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Black Milk: 'It's Not Really A Cakewalk'

Back in October, Detroit's Black Milk released his sixth solo album, called If There's A Hell Below. He came to New York and spoke with Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley about trying to impress J Dilla, transforming his music for live shows and always improving. "Each song, I want it to have a purpose," he says. "I feel like I'm making some of the best music. I know it's certain details that I'm looking at, that I know I've grown in, that most people won't even hear."

ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: Black Milk in the house.

BLACK MILK: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

MUHAMMAD: What! Yo, I'm so happy you here, man.

BLACK MILK: Man, I'm happy to be here. My first time.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, first time.

BLACK MILK: So this is dope.

MUHAMMAD: This is the first time we've met.

FRANNIE KELLEY: I can't believe that.

BLACK MILK: Which is crazy.

MUHAMMAD: It is crazy.


MUHAMMAD: I mean, I know we've been in the same spaces, like just near misses --



MUHAMMAD: For several years.

BLACK MILK: And a few friends, a few homies that, you know what I'm saying, know each other. Yeah, we never connected.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, that's crazy.

BLACK MILK: You know what? I actually did, man, I seen you this year. Were you at South by Southwest this year?

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, Frannie and I was there.

BLACK MILK: You know what? I seen you and I think you was going on stage and we kinda just walked right past each other but you was kind of — it was your turn to go DJ so you was kinda in a rush so I didn't want to, like, interrupt.

MUHAMMAD: Was that at the Hiero thing?

BLACK MILK: Yeah, it was at the Hiero thing. I got off stage right before then.

MUHAMMAD: That's right!

BLACK MILK: Yup, yep. That's crazy.

MUHAMMAD: I remember that now.

BLACK MILK: So, yeah, we was that close to meeting, but.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, that was an interesting night only because I was a stand-in DJ for Hiero and it was kinda chilly that night, too, a little bit.

BLACK MILK: It was. Out of nowhere.

MUHAMMAD: Out of nowhere. The crowd was — it was just a different. I don't know.

BLACK MILK: The vibe was — yeah. It was still cool though.

KELLEY: Was that the night that Pete Rock went on before you and he played all of Tribe?

MUHAMMAD: No, that was for the Adrian.

KELLEY: Oh, OK. He was so mad.

BLACK MILK: That's crazy. Man, left you with nothing, huh?

MUHAMMAD: He totally just spaced out until he saw me at the end and was like --

BLACK MILK: Oh, he didn't know you was --

MUHAMMAD: No, he knew that I was like — we had been talking backstage before we went on, but he was just in the moment.

BLACK MILK: Come on, Pete!

MUHAMMAD: Which was pretty — it was cool though.

BLACK MILK: That's funny.

MUHAMMAD: It's funny just meeting you for the first time, man. I didn't realize how tall you were, man.

BLACK MILK: Ah man, everybody always says that, man. That's crazy.

MUHAMMAD: I was like, "Oh!"

BLACK MILK: That's crazy, man. Yeah, that's what — I mean, originally, that's what I was trying. I was on that court, man, before I got into the music thing. So, yeah, I was using the height to my advantage, but you know.

MUHAMMAD: So what happened?

BLACK MILK: Man, the music happened. I fell in love with that and fell out of love with athletics. I was like, "Yo, I'm tired of running these sprints and these suicides up and down the court." You know.

KELLEY: "Let me just hunch over this computer at these turntables for the rest of my life."

BLACK MILK: Right, "Let me hunch over this drum machine and sit here." Right.

MUHAMMAD: So how did your love affair with music begin?

BLACK MILK: I mean, I always had a love for music since a young age, you know what I'm saying, being around it, cause my parents, they were into musically heavily. Especially like — my parents are real religious so it was a lot of gospel playing. And also just being from Detroit, you know, the whole Motown thing, I was hearing a lot of soul, too.

But my passion for wanting to create music and just kind of finding out that I had an ear for music, that didn't come 'til like, man, like junior or senior year, like high school. And I was around a lot of my cousins and older cousins and older friends, they were into music, you know what I'm saying, having they little setup in the basement — turntables, drum machines, whatever — and just being around them. I don't know, I just caught that bug, man, and I was just interested. Once I made my first little beat on one of my cousin's samplers, it was just over from there.

MUHAMMAD: So what was going on in Detroit at that time? Like what year was this?

BLACK MILK: Man, this was around, I think the Hip Hop Shop was still open so this was probably around '97, '98, I want to say. So, yeah, like late '90s, man.

MUHAMMAD: I just want the listeners to get a backdrop of what your space was like. So what was like the hidden — like in all of music, not just hip-hop, at that time for you?

BLACK MILK: What was the hidden what?

MUHAMMAD: What was the stuff? What was the goods? What was the banging joint? What were you checking for?

BLACK MILK: Oh, like music or artists. Man, see that was the thing. I feel like high school — when you're in high school, that's around the time when you kind of get introduced or exposed to artists and music that's not, you know, on the radio all the time or on the TV. That's around the time where you kind of start discovering things outside of the mainstream.

So around that time, that's when I kind of got on like — oh man, I'ma sound crazy. Like around Soundbombing, you know what I'm saying. That's when I started getting onto the Mos Defs and the Kwelis, and even Tribe. So I was kind of — not necessarily late in the game, but, you know, I was born in '83 so I missed --

MUHAMMAD: You were younger.

BLACK MILK: I was younger.


BLACK MILK: Right, right, right, right, right. It's funny cause I say even with the Tribes — man, I know this might sound kind of crazy, but I came in on the Beats, Rhymes and Life,so I loved that album. And, you know, looking back, you see how people kind of say that's not their favorite but I'm like, "I love that album." But yeah, that's kind of when I came in, and after that, man, I just had an interest in wanting to MC and, like I say, make beats and all of that.

MUHAMMAD: What else was going on in your life at that time in Detroit? Because I know you speak about certain things in your music, so you know, I just want to capture that moment a little bit.

BLACK MILK: In Detroit?


BLACK MILK: You know what? That's when I got exposed to Slum Village, too, so my cousins they were real close and good friends with Baatin from the group. So when I first heard Slum, that kind of just blew me away, you know what I'm saying. Dilla beats and just that whole sound. That's what really was like turned my world upside down on a music level.

And that was the time where in Detroit, Eminem was, you know what I'm saying, he was doing his thing and buzzing on the up and coming, just meeting Dre or whatever. And, like I say, Slum, they were on the up and coming or whatever as a group — especially JD at the time. And, yeah man, it was like Detroit music and Detroit's hip-hop scene was growing. You had Royce, you had D12, you had a lot of cats, just a lot of cats doing their thing, man. Phat Kat, I could go on and on.

I was always one of the guys that was like the youngest out of that whole scene, cause I kind of even missed the whole Hip Hop Shop-era, like I came in at the tail end when it was about to close down. So yeah, man, so I was just excited to be around those guys and just be around, you know, music, the sound of music that I loved that I didn't even know existed until I got put up on.

MUHAMMAD: What was the landscape of Detroit outside of music at that time?

BLACK MILK: Outside of music. Man, it was still, it was pretty rough around that time also. It was not like how it is now, but it was still rough, man. It was — the streets of Detroit have been rough for a long time now, you know.

MUHAMMAD: When you say not like it is now, you mean --

BLACK MILK: Right now it's more abandoned, you know.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, I was about to say it's a little desolate.

BLACK MILK: Everybody's left and went to Atlanta or L.A., you know what I'm saying, somewhere else. It was more people, you know. But like I say, the music scene was — it was a dope music scene going on. It was a healthy music scene going on so that kind of kept it vibrant.

MUHAMMAD: Do you want to--? You can jump in.

KELLEY: You're doing good, man. You don't need me.

MUHAMMAD: Because I will keep going and I'm like let me just step aside just a little.

KELLEY: No, no. I guess points at which I was gonna jump in — yeah, I mean, you weren't late. Soundbombingwas '96. But what, that went so far and that introduced so many people and like, I don't know. I've been thinking about it a lot. I was thinking we should do like a whole 20th on Rawkus, which would be 2015, but anyway. Can you describe what it is about that sound that caught your ear? You said you first realized you had an ear for music at that time.

BLACK MILK: Like I say, I don't, it's hard to explain. You really don't know, like I say, at first when you're young, all you know is what they play on the radio and what you see on TV. So once you meet that one high school friend that gives you a tape or a CD of some underground, indie artist or whatever that you — and you hear, and it's just like a whole new sound and you hear something else that just — and one artist just kind of leads you to another and yeah, I don't know what it is about the sound, I just kind of gravitated toward that sound. I know a lot of my other friends, they didn't gravitate towards that sound. They were like, "We don't want to hear this super lyrical or super underground — it sounds too different." You know what I'm saying? It was too weird for 'em, or whatever.

But, yeah, for me, I loved it. I can't really put it into words why though. It was just a feeling, you know. That kind of music has a feeling and, like I could say about Slum, it's a certain soul and it's a certain funk in the music. With Tribe Called Quest, a certain soul, a certain funk in the music and it connected with me, you know, and I don't know why. Maybe because I grew up in a place where soul was — that sound was popular, you know what I'm saying. And like I say, even with growing up around, like, having religious parents and hearing a lot of gospel music, you know, some of those elements, or a lot of those elements, are in hip-hop, in a different kind of way.

KELLEY: Also cold weather.

BLACK MILK: And cold weather. It's very gray in Detroit. So yeah, yeah, that snow.



KELLEY: Go ahead.

MUHAMMAD: There's so many places to go with you. I'm like, you know, you've been at it since what — 2003, '05, something like that?

BLACK MILK: Yeah, well, I started making beats around probably like '98, — around '98, '99. But I didn't really get serious and realize that I wanted it to be like a career, you know, make a career out of it until probably my senior year. I graduated high school in 2001, so that's when I was like man this is all I want to do. I just want to make music, make beats, be in this basement, buying equipment, buying records. That's all I want to do.

MUHAMMAD: What did you think at the time — well this is such an odd question but — because 2001, hip-hop had at that point — it was a huge shift. Like around '95, '96, it was turning but definitely by 2001 it was --

BLACK MILK: It was turned. Yeah, it was turned already, yeah, right.

MUHAMMAD: So you making, coming to this decision of wanting to make a career out of it, what in your mind, what was that?

BLACK MILK: I mean, you know, at first it's just about — like most artists, it's just about kind of just making music that your friends like, you know what I'm saying, that you like. So you don't really think about — well, everybody doesn't think about — some people might think about the money, some people don't. But with me, it was more so of a hobby and just strictly for love. But then, you know, you get to a point where people — when you start seeing your music connecting with, you know, more than just your group of friends and your group of friends telling you and people outside of your group of friends telling you that you have something, that's when you start kind of thinking like, man, OK, I could really make a career out of this. And then you get that one artist from around the way that, "Yo, let me get a beat CD." You know what I'm saying, "You selling beats?" Blah, blah, blah, like that.

So one thing leads to another and it ends up turning into a career from being just a local artist or a local producer and it kind of just starts spreading. Because with me, you know, the same cousin that put me on all this music and let me play on his drum machine and introduced me to all the stuff, he had went on the road with Slum Village and he had a batch of beats of mine. And he was playing some of the beats I guess on the tour bus or whatever — and this is around like I say '01, '02, so this is around the time Dilla left the group so they were looking for like producers, outside production or whatever. And they heard some of my tracks while they was on the road so when they got back to Detroit, they wanted me to come to the studio, bring some beats. Went up there, was already like super fan, so like, man, I'm about to meet my favorite group of all time, you know what I'm saying, so that was already crazy.

And played them some beats and they were working on the album, this album called Trinity at the time. They heard a couple beats they like, you know, sold them, and I end up kind of becoming their in-house producer for like the next three projects after that. So, yeah, me and Slum had a great relationship even though Dilla was still in the picture. He was still coming to the studio. He was dropping a few beats on each album but yeah, me and this other producer named Young RJ, we were, the like I say, in-house producers for Slum at that time.

MUHAMMAD: Were you making music that, like you say, you're thinking about you're making stuff for your friends, but when it comes to Dilla, we all just, you know, give it up to him. Were you making stuff that was like, "Yo, I want to twist Dilla's face up?"

BLACK MILK: I mean, of course. Yeah, that's what you have in mind, like, yo, you think about this person and that person that you have a certain level of respect, of their opinion, their opinion matters when it comes to certain things. When musical things come about, their opinion — like, they have a certain level of understanding the music, so, yeah, yeah, you want to please those people, more than the fans sometimes. You're just trying to — and to this day, I still do that. When I'm making certain tracks I'm like, "I can't wait 'til this person hear this." You know, "I wonder what this person gone say when they check this out."

MUHAMMAD: I mean, considering the position — because Dilla's the foundation of Slum Village — so you're coming in and taking up a, filling up a void, you know, obviously. There has to be a level of musicianship that comes to match it.

BLACK MILK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I didn't know, at the time — that was a lot of pressure for me. And because Dilla was already 10 years ahead of everybody musically, especially when it came to beats. So it was like, "Alright." And then also I was kind of, you know, Dilla was my inspiration, so you heard a lot of his influence in my beats at the time. So it was just — I don't know, it was crazy, man. Slum, like I say, they clearly heard something there that made them want to work with me further.

And once I met him, you know, he came up to the studio a few times and I met him and we kicked it a little bit and he just basically — he heard some of my stuff and he was like, "Yo." Gave me that nod like, "Yeah, you on that path. You doing your thing." You know what I'm saying, like, "Keep doing your thing and you have something there." So after that, I heard him spit over one of my tracks. They did a song called "Reunion" and that was the first time I ever heard Dilla rhyme over one of my beats. And man, that joint, that was just like, you know, I was in heaven. Like, I was good after that. I didn't have to do anything else, you know, at that time, cause Dilla was everything to me.

MUHAMMAD: That's amazing. So you've worked with other people outside of Detroit.

BLACK MILK: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

MUHAMMAD: Can you talk about that?

BLACK MILK: Man, shout out to my man Pharoahe Monch. He was one of those cats, you know, outside of the D that was early on messing with what I was doing on the beats. And shout-out to my man Sean Price, too, you know what I'm saying. He was messing with some of my stuff. I did some work with Lloyd Banks for a minute — a lot of East Coast cats for a minute. So shout-out to Bishop Lamont — I was working with him for a minute. Busta Rhymes, sending him stuff back and forth. Yeah, yeah. My mind kind of goes blank but yeah, yeah, yeah.

KELLEY: I have a list. It's OK.

BLACK MILK: You say you had a list? Yeah, yeah.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, let's go down the list a little bit.


BLACK MILK: Yeah, let's go down that list.

KELLEY: Was Sean Price — he was never on a Soundbombing was he?

BLACK MILK: I don't think so. I don't know.

KELLEY: I don't think he was. I mean, we could start with Pharoahe but Sean Price is the weird — for whatever reason, everybody who works on Microphone Check in any capacity, like our photographer, both of us, our social media guy and our producer — Sean Price is like, we're obsessed with him. We think he's the greatest.

BLACK MILK: Man, Sean Price is awesome. He's a character, man. He's great.

KELLEY: We all want to meet him the most.

BLACK MILK: Crazy guy to work with, man. You know, me, him and my man Guilty Simpson, we have a group, actually, called Random Axe. Being in the studio with that guy, it's comedy.

MUHAMMAD: What's up with Bishop Lamont, man?

BLACK MILK: I ain't talked to Bishop in a little minute, but I think he's working on, or he's just finished up, maybe finished up a new album. So he's been out here doing his thing like dropping mixtapes and more projects, you know, for a minute now. .

MUHAMMAD: I love that album. I still play it when I'm DJing out in clubs. Just when you just want to pull something really gully out.

BLACK MILK: What's that, you talking about Caltroit?

MUHAMMAD: Caltroit album.

BLACK MILK: Yeah, Bishop, man, he actually, like I say, him being from the West Coast, he kind of got me a little shine, you know what I'm saying, amongst the scene out there when we came together and did the Caltroit project. It was just, Detroit artist and Detroit producers working with Cali artists and Cali producers and whatnot. So that was a real dope project and it got a lot of love — way more love than we expected.

MUHAMMAD: How did that come together?

BLACK MILK: Man, I can't even remember how. It might have been at like a show or something or my manager's. I can't even remember how me and Bishop connected off top. That's crazy. My mind's just going blank right now. I can't remember how we connected but we connected and we was in that studio, you know, working hard and it was dope, too, because he kind of introduced — like, he put my music in front of Dre. So that was next level. So that was real cool. That was dope.

MUHAMMAD: So did you record that record in L.A. or in Detroit?

BLACK MILK: Yeah, back and forth. Like I flew — I was in L.A., I spent some time in L.A. and we was recording in studios out there and he spent some time in Detroit and he recorded a little out there so we was back and forth.

MUHAMMAD: So what was it like meeting Dr. Dre?

BLACK MILK: Well, I didn't meet Dre.

MUHAMMAD: You didn't meet him?

BLACK MILK: He played some — and Bishop sent me, it's a track on Caltroit where Dre was, like, shouting out I guess the people that was on the track and he shouted out my name, too. So that was like, "Oh, Dre know who I am." You know what I'm saying, like he knows who I am. I was always sending beats to Bishop, you know, outside, not just for the Caltroit project, so Bishop was always playing — he had a lot of my beats over there, so yeah.

MUHAMMAD: Well, I keep looking forward to a Detox album.

KELLEY: I thought they officially said it's not gonna happen. It's retired.

MUHAMMAD: What? It's not gonna happen? It's retired? Man.

BLACK MILK: At least the name is — that's what I seen. The name was retired. They changed the name at least.

MUHAMMAD: Well, I always thought that, for some — I don't know, maybe it was just a dream of mine that I would get that and see your name on the credits.

BLACK MILK: Yo, you know what? That was a dream of mine. We had the same dream then. That was a dream of mine, too. Hopefully that dream will come true, cause that would be crazy, so.

MUHAMMAD: It's just certain producers that, as a producer it's like, "Yo, it would be really sick if they got together." And you and Dre, you know.

BLACK MILK: Man. I would love to meet that — I mean, I know we, you know, been in like the same space not too far from — you know what I'm saying? Me working with the Caltroit thing when Bishop was on Aftermath. But anything can happen, man.

MUHAMMAD: Can we move a little bit to the new record?

BLACK MILK: The new record.

MUHAMMAD: The new record.

BLACK MILK: New album.

MUHAMMAD: The new album.

KELLEY: You don't want to talk about more people that he's worked with?

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, let's go — I'm sorry, yeah.

KELLEY: Cause we didn't talk about Danny Brown.


BLACK MILK: Oh yeah, yeah! Wel ,you know why I didn't mention Danny, because y'all said not from Detroit. So that's why.

KELLEY: Oh, that's true. That's true.

BLACK MILK: But yeah, yeah, yeah. Danny — the homie, man. So me and Danny — Danny is just a different breed, man. He's just in his own lane, super talented, can't nobody duplicate what Danny does, you know what I'm saying, super creative and you kind of just — it's one of those things where you either hate it or love it. But I love what Danny does as an MC, man, you know, as an artist. He was on one of my projects, on Album of the Year, this album that I put out in 2010 and after that we decided to do like a small EP called Black & Brown.

So we dropped that, you know, just on some underground stuff and people, they rock with it. Like I say, I love working with Danny. Being in the studio with him, he works fast, he gets it done and he just kind of lets you do what you do as a producer. He was like, "Yo I'ma just ..." he laid a lot of vocals over just skeleton beats, rough beats, and I took the vocals back to the studio and just remixed all the vocals and we came with the project. So, yeah, Danny, he's real — and I actually just talked to him a couple weeks ago about possibly doing some more work on the newer stuff he's trying to do.

MUHAMMAD: Of course. I hope so.


MUHAMMAD: We're all big fans of Danny.

BLACK MILK: Danny's ridiculous.

MUHAMMAD: And I remember when I first met — I met Danny through one of our mutual friends, FWMJ.

BLACK MILK: Shout-out to Frank.

MUHAMMAD: I should have brought, I should have worn my shirt today: FWMJ Knows Me.

BLACK MILK: Right, right, right.

MUHAMMAD: But he introduced me to Danny. And speaking of Danny — this was like 2008, '08 or '09 — something like that. And I remember Danny was talking about you and working with you.

BLACK MILK: Yeah. Yeah, man.

MUHAMMAD: Anyone else on the list?

KELLEY: Well, yeah.

BLACK MILK: What you got on that list?

KELLEY: I have Mel, Elzhi and Slaughterhouse. But Mel, I mean — so working with a singer.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, Mel.

BLACK MILK: Yeah, Mel. See Mel is, you know, a lot of people haven't got exposed to Mel yet. That was something, that was one of those projects like when certain artists do they them side projects or them secret projects, pet projects or whatever that's not necessarily supposed to be, they're not trying to put out in a big way. But, yeah, Mel is just, she's a singer from Michigan, Pontiac, Mich., actually. And I always wanted to do a project, you know, like a non-rap project. I always wanted to do a project with a singer. Still have a hip-hop influence but more like soul, funk, kind of R&B twist to it also — alternative R&B twist to it.

So, yeah, that was a project I did with her. The project is called Burning Stones and it was released last year. It was a small EP we did, so you know, people can go check that out. That's still, to this day, one of my favorite projects. It was one of those things where I wanted to test myself as a producer also because I'm so used to working with rappers and I wanted to see if I could take it a step further and arrange vocals and bring in some more musicians and just, you know, just do something totally different than rap. And it came out real dope, man, like I love that project.

MUHAMMAD: I would love to hear more. I think you tease us every — well it seems like the last couple joints where she's on the intro.

BLACK MILK: Oh, yeah, she's always featured somewhere on the project, yeah.

MUHAMMAD: I love the combination of the two of you working together.

BLACK MILK: Yeah, Mel is dope man. Appreciate it. She's actually on the intro for the new album, too. So yeah, yeah, yeah.

MUHAMMAD: So your production style goes beyond just drum machine though.

BLACK MILK: Yes, definitely.

MUHAMMAD: I mean just in terms of what you do.

BLACK MILK: Definitely, definitely man. I did a project — my second album, it was called Tronic and that was released like in 2008 and that was when I start experimenting more with like synths and just you know more electronic stuff in hip-hop and live instrumentation. So ever since that album, I've incorporated, you know, a lot of different elements in my production and into my live show also. I've been rocking' with a band, with the live shows since then too, so, yeah.

MUHAMMAD: I've never seen your show with the band but I saw some YouTube stuff a few years ago and I was like, man, I'm missing out. You look like you're — you spaz out like you're having like a different kind of fun.


MUHAMMAD: Actually, and in seeing you at South by Southwest — which, you know, I understand the setting and all that — but I was like, man.

BLACK MILK: Right. And see I didn't even have the band this year.

MUHAMMAD: I know. That's why I was just — I felt cheated.

BLACK MILK: You know what, that was the first time. And you know what, I didn't have the band because the scheduling was too crazy. My band, we all live in different parts of the — my bassist and my keyboardist, they're in D.C., my drummer's in Detroit, you know what I'm saying. And I'll be all over the place — so we kind of gotta just meet up. We don't even really rehearse. You know, our rehearsals are basically sound check. But, yeah, so for South by Southwest, that was my first time performing without the band in man probably like four or five years. Like, I felt like so crazy up there at first just having me and the DJ. But my set was real short so it really didn't matter too much.

MUHAMMAD: Can you speak to the importance of having a band included in hip-hop? I know it's something that we have seen more and more, like with The Roots and there have been several other groups that at least will go out and perform with a band. But sometimes there's certain, especially like Top 40 artists that do it, it still has such an electronic feel. And from what I saw from you, it wasn't anything electronic. It was what it should be, I think.

BLACK MILK: Yeah. We incorporate, we try to mix up — I mean, at this point it's so many different styles and genres of music that we love that everybody, you know what I'm saying, nobody just like, they like one thing. So I try to incorporate different things, different — all the things I love about music into one show — try to pack it into an hour show — whether it's some up-tempo electronic stuff, whether it's, you know, some soul stuff, you know what I'm saying, whether it's some funk stuff. But of course the core is always gonna be hip-hop.

And I think just me being a producer, I can kind of speak the language with the musicians and kind of have a little bit of, I don't know, I just have experience with being around musicians so I'ma approach a show and arranging a show in a different way versus if I was just an MC that wanted to have a band behind him, you know what I'm saying? Cause some cats make it work, and I've seen some shows where cats didn't make it work that well trying to put a hip-hop band behind him. But, like I say, we've been building this chemistry for so long though, man, like I say I've been rocking with 'em for about five years. So yeah, yeah, we locked in.

MUHAMMAD: It looks like it.

BLACK MILK: Yeah, we locked in.

MUHAMMAD: It just comes across. I'm watching a video, I know I'm missing out but it comes across. Like it's hard to — if you're making that sort of an impression on video than you know being there is just really energetic.

BLACK MILK: Yeah, man. It took a lot of time, a lot of, you know what I'm saying, a lot of shows to get to this point.

MUHAMMAD: Well, it's kind of interesting because I'm wondering when did you find your MC voice, you know, outside of producing? And then to transition that and make it translate on stage because you seem really chill in your tracks.

BLACK MILK: Right, right. Yeah, yeah.

MUHAMMAD: But then the live performance is you're getting another side of you.

BLACK MILK: There's a whole other beast. And that's the thing, too — I want the live show to be a totally different experience than the studio recordings, you know what I'm saying. So some of the songs — it's crazy when I look at some of the people's faces in the audience — cause some of the songs, like half of the songs that we do, sound totally different than what's on records. So you might not even know we're doing that record probably until I do the verse. And sometimes even with that, we might be doing it totally different tempo of what's on the original record.

But, yeah, man, with the live show, I just like to do, give a different experience, you know what I'm saying, than what you would get on the studio recording, so it's a different beast man, the live show. But I love it. You know, I love being on stage and just rocking with the band and going hard for an hour.

MUHAMMAD: Can we talk about your new album?

BLACK MILK: Yeah, yeah, let's do that.

MUHAMMAD: If There's a Hell, is that --

BLACK MILK: If There's a Hell Below.

MUHAMMAD: If There's a Hell Below.

BLACK MILK: Yeah, yeah.

MUHAMMAD: What's up with the title, man?

BLACK MILK: The title, well, everybody knows the — well, not everybody — but most people know the Curtis Mayfield, that's where it was inspired from. But I kind of wanted to use a play on words with the title meaning more so — a lot of the content and subject matter on the album is about growing up in a certain type of environment. My environment, which was Detroit, you know what I'm saying, in the inner city where it's kind of rough, is just not, it's not the, it's not a — how should I put it? It's not really a cakewalk.

KELLEY: There aren't quarter waters everywhere.

BLACK MILK: Right, right, right. So you already looked at the track list I see.

KELLEY: I listened to the album.

BLACK MILK: See, I didn't know. They didn't tell me y'all listened to the album already. But clearly y'all did.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah and I almost, I actually thought about it, I was like, nah this'll be a bad move, cause certain people may not understand, but I almost came in here and brought, like, a daisy or something, a plant to give to you after listening to this album. Cause I was like --

BLACK MILK: Man, it sounded that crazy? OK, OK, OK.

MUHAMMAD: I was like, "Yo, this album is dark, man." Like not — well, it just made me wonder if there was joy in Detroit, and I'm sure there was. Obviously as a child, there are things that you laugh about with your environment.

BLACK MILK: Right. You don't even know you're growing up in the hood when you — you know what I'm saying. When you're younger, it's just your environment. That's all you know. And that was kind of what the title, it meant. You're saying is there any kind of joy or happiness, it was like if there's a hell below, for some people, this is already it, you know, this is a hell for them.

So some of the stories I tell and some of the subject matter on the album is kind of like painting those pictures of this place, you know, that some people might consider hell already and trying to find, like you say, some of that happiness or some of that joy within that hell that they live in. I kind of flip — just playing on words when I made the title. But yeah, so you're gonna get a lot of ups and downs with the album and you're gonna see a lot of, I paint a lot of different pictures. But this album is kind of a continuation of my last album, which was No Poison No Paradise.

MUHAMMAD: I was gonna ask. You know, they seem like twins.

BLACK MILK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was still on that same vibe. Clearly they're coming out back to back. I don't know. Something about the last few years, just my writing has changed, where I've kind of been on this type of thing where just kind of reflecting where I come from and just getting more personal. Because I never really got that personal with my music in the past, you know what I'm saying. So I don't know if it's because I'm getting older and, like I've said in other interviews, I'm getting to a point where I just don't want to rap about rap anymore. Like I kind of want to — each song, I want it to have a purpose. So that's why it's a lot more storytelling and a lot more personal things going on in the music, you know what I'm saying, whether it's some stuff I experienced or just stuff people I know experienced around me.

MUHAMMAD: Can you explain, cause it was really hard for me to make out, what is this mantra that starts "Everyday Was"? There's a chant. It sounds like a chant. I couldn't figure out what it was saying.

BLACK MILK: Yeah, that's — I don't know what it's saying either.

MUHAMMAD: So it is a chant?

BLACK MILK: It was just a chant. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

MUHAMMAD: I was like, "Wow, where we going?" And it was perfect though.

BLACK MILK: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I knew that's what people might feel when they hear it so yeah, I'm glad that you — that's what I was trying to do.

MUHAMMAD: Well, I was like, "Oh, man, where we going." But then the picture that you paint in that story pretty much says it all.


MUHAMMAD: And in line of what's happening in Ferguson or other areas of America and even the world. It's a powerful record, man.

BLACK MILK: And you know what? The album was done before the whole Ferguson thing happened. And when it did happen, I had a few of those thoughts like, "Man, this album is kind of representing all the craziness that's going on right now. It's kind of touching on that." But I didn't really want to use that as like a --

MUHAMMAD: Platform?

BLACK MILK: Yeah, I didn't want to use it as a platform, but I did have those thoughts, like, man I'm kind of touching on some of the things that's actually happening right now.

MUHAMMAD: The line that sticks out to me was, "Grandma live longer than grandson."


MUHAMMAD: And I was just like --


MUHAMMAD: I had to take a moment to really think about, like, this is the time period we're living in, which is — I don't know about the rest of history. It would be interesting to go through history to see it — has mankind ever had a time period where it just seemed like that in abundance as much as it's happening now? But I heard that line and it was a moment.

BLACK MILK: Man, appreciate it man. Thank you. That means a lot for real cause I'm glad when cats when they're hearing it, they're actually like connecting or seeing the vision or feeling the feeling that I'm trying to make them feel. So thank you.

MUHAMMAD: Definitely.

KELLEY: What do you want to make people feel?

BLACK MILK: I want to make 'em feel that energy that I'm feeling, you know what I'm saying, when I'm making the music. Just a certain level of — I guess you can say honesty, cause everything I do comes from the heart so hopefully they feel that energy that this is, you know, I'm not really trying to follow any trends. Everything you're hearing is something that, like I say, is coming straight from the heart. I hope that's what they feel. And clearly I've been able to maintain as an artist all of this time at an independent level so that makes me — that lets me know that I'm doing something right, you know, on some level. So yeah, that makes me feel great.

MUHAMMAD: You saying that made me wonder — because I don't know if this was a rumor or just some words I saw somewhere — that this was gonna be your last MC album.


MUHAMMAD: Is that true?

BLACK MILK: Well not necessarily my last MC album but maybe what I was trying to say is I'ma focus more on — I'ma try to focus more on production after this album. Like I want to really take some time to try to produce for other artists, you know what I'm saying. I feel like I've never had enough time to like focus in on just production for other artists the way I want, to because just being a solo artist and trying to, you know, do your own thing, it's kind of hard. At least it's hard for me personally because I'm so detailed and I like to micromanage everything so it takes more time. But I said, yeah, definitely after this album I want to take the next year or two to just try to get my production out there on to different places. But, nah, I'm not stopping.

MUHAMMAD: I took it like you were done, and I was like, "Why is he stopping after an album like the past two records?" And it just seemed like you're just getting into a groove, you know what I mean, from a writer's perspective.

BLACK MILK: Yeah, definitely.

MUHAMMAD: And I was like why?

BLACK MILK: Definitely.

MUHAMMAD: I mean, people have different reasons for wanting to quit. I was like, "He can't quit here."

BLACK MILK: Nah, I'm not quitting. I mean, I've had those thoughts where like, "Man, OK, I'ma just stop at this album and just be on some straight producing, you know what I'm saying, straight producing tip, man, and that's it." But you know, as an indie artist — I mean, I don't know man. I've been fortunate enough to be able to write and produce and perform. Sometimes I say yo, I'm only doing one thing but I end up just coming back around to — you know what I'm saying. Like, I gotta use all of my talents. So yeah. I'm not gonna stop. I'm not gonna stop.

MUHAMMAD: I mean, after — like, for example "All Mighty," what? Why did you make that song?

BLACK MILK: "All Mighty." See, that was one of those records — you as an artist, you can understand you have those days where you feel like you're on top of the world and everybody gets i,t and then you have those days where you just feel like, "Man, cats ain't paying attention." Or they don't understand. So that was probably one of those days where I felt like, "Man, I'm about to write this record and just kind of vent." You know what I'm saying, about how I'm feeling at this time about being the artist that grinds for so long and, even though has gained a lot of recognition, but still feeling that feeling like you need more. I don't know, it's just one of those personal, those emotions you go through as an artist, man.

MUHAMMAD: It's such an aggressive record. Do you think that part of the journey for you as an independent artist has been solely out of the sound that you've sculpted versus, you know, maybe sculpting something else that's gonna get on radio a little bit more easily and will allow you to maybe — your music to be heard by more people?

BLACK MILK: By the masses? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, of course. I think all artists, no matter what they say or no matter how much they claim they want to keep it real or whatever, whatever, I think all artists have those feelings of like — every artist wants their music and they creations to reach as many people as possible. No matter who you are.

KELLEY: All people do, really.

BLACK MILK: All people do, you know what I'm saying. You want your art to be heard by as many people as you can. But, yeah, with the whole, you know, trying to keep up with whatever trend is going on at the time or doing something that, you know, can appeal to the masses, I know I'm capable of doing that. I know I can do it and I know I can do it in a way where it would still make sense and it wouldn't seem like I'm compromising what people know me for already.

But I kind of just let the music kind of guide me and tell me what to do and if that moment comes, it comes. If that moment never comes where I'm some big multiplatinum artist, then it never comes. I think the main thing is what makes you happy not just as an artist but as a person. So — and once again, going back to me saying me being able to just kind of be my own boss and then move on my own terms and do what I want to do and still be able to travel the world and gain new fans every day, you know what I'm saying, that's a great feeling. That's a great feeling. Because a lot of artists that have major situations can't do that.

MUHAMMAD: And they're not happy.

BLACK MILK: Yeah, they're not happy.

MUHAMMAD: Or they're in this drugged state of thinking they're happy and then five years, eight years, later down the line they really discover they have nothing and they did it for the wrong reasons and they're suffering.

BLACK MILK: Now, don't get me wrong, I've had situations, like major offering situations where being in different offices and major label situations but at the time it didn't make sense for what I was — nah, it's not making sense the direction I'm trying to go in. So, yeah.

MUHAMMAD: If anything did make me feel some happiness in the record, the new album, it was when the music to "Story --" what's it called? "Story of Her?" "Story and Her?"

BLACK MILK: Oh, "Story and Her."

MUHAMMAD: The way it begins. The music is real — it's feel good music.

BLACK MILK: Man, you know what? I had Tribe in mind when I made that beat.


BLACK MILK: Honest to god, man. I had Tribe in mind when I made that beat, man.

MUHAMMAD: It felt good. I was like — I mean, I was smiling. I was like "OK, here's a breather."

BLACK MILK: Here's a breather.

MUHAMMAD: The way it begins and it's just jazzy, it's instrumental, it's up — it felt great, just the music. And then, you know, then the content came and I was like "Wow!"

BLACK MILK: It took that turn. We can't give away the turn though 'til the album come out.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, I'm sorry.

BLACK MILK: We can't give away the turn.

MUHAMMAD: I don't know when we're gonna put this up. But I was like, "Whoa, this is a journey." Yo, it's great to have a song that takes you on a journey because some songs are so formulaic. It's like, you know, the intro then the chorus then the verse then the chorus then the verse and then we out and that's it. And your music has so much movement.

BLACK MILK: Lately that's kind of what I've been on: beat changes for each verse. I don't know man. I'm at that place where kind of like — it gets boring after a while just doing the same formula, you know, verse-hook-verse-hook and the beat, same beat no changing, you know what I'm saying, no changes. But now with arrangements, I want the music to tell a story just as well as the lyrics, you know what I'm saying. So that's what I try to do.

MUHAMMAD: What inspired that song?

BLACK MILK: A little bit of some actual, factual things that happened, and a little bit of you know what, I'm not gonna end it how people might think it might end; let me take a whole nother turn and a whole nother twist with this story. So that's kind of how the story came about. But, yeah, just being in the situation, you know, or situations where you run into people that you know — I don't want to give it away cause I don't know when this is going up. I want people to just hear it. So, yeah. And I might actually do a video for that record cause it's really visual. When you listen to it you kind of see the whole visual in your head.

MUHAMMAD: It was definitely a movie.

BLACK MILK: Man, thank you.

MUHAMMAD: I was like, "Oh, yeah, I saw this movie."

BLACK MILK: Right, right, right.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, I guess I don't want to give it away either, but depending on when this goes up, I was just like, yeah, man, that person might want to lawyer up or something, just cause you never know.

BLACK MILK: Well, the end was a little --

MUHAMMAD: My mind started going beyond, after the song.

BLACK MILK: Beyond the song, right.

MUHAMMAD: Beyond the song I was like, "What really happened? Was it this? Was it --?" You know?

BLACK MILK: Like I say, I don't know why, but these last two or three years those kind of stories, whether it was something that actually happened or something that actually happened but I want to make it have a whole different twist to it on — I've been seeing my lyrics and my songwriting like — I hate to use the word "movies" because I feel like rappers say that a lot like, "It's a movie," but that's kind of how I've been seeing stuff with the music and the beats changing up on the next verse and kind of just creating this vibe or creating this visual, you know what I'm saying, that you can see in your head while you're listening to it. I don't know why I've been on that or what inspired that but that's where I've been creatively.

KELLEY: Man, everybody says it's like a movie and it makes me think that not enough people had access to the tools and the connections to make movies. Like did everybody really want to make movies and just ended up making rap songs?


BLACK MILK: I don't know. I don't know. But you hear that a lot, so yeah.

MUHAMMAD: That's a good point because there's a lot of people who's like, "Yo, I could make a movie." Or, "If I could I would do it like this ..."

KELLEY: I mean, it's visual thinkers.



KELLEY: Putting it into an auditory medium half the time, right?

BLACK MILK: Right, yeah.

KELLEY: I don't know.

BLACK MILK: Yeah, exactly.

KELLEY: I have a few series of questions about the way — if you were to write a job description for the word "producer," what that would be? Because you know there's the idea — people throw that word around a lot, and for most people, especially younger people, that just means, like, beat maker, right, or selector in some way. But when you're talking about working on a project and especially like with Mel, you're talking about, that's, like, executive producer level. And that's a lot of man-hours.

BLACK MILK: Yeah, right.

KELLEY: Right?

BLACK MILK: Right, right.

KELLEY: So is it — I mean, first of all, what are all the things you think you have to get done when you are producing an album, rather than just a song?

BLACK MILK: You have to kind of go — or at least I only can really speak from how I think about things, you know, saying personally. And with me, I'm just a fan of music. With me, I kind of try to create things that I want to hear other people create, sometimes, you know what I'm saying? Like, whatever I feel like is missing, or whatever type of track or energy I'm trying to feel or I feel like I'm not hearing in wherever music is at that period of time, I try to create it.

So, yeah, with the Mel project, I guess at that point in time I felt like, you know, man, I really love funk, I really love soul, but I'm not really hearing anything right now from anyone current that's giving me a project or giving me a piece of art that I love. So let me just go ahead and create it myself. So that's how I kind of go into it.

But to answer your question about what it requires to be a producer, I feel like you have to know how to, basically, create something out of nothing, where you have to know how — to not necessarily just make a beat, you know what I'm saying — you have to know how to get a group of people together and bring out the best in those people, whether it's musicians, whether it's singers, whether it's rappers. I think that's the main thing, just knowing how to take a person, take an artist and seeing what their strengths is and building off of their strengths and creating something great. I think that's the main thing as a producer. At least that's what I try to do.

KELLEY: How did you learn how to do that?

BLACK MILK: I don't know. I just do it. You know, everything is by ear. I have no music training, or, you know, even with music theory, I'm not trained like that. But the people, a lot of the musicians I'm around — I surround myself with people that are trained like that and know music theory very, very well.

MUHAMMAD: It sounds like you know music theory very well, so.

BLACK MILK: Thank you. I appreciate it, man.

MUHAMMAD: I mean, obviously you do.

KELLEY: Right.

BLACK MILK: I mean, you pick up on certain things just by listening, but yeah. But, yeah, man. So, yeah, just trying to surround myself with people that I feel can take my creativity to another level.

KELLEY: So in that definition of a producer, it's a lot more work and it's probably less lucrative than just being a beat maker signed to somebody.

BLACK MILK: Less lucrative? I don't know. I guess it just depends on the situation, you know. It depends on the situation and it depends on the person because I know if I put myself in that position, I know how much work needs to be done. I know how much work and how much stress I'm about to go through, you know, dealing with — depending on what kind of artist I'm dealing with or what kind of standard I'm trying to meet with a particular project. It just depends on the situation; you know, every situation's different.

But I can say with the Mel, even though it was a four-song EP, it was a lot of work. And it was kind of artist development for me and her, because we was working together for about three years just on music and, by the time we reached that point of those last four records, that's when I felt like, you know, we'd locked in and we was kind of at a certain point creatively just as artists that we understood certain things. I'm glad we didn't come out premature and just put something, the first thing we made we put it out, you know.

I felt like I had a certain level of understanding when it came to arranging music, arranging vocals and backgrounds and leads and mixing. And that's another thing, too. Like, right now, my focus is heavy into engineering, outside of the just making a beat, like trying to — everything sonically. I'm really interested in things sonically right now, and just becoming a better engineer. I feel like — that's one piece of advice I give to any producer that's kind of on the up and coming that might ask me like, "Yo, what's something I can work? What's your ...?" I try to let 'em know the main thing I think — or one of the things I wish I could have focused on early on is understanding the sonics and frequency and, you know, engineering side of things, of music. Yeah, you'll definitely have a step ahead of a lot of producers.

MUHAMMAD: Absolutely. You hit on it, and it was the same for my growth and development. It was like, just so used to digging for records, finding 'em, sampling 'em, putting 'em together, sitting with engineer and Bob Power was so instrumental in shaping my, you know, giving me an education of things. But still even being around him it was just like, "OK, he's got that cool --" And it wasn't until later on that it was like, you know, a cello operates in a certain frequency range that it sounds good. It doesn't matter — every instrument or vocals, different types of vocals, they operate, it's mathematic and on the graph of the math, depending on where you land it and how you cut or boost something, it makes it sound better or sweeter.

BLACK MILK: Right, right.

MUHAMMAD: And it's more than just, "Give me more bass. Give me more highs."

BLACK MILK: Or, "Turn it up!"

MUHAMMAD: "Turn it up!" You actually can scope the instruments and then once you figure that out, then you become a better arranger because then you know, "OK, if I bring these violins here or maybe, you know, lift the cello here, cut this other bass out here, because I want to push that sound of that cello a little bit more." It's like — it's another science.

BLACK MILK: Yeah, it's a whole nother different way of thinking, a whole different part of the brain. It's like a whole different ear.

MUHAMMAD: And it's a journey, too, cause now I'm in the same place where I'd rather engineer for a minute, you know, because it helps my arrangement aspect of the producer side, or songwriter side, of who I am.

BLACK MILK: Yeah, understanding textures, all of that, man. That's where my interest is at right now, so I feel you. Definitely.

KELLEY: When you — you talk about your ear a lot. How do you listen?

BLACK MILK: How do I listen?

KELLEY: Yeah, I mean, on a real basic level. When you're digging, when you're looking for samples, for example, are you — do you go to the store or do you stay home?

BLACK MILK: Well, at this point, right now, I do a little bit of both. I go to the store and dig still for vinyl. Or I'm digging online, you know what I'm saying, digging through YouTubes, digging through other websites or whatever. Wherever, any source, I can find those little pieces of magic that I can create something out of, that's — I'm looking there, you know, my ear's locked in there. But how do I listen?

KELLEY: Well, do you do it, like, through the course of your day or do you set aside time?

BLACK MILK: Majority of my day is spent, yeah, trying to find or making music or trying to find music, you know, trying to find — whether it's digging for records or listening for what's current, new artists or whatever. Yeah, a majority of my day is spent working on music in some kind of way, so yeah. But listening — like I don't even really know the exact thing that I listen for. Because, you know, I love so many different styles and different genres that it's more so of when you just hear something and it just catches your ear. It could be anything, it could be something soul or it could be something prog-rock, progressive rock, it's just a certain — I don't know if I'm, if it's a certain key that resonates with me, but I don't know. It's just I hear some things.

KELLEY: I think there is, by the way.

BLACK MILK: You think there is?

KELLEY: I think that everybody does have, like, one chord that actually hits them in a very specific way. I know I have one.

BLACK MILK: I could see that, I could see that.

KELLEY: And maybe it's how our ears are all different.

BLACK MILK: I can see that cause I've — yeah, when I've been around piano players and they play certain — I've kind of noticed that stuff that's around, like in the key of F kind of resonates with me a little bit, so I can see how that --

KELLEY: When it resolves? That feeling?

BLACK MILK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That sounds super nerdy, too, man. Some stuff that's in the key of F.

KELLEY: Whatever.

BLACK MILK: But yeah, I get what you saying. I don't really, like — I just listen, you know, and whatever strikes me, I get into it. So, yeah.

KELLEY: By strikes you, do you mean, like, it feels familiar to you? Or it makes you think differently?

BLACK MILK: It just — if it makes me go woo or just makes me nod my head hard it just, like I say, whatever it is, whether it's something synthetic or whether it's something that's just super — I don't know, whether it's something live instrumentation, whether it's something simple, I don't know. Something hits me. I can't really explain it. It's hard to explain.


BLACK MILK: It's really hard to explain.

KELLEY: I know. We talked to Pete Rock a little while back and we were talking about his "Juicy" remix and how he basically — how did we say this? We said he made a pop song a hip-hop song with that. And he couldn't say exactly why he chose the sounds that he chose to put with that vocal, but we landed on it's the vocabulary of hip-hop, the sounds that he used. Plus his whole, like, dusty thing.


KELLEY: Which I say with utmost respect.

BLACK MILK: That's interesting. No, that's a good thing.

KELLEY: Exactly.

BLACK MILK: That's a good thing. OK cool, cool.

KELLEY: I was watching that thing that you did with Mass Appeal where they blindfold you and you have to go and like --

BLACK MILK: Yeah, find the samples and try to make something out of nothing. Yeah, yeah, that was kind of stressful, too, you know, just especially because — maybe because I was on camera and I didn't want to make anything weak. Like, "Oh, I've gotta make a beat on the spot." And you just don't know what you get. But the beat came out OK, so.

KELLEY: The funniest part was when you had, I don't remember which record it was. I think it wasn't the Christmas one, but you checked the year and you were like, "Oh, this is actually 1975, it might be OK. I thought it was from the '50s." I was like, "What was so bad about the '50s?"

BLACK MILK: There was nothing bad about the '50s. I don't even know why I said that. It was just, you know, I guess you see something that's from the '70s — that's, for me and I know for a lot of people, they look at the '70s as like the best period, the best time of --

KELLEY: To source.

BLACK MILK: Of music, you know what I'm saying? Like that's the golden age of music. So most of the time — I ain't gonna say most of the time — but a lot of the time, pick up an album from the '70s, no matter what genre, man, you could find something on it. At least me, as a beat maker, you can find something on it. So when I seen the '75, I was like "OK." Cause it's a certain style of playing, it's a certain way people played in the '70s, it's a certain way people sung in the '70s. You kind of already know what you're gonna get when you step into the '70s, you know, '70s music.

MUHAMMAD: I wonder what the kids in, like, 2050 gonna think about the 2010, 2012 era.

BLACK MILK: Who knows, man, who knows. Nah, man I'm very interested in what music's gonna sound like in the next five to 10 years. That's my thing, too, like when I — cause certain people might have a certain perception of me, like, "Man, you don't like nothing." Like, "Nah, it's just --"

MUHAMMAD: I don't get that from you.

BLACK MILK: Certain people get that from me, like I just don't like nothing and I only like what I like — or what I make, I should say. But I'm like, I don't really have an opinion either way. I mean, certain things are, you know, that's kind of terrible, but most of the time I don't have an opinion either way. I'm more so interested — I like just to take a step back and look at the time and I like to watch how music and sound has evolved, you know what I'm saying, since then. You know, since the '60s and the '50s all the way up to now, and just, like, watching what moves people and, once again, what resonates with people. And how stuff went from live music and how stuff started — you know, when synths came in and stuff started getting more synthetic and the way mixing changed.

I'm always interested in how stuff evolved, whether it's music or with music or anything. I'm really not a hard critic when it comes to today's music. I'm just like, "Yo, it is what it is." I even look at stuff, you know, weird stuff like tempo changes. You look at how music was like in the early 2000s and I guess you could say like Lil Jon, he was kind of ruling, his sound was ruling that time and the tempo of what was played on the radio. And you look at now and it's kind of crazy how the tempo of today's hip-hop has slowed down.

KELLEY: So slow.

BLACK MILK: Even more, and getting even more stripped down, you know what I'm saying, where it makes the stuff in the early 2000s sound musical. So it's just like, it's kind of — but it's interesting to me. It's kind of crazy just to watch. So I'm really interested to see how stuff is gonna evolve in the next five years. I'm like, man, cats is about to be down to 50 BPMs in a minute. Like, seriously. But it's dope. I like seeing stuff evolve.

KELLEY: How you gonna sell ads set to something that's 50 BPM? That's what I want to know.

BLACK MILK: Ah, man. Who knows? How do you rap over that?

KELLEY: "Buy this camera!"

BLACK MILK: And the verses are getting more choppy. It's crazy man. But, yeah, I like to just see how stuff is changing.

KELLEY: Who's next in Detroit? Who's after you?

BLACK MILK: Who's after me? Like producer or rapper or just artist, period?

KELLEY: Music, period.

BLACK MILK: I don't know. I don't want to — I don't know if I want to use the words "after me," cause it's a lot of just dope artists that's doing their thing right now. You know what? A couple artists that come to mind: he was actually on the road with me last year, it's this artist people should check for, his name is Quelle, Quelle Chris.

KELLEY: He's so good!

BLACK MILK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. He had one of my favorite projects, probably the favorite project that came out last year man, Ghost at the Finish Line.

KELLEY: He's going to pop. I know it. Just waiting.

BLACK MILK: I love Quelle, man. He's always been ridiculous to me as an artist, too, man. So, yeah, man, you should check for him. And it's another, really his partner in crime, he's dope too, this guy named Denmark Vessey.

KELLEY: Agreed.

BLACK MILK: He's ridiculous, too. Another — both of 'em are producers and MCs. I love what they're doing, man. Just super creative dudes creating the kind of hip-hop where, you know, it has a certain level of — it has traditional elements in it, but it's a certain level of, like, quirkiness and just weird s--- in it, too. So yeah, I love what they're doing. People should check for them. They should check for them.

KELLEY: And also not shying away from the electronic, techno, traditional elements of Detroit.

BLACK MILK: Yeah, you know, growing up in Detroit, that's just a part of what you do, cause that's all you hear. That's all we heard in the '90s, you know what I'm saying, and that's interesting, too. I've had a few conversations about — it was a show we had — I actually have a song on the new album titled, called "The New Dance Show." Like, looking back at it now as an adult, man, that's kind of crazy that it was a show that had kids from the ghetto meeting up at this club, you know, and dancing to all this crazy Euro electronic music, Kraftwerk, and all of that stuff. At the time didn't know what that was, but looking back at it, man, that was kind of wild. And knowing that it was really only happening in Detroit — I should say the Midwest, because Chicago was kind of doing it, too. So, yeah, it's kind of interesting to me to look back at that time.

MUHAMMAD: Just to touch on that a little bit, I think it was — I mean, happening here as well.


MUHAMMAD: Because you think about breakdancing and just some of the breaks like Kraftwerk and stuff like that and some of the Euro-pop stuff.


MUHAMMAD: It definitely had an impact.

BLACK MILK: Right. And even from that to turning to techno music and, you know, the Juan Atkins and Cybertron, all of that stuff that happened, how they took what Kraftwerk was doing and just turning it into something else, made it into their own interpretation. But, yeah, hearing all of that stuff back in the '90s and in the '80s, like that's always gonna — I think any artist from Detroit that grew up in that time, they gonna have that element somewhere in their music.

KELLEY: The '90s: back when you could still have your little thing that nobody else knew about.

BLACK MILK: Right, exactly, exactly.

KELLEY: You got anything else?


KELLEY: I feel like you do.

MUHAMMAD: I do. I mean, we can cut this and move this back earlier. But the song "Scum," with Random Axe.

BLACK MILK: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

MUHAMMAD: Hold on, I gotta pull up. The quotable for me was, "Put caps on your overbite." Love that line. Who said that?

BLACK MILK: That was Guilty.

MUHAMMAD: Guilty said that?

BLACK MILK: Yeah that was Guilty. That was Guilty, that was Guilty. Yeah, his verse was, I think he had — he bodied that whole song.


BLACK MILK: Guilty verse was crazy, man.

MUHAMMAD: His verse was crazy.

BLACK MILK: Yeah. I can't even think of his lines right now. But when he sent that back to me, I was kind of like, "Ah, man you bodied my whole album, dawg." I did not even expect him to go that damn hard, but yeah.

KELLEY: Above and beyond?


MUHAMMAD: So who else you have on the record? You have Pete Rock on there, right?

BLACK MILK: Pete Rock, yeah, he came through. That was an honor to work with him, too, cause he's like I say he's top three. He was a big influence on what I'm doing, too, besides Dilla. Him and DJ Premier, so it was cool to finally work with all three of my favorites, now I can say.

So me and Pete been going back and forth like on the last couple, two or three years, just sending beats to one another and just — you know how that go with beat makers. I thought it'd be dope to throw him on something, and he came through and dropped a verse. Him, like you say, Random Axe, Blu from the West Coast. Blu came through, did his thing. Bun B, Bun B too. Yeah, man. Nice little roster.

KELLEY: Is anybody going to come out when you're on the road?

BLACK MILK: Like am I going to bring someone with me?

KELLEY: Or are people going to just show up?

BLACK MILK: What you mean show up?

KELLEY: Like, are you going to Houston?

BLACK MILK: Oh, am I going to — I don't know if I'ma have, we don't have a Houston --

KELLEY: I can't remember.

BLACK MILK: Date right now.


BLACK MILK: But I did go to Houston earlier this year.

KELLEY: I'm saying with the band, would you ever bring up anybody that has guested on a song with you?

BLACK MILK: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, that's definitely happened. That's definitely happened. Especially coming to New York, since I've worked with a number of — you know, Pharoahe's done jumped on stage with me before, Sean P done jumped on stage with me before. Who else? It's funny, what was that, I think that was the Album of the Year release party where Jay Elect popped up on stage, too. He just came out of nowhere at the last minute.

KELLEY: As he does.

BLACK MILK: Yeah, right, right, right. So that's always fun. I don't know if anybody's going to show up tonight at New York at the show. I don't know if I'm gonna — I haven't really called anyone since I've been here, but it's possible. You know, anything can happen out here.

KELLEY: How do you feel about this album at this stage of your career right now? Do you feel like you're in the middle or do you feel like you're closing a chapter? Or what's happening?

BLACK MILK: I feel like I'm making some of the best music of my career, personally, to me, and creatively. I feel like I'm making some of the best music. I know it's certain details that I'm looking at, that I know I've grown in that most people won't even hear, you know what I'm saying, like we mentioned a minute ago about engineering and stuff.

I feel like sonically my music sounds better and feels better than it has. But you know, the fans is always gonna — you know, I kind of let them decide what the best album is or the best work of mine is. That's up to them. I just kind of keep going, you know what I'm saying, and just do what I do. And I know fans are always gonna like — that's the thing about when you first come out, your early work is so raw and a lot of stuff is so spontaneous. It's hard to get that energy back once you've — are like, you know, seven, eight, 10 years deep in the game. It's hard to get that just that energy, that feeling back. So that's kind of where I'm at, too. Trying to figure out how can I create some of that vibe that was there in the beginning, but incorporating it with some of the things that I'm doing now, you know, that I feel have more substance, I guess you could say.

KELLEY: Turning 30. It's kind of a little bit of a bummer.

BLACK MILK: Nah, it ain't no bummer. It's good. I like being 30. 31 now, to be exact, but yeah. Yeah, it's cool.

KELLEY: Well, thank you for coming by now.

BLACK MILK: Man, thank you. Thank you for having me.


BLACK MILK: What's good. Thank you, man, I appreciate it.

MUHAMMAD: Thank you.

BLACK MILK: Thanks for having me, man. That was dope.

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Frannie Kelley is co-host of the Microphone Check podcast with Ali Shaheed Muhammad.
Ali Shaheed Muhammad is a world-renowned producer, songwriter and musician, and a founding member of A Tribe Called Quest, Lucy Pearl and production group The Ummah. He cowrote D'Angelo's "Brown Sugar" and has worked with John Legend, Maxwell, Mint Condition, Angie Stone, Mos Def and Gil Scott-Heron among many others.
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