Black Milk’s introduction on nappyafro came in the form of a review for his previous album Tronic. This album was personally memorable as being one of the most demanded and anticipated reviews from readers that finally received its due posting almost six months after its release. In an attempt to not see history repeat itself, we arrive on time for Black Milk’s latest offering entitled Album Of The Year. The Detroit producer/emcee, along with a few guests, returns about one year to the date of Tronic to recount the various events that shaped the making of the album. Let’s join Black Milk as he takes us on a journey of 365 days in only 12 tracks.
1. 365 Produced by Black Milk
Black Milk starts things off in similar fashion to “Long Story Short” on Tronic, which saw him exploring the chronological stages of his career. This time over a lively combination of drums and horns, Black recounts the events and experiences of his personal life over the course of the last year that became the source of inspiration and content for Album Of The Year. This year saw Black encounter his share of struggles and hardships from the passing of Slum Village brethren Baatin and his Aunt to his friend and manager Hex Murda being hospitalized following a stroke. A year like that, which could deter anybody off their course, saw Black gather the courage and strength to make it through the “hardest year of his lifeline” in returning to his craft stronger than before.
2. Welcome (Gotta Go) Produced by Black Milk
Slowing things down a bit with production of a darker tone, Black Milk takes some time to introduce newer listeners to his hometown of Detroit. It’s on this track that Black speaks about this progress in the music industry since his start in 2005 with Sound Of The City in becoming one of the D’s new top guns as well as breaking away from the scene in expanding his name and music across the states and the world. Coming after such an energetic intro track, this track’s slow pace brings down the energy gathered and almost average in comparison.
3. Keep Going Produced by Black Milk
Speaking of a reduce in energy following the previous track, “Keep Going” brings things back up to a suitable level with a complex drum pattern that dominates the production. Black tackles the topic of perseverance on this track, speaking about those praying for his downfall who will ultimately be disappointed by the outcome. This track’s production displays one of Black Milk’s strengths as a producer and what sets him apart from others in his ability to produce creative drum patterns and sequences that deviate from the standards heard from so many other producers. While that’s definitely a good thing on this track it comes off as a bit too much in making the track sound a bit disoriented while overshadowing his lyrics at the same time.
4. Oh Girl Featuring AB; Produced by Black Milk
For any music producer coming out of Detroit there will always be comparison to arguably the city and one of Hip-Hop/Rap’s greatest producers J Dilla. In Black Milk’s case his production value has garnered the comparisons with some hailing him as the successor to Jay Dee and it seems as if Black welcomes the comparisons to his mentor. It’s on this track that the comparison become clear as Black utilizes lush supporting elements reminiscent of Dilla behind the hardest drums in the industry. With AB contributing harmonizing vocals in the style of fellow crooner Bilal, Black covers the common topic of relationship pursuit while doing his best to avoid the clichés. With all of the elements meshing well together from the production to the vocals to the lyrics, it comes off as an enjoyable track that some might find relatable to their own expeditions.
5. Deadly Medley Featuring Royce Da 5’9″ & Elzhi; Produced by Black Milk
As the first single for the album Black put his best foot forward with one of the best tracks on the album that stands as a contender for being one of the best tracks of the year. Backed by a rugged guitar melody and matching drums, Black goes for the gusto while bringing along two guests who equally fit the bill. A lot of listeners don’t view Black Milk as being a competent lyricist when compared to his pedigree as a producer, but this track does a lot for changing those views as his verse stands up against two of Detroit’s finest emcees. With Royce Da 5’9″ and Elzhi each contributing spectacular verses it’s difficult to judge who really comes out having the best verse on the track. But honestly when you have three quotable verses of this quality why even judge instead of enjoying them all.
6. Distortion Featuring Melanie Rutherford; Produced by Black Milk
After a monster track in “Deadly Medley”, Black incorporates some production with more of a reggae vibe as he delivers the most retrospective track on the album. The opening track “365” served as a preview of the events that impacted his life throughout the previous year, as he goes into greater detail with his lyrics on “Distortion”. Speaking about his feelings from Hex Murda’s near-fatal stroke hospitalization, his aunt’s passing from her battle with cancer, and the death of his friend Slum Village member Baatin, his lyrics are telling of how ’09 was truly one of the most difficult periods of his life and career. Aside from the production and Melanie Rutherford’s fitting vocals on the chorus, this track’s true strength comes from Black’s honest lyrics in being one of the most revealing songs of his career to date.
7. Over Again Featuring Monica Blaire; Produced by Black Milk
Off such a telling song, this track provides a sense of inspiration from the start with its uplifting production of subtle drums, elegant keys, and vibrant horns. Similar to subject matter of perseverance heard on “Keep Going”, it works much better this time around with the production to match. After hearing about all of the obstacles Black had to overcome this track symbolizes his struggle to push forward through the hardships as he speaks through the scenarios of his own career, cats in the hustle game living the lavish life, and a young girl facing the everyday struggles of being a school dropout with a child on the way.
8. Round Of Applause Produced by Black Milk
Just as “Distortion” incorporated a reggae vibe with its production, Black infuses various elements of Cuban music this time around to a fresh sound. It’s on this track that Black sound determined to deter those listeners questioning his lyrical ability on the mic as a producer/rapper in the industry. While he is impressive with his verses its ultimately the production value that holds the spotlight throughout the track. At the end you’re left realizing Black Milk as one of the premier producers of Hip-Hop/Rap’s new generation more than his lyrical wizardry on the mic.
9. Black And Brown Featuring Danny Brown; Produced by Black Milk
As one of the darker, more suspenseful tracks on the album menacing strings and thunderous drums serve as the backdrop for Black Milk and guest Danny Brown to deliver equally sinister rhymes. The track title serving as a nod to the collaborative tandem works well as a lyrical showcase for the two and their respective verses with a good amount of the remainder highlighting the impressive production. Peep interlude following the track, which is done in similar style to The Madd Rapper interlude heard at the start of The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Kick In The Door”. In a way it kind of shows some people’s mindset thinking the album title was meant to claim this album as the best of 2010 and not truly understanding the meaning behind the title.
10. Warning (Keep Bouncing) Produced by Black Milk
Even though Black Milk reps the Midwest that doesn’t mean he clueless about the surrounding coasts as he infuses some West Coast vibes into this track’s bouncy production. While it’s a commendable tribute to the Left Coast, outside of the chorus the production leaves this song flat. This minimalist production utilized during the verses don’t hold up to the standard that Black has already built up to this point and the lyrics presented only slightly edge out the production which isn’t saying much on this track. While it’s not necessarily a track to skip, as there’s an audience to appreciate it, it’s ultimately the weakest track to be found on the album in terms of its quality compared to the previous songs.
11. Gospel Psychedelic Rock Produced by Black Milk
Continuing with his exploration of various music styles, this production on this track incorporates the genres clearly identified in the song title. Keeping his signature aggressive drums elements of guitar are placed throughout the production with a touch of gospel heard within the chorus. While Black delivers suitable verses over some creative production the track as a whole doesn’t really jump too far out in being spectacular. It works for what it sets out to accomplish in being more an experimental type of track that’s not too far out of Black’s range as a producer.
12. Closed Chapter Featuring Mr. Porter; Produced by Black Milk
In fitting manner Black closes the album with the final chapter of a memorable year detailing how the various events have come to make him a better person and artist. He speaks about how he strives for his music to be just as much of an influence for the next generation of producers as the ones before provided for him. Backed by his signature drums, a mellow guitar riff, and soulful vocals from D12’s own Denaun Porter, the production fits the topic of the track all the way until the end of track as it winds down to a close.
Looking at the overall scope of Album Of The Year, it really plays out like a book after the deeper meaning of the album title is recognized from it meaning on the surface. Of course when you see an album with a title like Album Of The Year it’s natural to immediately assume it’s to make a case of being the best album of that respective year but that’s not where Black Milk was going when he decided on that title. The purpose of the title was to state his purpose of creating an album to summarize the events of his personal life and career over the course of a year’s time. When you’re able to view the album with that intended meaning it’s clear to see that Black Milk accomplished the goals he set forth. With 12 tracks to symbolize the 12 months of a year Black takes the listener on a journey both musically and lyrically covering various stories and topics that all shaped his most difficult year to date. Similar to his previous album Tronic, which saw him take major strides with his production value and lyrical ability, this album saw much of the same with him increasing his skills as an emcee along with expanding his musical palette by incorporating various genres outside of the normal Soul and Funk that’s commonly sampled by Hip-Hop/Rap producers. When comparing Album Of The Year to Tronic, I don’t think either album is better than the other as each album set out to accomplish different things. Where Tronic was focused on displaying and expanding his growth as an artist from just an underground Hip-Hop/Rap figure, AOTY focused more on the content of his music and what was being said lyrically from his personal experiences to produce a more personal album. With Album Of The Year being his fourth album, I think it’s clear to say that Black Milk has moved beyond the scope of solely underground Hip-Hop/Rap and Detroit in establishing himself worldwide as a known figure in Hip-Hop/Rap.