When Black Milk dropped his full-length solo debut, Popular Demand, last year, the hip-hop community immediately saddled him with the tag of “next big thing” from Detroit. Even though Milk, born Curtis Cross, considers himself mainly a producer, he cashed in all those expectations on his follow-up, Tronic. Showcasing his burgeoning mic skills over continually solid production, Tronic could signal that 2009 is the year that music listerers will find a lot more Black Milk on their playlists (but hopefully not in the refrigerator).
Who is Black Milk? Black Milk is a producer and MC. I've been doing my thing in the game for eight or nine years, working underground and mainstream, trying to create my life in this music thing. Black Milk is about creating timeless music and forging a path so people can see what I’m about and the place where I’m coming from.
Are you a Detroit rapper? I’m always going to have Detroit in my heart, but right now my job is to get my name out there. Right now, I’m getting known all over. I have fan support pretty much wherever I go, which is where I want to be. There’s only so long you can stay local. The great ones always break out.
You’ve said you chose your name from a list of words on a sheet of paper. Do you remember any of the other words on the paper? I said that, but it wasn’t like I had a list of words and then crossed them off. It was more like me brainstorming with my notebook, which is how I get my ideas. There’s no special meaning behind the name. I liked how it sounded, and I knew that it would get people’s attention. I didn’t want a typical rap name like MC Whatever. People hear that once, and then it’s gone. Are you still happy with your name, or do you envision changing it at some point? I like the attention the name gets and how the name represents me. Black Milk is a nasty thought. You know when you hear the name Black Milk that it’s going to be some nasty, funky stuff. That’s who I am when I’m making music.
How does Tronic fit into your progression as an artist? I’ve shown the growth on my previous records and now I’m stepping up the words to match the beats. I really tried to focus on rhymes on this album, but I also wanted to bring a new sound. Tronic has sounds that you won’t hear on most rap albums. There’s soul, funk and electronic all mixed up in there. I walked down a hallway to see where it went, and it came out real dope.
You have some killer guest shots on Tronic, but you are the dominant presence. Was that a conscious decision? It was definitely a conscious decision. I’d be in the studio putting down rhymes, and the guys in the studio were telling me that I was just as good as the people guesting on my record. Most of the time a producer doesn’t come as good as a normal MC, but I didn’t want a lot of features. Before Tronic came out, people were predicting what appearances would be on the album based on who I’ve been producing and the guests on my last record. It was important for me to show that I could hold down a whole album.
Do you plan to keep it this way on future work? It depends if I decide to drop another solo piece. I’m not in the game to be one of the best lyricists. I want to be one of the best producers out there. It might be 2010 before there’s a new Black Milk solo, so I’ll have to see where I’m at then. If you’re focusing on producing, what artists would you like to work with? If I had it my way, I’d be working with real singers, you know, people from the old school. I would like to get somebody like Stevie Wonder in the studio. Prince would be a dream collaboration. I’m into the musical shit. I want to get those guys in the studio and incorporate them into my sounds. What is your process? How do you compose? I write behind the mic, mostly. Some of it is written down, but mostly the beat comes first. Most times I’m not really writing words; I just get into the beat and find the rhythm and the flow. I’m a style MC like Ludacris or Busta Rhymes. I’m never going to be known solely for my lyrics. It’s always going to be wrapped up in the way I deliver them.
Can you think of a particular time where it happened the opposite way? There are a few rhymes that appear out of nowhere, like when I’m making a beat. It’s just a few lines here and there, and I’ll write them down to keep for later. It happened that way on “Overdose.” There are some lines in there that I had already. The second verse of “Give the Drummer Sum” had been laying around for a couple of weeks, and it ended up fitting right into the song. Do you have any goals as a writer? Most people in the game are going to say they have a goal selling the most records and having a lot of fans. And there ain’t nothing wrong with that. I want to sell records and I love my fans. But my main goal is to make music that has a long shelf life. I want your Black Milk record to be something that you can listen to in five to ten years and it’s still going to sound fresh. You can’t say that about a lot of hip-hop, so that’s why I want control over every bit of my music. It’s takes longer to build a fan base, but the ones I got are hooked. What are some of your other goals? I just want to be creative. Whether it’s in the rap game or doing art for a museum, I want to be interacting with the public. I could be designing clothing or even trying my hand at a little acting. I’m an entertainer. Before I try to do any of these other things, I want to make my mark on the hip-hop game.
What is right about hip-hop right now? It’s easier to get the music to the people. Independent artists have the Internet. For an up-and-coming artist, something like MySpace is the best way to get in the game. Hip-hop fans can listen to the music, and you go instantly from unknown to owning.
What is wrong with hip-hop right now? The main thing that’s wrong is that most of the traditional outlets, like BET and MTV, don’t have a variety of different sounds out there. It’s more they find one hit, and then all you hear is the same formula, the same styles, and the same beats. There should be a place for all kinds of music, not just the current big thing.
What does the near future hold for Black Milk? We’re going to be setting off the official Tronic Tour pretty soon, so look for me coming to your city. I also got a collaboration happening with me, Guilty Simpson and Sean Price called Random Axe. It’s about 80 percent done right now, so I’m working hard to get that out. As a Detroit native, are you happy to see Allen Iverson come to town? I’ve been so busy that I haven’t even had a chance to see him play yet. He can’t be doing that hogging the ball thing he did in Philly. We like to share the wealth here in Detroit. It’s a team concept in this town.