“If it ain’t a headline, it ain’t an issue”. That was the phrase that kept going round and round in my head as I processed the powerful narrative that underlines Black Milk’s sixth album, FEVER.
Black Milk can, within his own right, be called a rap veteran and a premium producer in the same sentence. Holding his head high amongst his Detroit accomplices – Royce da 5’9, Danny Brown and Slum Village to name a few – he’s worked with everyone worth their weight. With a steady catalogue of albums over the years, Milk both as a solo artist and collaboratively, has gained noticeable recognition and praise from critics and peers alike.
Where Milk’s last album in 2014, the purely instrumental ‘If There’s a Hell Below’, was a much darker, grittier album to listen to, FEVER takes a different approach, with a different sound and a different message than what we’ve previously seen and heard. This latest body of work takes on a political standpoint that will make you stop, rewind and re-register what has just been said. In a voice that has never been as loud before, in a world full of mumble rappers and Lil Pump’s, Black Milk puts his stamp on issues through the power of his own music. Milk might not make the headlines, do the right numbers or top the appropriate charts, but for anyone who appreciates a conscious rapper with meaningful lyrics, Black Milk is the man for you.
Jazzy, head-bopping beats, on tracks like ‘Could It Be’, keep you sonically entertained, but the undertones of the racial tension and issues dividing America are at the beating heart of the album. Describing a “black kid dreaming of a fortune” who’s after a piece of the “American pie”, might be a tale we’ve heard many times before, but the jittery raps and chop-changing of the words separate the meaning, reflecting the persistent segregation and nervousness occupying America right now.
‘Laugh Now Cry Later’, the lead single, features the quote referenced in the opening of this review. A question-leading track, that mirrors the political point of the album visually, while tracing it over a smooth, bouncy and experimental production style.
‘Drown’ deep dives into almost daily headlines of police brutality; ‘Laugh Now Cry Later’ leaves us self-pondering the impact of social media; and the drum-focused ‘But I Can Be’ views the choices we can make in life, with one of my favourite alliterative selections of “rap, religion whisky and weed”.
FEVER is cleverly balanced with a strong sonic awareness from an artist who knows how to speak over a sound that isn’t preachy or dated. Acquainting itself as a modern-day rap album, Milk can rap about the state of the current political union, questionable relationships, women or woes, using each track to express himself as the credible rapper.
I had this recurring image of Milk himself taking a seat over the past four years, absorbing all the issues, problems and even positives currently at the top of the news agenda and finally taking his own platform to relay those observations as a freethinking rapper.
Black Milk’s FEVER shares the rough with the smooth, the happy with the sad. Linking up with long-time collaborator Malik Hunter and notable allies Dwele, Chris “Daddy” Dave and Daru Jones, their contributions add the soulful ad libs that heighten the mood. With a voice that is vital and a perspective that is relative to both Hip Hop and today’s world, Black Milk’s FEVER is the only way to follow ‘If There’s a Hell Below’. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another four years to hear what follows FEVER.