The cover of Black Milk’s Pressure, a promotional mixtape released for free in advance of Popular Demand, the solo label debut from the Detroit beat maker/emcee, shows a different kind of street artist: Black Milk sits curbside, dressed down and looking away from the camera, while a Korg keyboard rests atop a small stack of vinyl. This kind of shot always makes the best hip-hop cover, and I will never, ever grow tired of seeing it. There’s something about the specifics — real records; an actual keyboard. Better yet: The people who put these things in their photos not only value them — they use them, too.
Pressure illustrates that application beautifully. Essentially a greatest-hits-so-far, it tacks on an intro and Popular Demand‘s first single, “Sound the Alarm,” at the beginning. The seventeen tracks that follow are culled from Black Milk’s previous work as a producer: his Sound of the City mixtape, Broken Wax EP and “Sound the Alarm” twelve-inch; Slum Village’s Dirty District mixtape and their albums Trinity, Detroit Deli and Slum Village; B.R. Gunna’s Dirty District, Vol. 2 mixtape (B.R. Gunna is the duo Black Milk formed with Detroit rapper Young RJ); and one-offs with Pharoahe Monch (“Let’s Go”), Phat Kat (“Door”) and Canibus (“Da Facelift”). There’s also the classical piano-tinged “Home of the Greats,” a leftover from the Demand sessions.
Wrapped in a seamless, urgent blend, Pressure is a perfect introduction to Black Milk’s crackling, retro-forward sound, evident in moments like “Danger” and “Hell Naw,” where the sharp smack of a drum kick becomes blinded by the soulful smoothness of a guitar riff or the psychotic notes of a keyboard. The cover wasn’t lying: It’s the beats, stupid.