By Justin Cudahy, Column Editor
[Mass Appeal; 2018]
Key Tracks: “But I Can Be”, “Could It Be”, “Laugh Now Cry Later”
Curtis Cross is a record producer first, rapper second. Over the last decade, Cross, AKA Black Milk, has collaborated on numerous projects with guest artists from Danny Brown to D.C.-based live band Nat Turner, as a means of using their vocals to complement his beats, which he felt more comfortable with. Milk’s lyricism and delivery as a rapper have never been the most engaging or smooth, as criticized by people, but the Detroit rapper steps up his game with his latest record, FEVER.
The term “fever” can mean a couple things: a sickness, excitement, a craze, something that conveys the spreading of ideals and values. What was originally going to be an upbeat and cheery album ends up being a mixture of both good and bad. “…all these events occurred, all these social issues, which kind of made me steer in another direction… So, in spite of what I wanted that had me going the opposite way, back into a more dark vibe” said Milk in an interview earlier this week. This is evident straight from the album’s opening track, “unVEil”, which provides political commentary on the current state of affairs in the country. Statements such as “Love is legal why they hating? / Fuck the leader and your leadership” shoots off a clear message and sets up the theme which carries out for the rest of the album.
FEVER’s dark themes clash well with its attempts at optimism, mostly with its light and cheery instrumentals. Milk continues with his experimentation of jazz-infused hip-hop, allowing for a more freeform, almost improvised sound. Hearing Milk discuss race relations over the sounds of trilling sax and bongo is something that sticks with you (“Laugh Now Cry Later”). Isn’t that the goal in the end? This especially works well in the middle of the record during which some interludes take place, especially in the track “DiVE”, which uses a swing style that is both catchy and fun, like something you’d hear in a café or a mall. The album also meshes an electronica sound in some instances, with instances of synth-pop rising in tracks such as “eVE” and “Could It Be”, creating a futuristic vibe that blends well with Milk’s lyrics which discusses his hope for the future.
Black Milk certainly wins the “most improved” award with FEVER. While his delivery may not be the smoothest and will occasionally force awkward lines, this is a great project that serves as both Milk’s best album, as well as the best hip-hop record so far this year.