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Black Milk is a master of beats and rhymes, renowned for his top-flight production, insightful lyrics and thrilling live shows. Far from your typical rap act, he has steadily added new sounds and styles to his repertoire while working with a diverse group of collaborators – from Jack White and Robert Glasper to his own band Nat Turner.
As a producer, Black has held down his hometown of Detroit for over a decade, working with the city’s top talent including Danny Brown and the legendary Slum Village, who gave him his start on their album “The Trinity”. On his own, he’s created a catalogue of solid solo rap albums while also teaming up with Guilty Simpson and the late Sean Price to form the supergroup Random Axe. Grindin’ caught up with the Detroit producer/MC while he was in the middle of his Australia and New Zealand tour.
What are your earliest memories of music?
Earliest memories of music is probably growing up hearing a lot of gospel music as a kid. Parents were heavy in the church.
Who were your influences coming up?
Well for Hip Hop artists it was Tribe, Slum Village, Busta Rhymes, Wu-Tang, The Roots, Jay Z, Nas and as producers go, J Dilla, Preemo, Pete Rock and Timbaland.
What was your first big break as an artist and/or producer?
As a solo artist, I would have to say my first solo album “Popular Demand”, that was my introduction to the world as an artist. My introduction and break through as a producer was probably when I first start working with Slum Village.
What are some of your most memorable moments from when you were making a name for yourself in the Detroit Hip Hop scene?
I mean, just meeting all the local heroes and fellow artists around the city that already had a name for themselves. I just wanted to be a part of the music scene in some way, because I looked up to most of those artists, people like Royce, Slum, Dilla, Em… that’s the most memorable.
When did you realise you could make music as a career?
When I started producing, I saw that producers played a huge part of the song/album process and also was more financially better then the actual rappers, plus I just had a passion for production, that’s all I wanted to do all day and night.
How would you describe the Black Milk sound?
Sample heavy, drum heavy and at times experimental.
What is your studio set up like now compared to when you first started out?
It actually hasn’t changed that much, a couple drum machines, MPC 3000, MPC Touch, a few synths, and records. That was pretty much my set up in the beginning, I started off with the MPC.
As an artist who is 100% independent what have been the pros and cons for you going that route in today’s music industry?
The pros is that you have full control over your message, the cons are it’s very challenging when you are doing everything yourself with only the help of 1 or 2 people, compared to artist that have major backing and have an entire corporation behind them.
You have lived outside of Detroit for a while first in Dallas and now LA. How have you found living in each city and what do you most miss about your hometown?
I love Detroit still, I haven’t been able to find the same type of creative energy I get from Detroit anywhere else. I’m in LA now more for the opportunities that you are presented with when you live there. If you are in any form of entertainment, I think you will always benefit from spending a lot of time in places like NYC or LA. A lot of opportunities immediately started coming my way once I touched down in LA, that’s where the industry is.
For those unfamiliar what 5 tracks/albums best represent Hip Hop from Detroit?
1. Phat Kat “Don’t Nobody Care About Us”
2. Blade IceWood “Come Roll”
3. Slum Village “Get Dis Money”
4. Danny Brown “The Hybrid” Album
5. J Dilla “Welcome To Detroit” Album
If you had to choose out of being a MC or producer what would you do and why?
Producer easily, I have more of a passion for production, beats, digging for records, creating sounds. I spend most of my days doing that more then rapping.
What one MC would you most like to hear over one of your beats and which producers beat would you most like to rhyme over?
I like MC’s with dope voices, so it would be cool to hear someone like Prodigy, Q Tip or Nas over one of my tracks. ProducerS I respect that have production I wouldn’t mind rapping over would probably be someone like Nottz, Karriem Riggins or Kaytranada, producers like that.
What one thing does Hip Hop need right now?
It always needs balance, a way for all different kinds of artist to shine and be exposed to the masses, I think we’re getting there.
What advice would you give to up and coming artists/producers?
Be yourself, find your own voice and then work on perfecting your voice and individuality as an artist.
What can the Australian and New Zealand audiences expect from a Black Milk show on this tour run?
A lot of unheard original production being played on top of me performing music from my albums.
What does the future hold for Black Milk?
I hope more exposure and more music that’s influential and impactful to a new generation of artist.
What’s your definition of Grindin’?
Working hard, being relentless, taking no days off until you achieve your goals
Interview by Duggs.