Why I Cannot Properly Review Black Milk’s ‘Tronic’

Black_MIlk-AlbumCover.jpgTronic is so bloody fantastic it’s frustrating. When you’ve spent most of the last couple of years trying to convince people how dope Black Milk is and they respond with this hard-headed refusal to give dude a chance, it makes you feel like all your hard work is for naught. The typical, mindless drone of a “Hip Hop fan” will quickly ask “Who is that?” like, “I haven’t heard of him so he must not be dope.” Then you respond with a rundown of some of his work. You note that he’s blessed artists like Slum Village, Canibus, Strange Fruit Project, and GZA and they declare, “Oh he’s on that conscious sh*t!”

Well, no. And that’s the problem with people that are sleeping and why my fury will not allow me to review this album like a professional. Labels cannot apply here, especially “conscious” when used in the perjorative. Seriously, the climate is so pathethic that the artist himself (who has been in the game long enough not to give a damn) is practically doing backflips that his single was played on Hot 97. A “Hip Hop” station.

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The real irony here is that, like his more widely-regarded counterpart, Milk has gone from fortifying his beats with chunky Soul loops to something more electronic. The album, at times, evokes a gutter arcade game from the ’80s with lazers, robots, and triumphant rock star music. There is the occasional digitized vocal (“Give The Drummer Sum” fits Milk with the Quasimoto effect), but never once does it rely on a particular overused vocal enhancement that has become a vulgarity around here. The progression from Popular Demand to Tronic feels organic, not jarring. You don’t get a sense that the artist went “I’m going to try something different” only to [1] not try hard enough, or [2] step so far outside of his lane that you think he’s sniffing glue.

That he is almost universally regarded as J Dilla‘s heir apparent is not up for debate. There was no passing of the torch, no knighting, and Milk never evokes “Jazzy” Dilla. If Dilla was still alive, they could exist in the same time and space and remain distinct. But there are moments on Tronic where it feels like the spirit of James Yancey is reaching through the speakers. “Bounce” recalls the rubbery, throbbing base of “Ya’ll Ain’t Ready” from Welcome to Detroit, and “Bond 4 Life” could’ve easily fit on Slum Village‘s Fantastic Vol. 2. “Hold It Down” is “Trucks” all over again. Maybe it’s a Detroit thing, or maybe I’m reaching. Either way, I’m not bothered by the unintentional (?) homage.

Black Milk’s flow is even more succinct here, the vocals feeling less like a supplement to the beats than the other way around. You get a sense that when he’s rapping, it’s done with a self-satisfied smirk bordering on a laugh. The level of confidence, fun and melody that comes from the vocals almost merits its own album. He is 25, establishing his game at the speed of light, and having the time of his life. The braggadocio is about skills and that’s the way it should be–not about prison bids, pushing ki’s or shooting people. Any rapper that tries to convince us he can’t go hard without invoking that nonsense is either a damn lie or basically lazy.

He goes after the establishment here and there; the fact that so many are asleep allows him to do this with impunity. On the aforementioned “Bounce” he asks where the game went over the past year, and while underground fans say “nowhere,” record execs are looking for a “new dance like the Running Man.” He explores similar territory on “Try,” and it never comes off as bitching about the industry as much as it seems he’s positing the reality of things, accepting it, and confidently moving forward with his own grind. 

While he has plenty to bitch about, there’s probably more that he’s thankful for, and all of that is channelled into gifting us with one of the most straight-forward Hip Hop albums I’ve heard all year. There are killer beats that make you do everything from nod your head to fight-dance, lyrics that aren’t riddled with unnecessary metaphors and lessons, and enough sh*t-talk and conversational humor to make you feel like you’re playing cards or video games with a best friend. Sometimes, that’s all we want as fans. Every album does not need to be contextualized with a label like “conscious” or “coke rap” or “commercial” (he addressed this in Popular Demand’s opening: “We do it all.”) in order to find its way to the fans. This will probably be the album’s undoing with the masses, since “Dope” will never count as a proper sub-genre.

Black Milk [Myspace]
Tronic [Amazon] [Itunes]


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