still have that hard hit with the drums, that certain punch the hip-hop audience can recognize too.

NUVO: What’s it been like to experience that kind of evolution of your music?
Black Milk:
Hopefully this is the beginning of something new - a new chapter for Detroit music. Hopefully we can start some kind of like, I don’t wanna say a new Motown but, that’s kind of the way it felt when we were recording the album.

NUVO: Rather than talking about Album of The Year’s backlash from critics and fans who interpreted it as an arrogant album title that the media has probably made a bigger deal out of then they should have—
Black Milk:
[laughs] Yeah.

NUVO: … could you instead tell me a little about two of your recent projects: Random Axe & Searching for Sanity?
Black Milk:
Random Axe is a project with me, Guilty Simpson from Stones Throw Records, and Sean Price from Duck Down Records. I’m doing all the production while Sean and Guilty are emceeing. The group basically started with Sean giving features to Guilty for his album that came out a couple years ago. The song came out real dope and that ended up turning into like, “Yo, why don’t we… let’s do a full project and see what it could turn into.” I was definitely already a fan of Sean Price ever since The Boot Camp Clik and it was just dope to work with him. He’s one of my favorite east coast emcees. The record definitely has a fresh vibe to it, just bringing that Detroit-slash-Brooklyn energy together.

NUVO: And that’s not out yet?
Black Milk:
Not yet. It’s supposed to be dropping sometime in May on Duck Down Records.

NUVO: And what’s your other current project, Searching For Sanity, about?
Black Milk:
Searching for Sanity is another project I’ve been experimenting with trying to take myself out of the hip-hop box for a minute. I’m trying to do something a little different as a producer, mainly. This project is with me and singer Melanie Rutherford from Detroit, whose voice you heard on Album of the Year. This project is basically me doing the type of soul/R&B music that I would like to hear more of from that genre to fill the void that people are feeling in the soul/R&B category.

Catch Black Milk with his live band Wednesday, March 23rd, at Jazz Kitchen immediately following the Red Bull Music Academy On-The-Floor lecture and re-scheduled J Dilla Tribute.

Danielle covers local music for NUVO.net and IndyMojo.com.

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