Emcee pulls strength from adversity in his new album, ?Album of the Year?

Miriam Arghandiwal

Live music in hip-hop is not a new concept, from auto-tune, to the sound of tablas to blending rock records; nowadays, it is hard to find a concept hip-hop has not covered. For 27-year-old producer and emcee Curtis Cross, publicly known as Black Milk, demonstrating that music can still be renovated comes naturally.

The producer, who has been around for nearly a decade, has made a reputable name for himself with four solo albums as well as his work with artists like Slum Village, Phat Kat, Pharaohe Monch, J Dilla, Canibus and Lloyd Banks. Through the years, Cross showcased his ability to sync intonation and vocals to create an organic new sound. This sets Cross’ sound apart from any categorization.

Cross continues to pave his way to becoming a memorable hip-hop pioneer with his new and fourth solo album, “Album of the Year.” The album, he said, serves as a soundtrack to the hardest year of his life, 2009.

His set stage for the soundtrack: his hometown of Detroit. The screenplay: written by himself. The musical score: also produced by himself.

The album has a more experimental sound than his other three albums. Usually, the strong production on his albums overshadows him being an exceptional lyricist, but the maturity of lyrics on this album as he raps about his adversity make them hard to overlook.

“Album of the Year” kicks off with an intro that gives a sneak peek to the things Cross will rap about throughout the album. Among other things, he mentions the death of his aunt and close friend Baatin, a nasty car accident and the sudden stroke of his manager and dear friend, Hex Murda.

Although the album has tracks like “Distortion” that are raw and lyrically fueled with emotions, the 12 tracks are hardly filled with Cross complaining about his hardships or even dark enough to be considered emo songs. Instead the rapper’s tracks are uplifting at times, like in the song “Closed Chapter,” the track lets listeners move past the hardships with Cross himself as if they are part of the story but not making them want to dwell on the pain. Cross’ reality is a reality that hurts and is unfair but he does not let life stop or make excuses, instead it finds strength and moves on.

Poor beat production for underground artists is often excused, due to the fact they do not have the money to acquire high quality mixing. This leaves their flow and lyrical content to be the most prominent aspect of their albums. This does not apply to Cross, as he takes the matter into his own hands and hunts down music from different places whether it be a sample he hears while walking down the street, or an instruments he plays himself to create a beat. His musical ear makes the sound on his album exceed production on albums from even the largest mainstream artists this year.

On tracks like “Gospel Psychedelic Rock,” Cross’ ear for music is evident. He mixes the rock sample with gospel tunes and while the beat itself is enough to listen to alone, his raps cannot be ignored because of how well they flow to the beat. It is as if one could not have existed without the other.

Cross’ ability to make his lyrics flow effortlessly with his beats is because he sees a vision when he hears a beat that certain artists and songwriters cannot, he said in an article on his site blackmilk.biz.

Staying true to his belief that some of the best talent in hip-hop comes out of his hometown, Cross features only Detroit rappers on his album, including Royce da 5’9″ and Elzhi on his track “Deadly Medley.” “Deadly Medley” holds a traditional hip-hop beat and both rappers along with Cross prove his theory to be true by slaying the track with their lyrical skills in a way few rappers could.

The album may not be the album of the year to most, but for anyone who is a hip-hop fan or can appreciate hip-hop, the album deserves nothing less than three plays. Once to listen to production, a second time to for lyrical content and a third to hear how smoothly both are synched.

In another article with Metro Times, Cross said he now understands that people write and create the best music when they go through hardships in their life. He said now that he understands he is moving at a good pace. The producer and emcee can only excel in future projects.

To watch one of Black Milk’s videos follow this link:


Miriam Arghandiwal can be reached at [email protected]