If you saw Black Milk in Toronto Tuesday, you witnessed one of the dopest Detroit artists–past, present and future–play out his darkest fantasies on stage. Playing songs from his fifth album, No Poison No Paradise, Milk orchestrated a cataclysm of sound, including his latest video single, “Sunday’s Best/Monday’s Worst,” and crowd faves “Losing Out” and “Deadly Medley.” Commanding the stage in saggy burgundy chinos and a patterned shirt, Milk spit it raw, and orchestrated his band like a maestro; the keyboardist and guitarist played musical chairs reinterpreting Milky’s beats. The roughly 55-minute set bore traces of EDM, R&B, Soul, and even Motown, but was most definitely hip-hop.
After the show, Milk sat down with RESPECT. to talk about his new album, the future of hip-hop in Detroit, and how he’s matured artistically.
What tracks did you play tonight from No Poison No Paradise?
We did “Dismal” tonight. That’s probably my favorite record on the album, just because it doesn’t sound like anything I’ve done in the past on previous albums. We did “Perfected on Puritan Ave.,” which is a storytelling type of record. I did a little bit of this other song I have with Black Thought called “Codes and Cab Fare.” I did that towards the end of the show. We mixed it up. Some new stuff, some old stuff.
What songs typically get the strongest response from the crowd?
“Deadly Medley.” That always gets a big reaction. That’s a fan favorite. “Losing Out” is a fan favorite. “So Gone” is a fan favorite. I always do those records. Those records are always going to be a part of my set.
What’s different about “Dismal”?
Just the beat, the production is different than what I’ve done in the past. It’s kind of eerie, really dark. That’s the thing about this album, it’s a little darker than my previous albums.
Would you call No Poison No Paradise a concept album?
It’s got its conceptual moments. This time around I wanted to do something different than my previous projects. The production pushed me into a storytelling vibe. The first few songs I did, when I listened back to them, I noticed they were already telling a story by themselves, without me putting lyrics on them. I built off those three or four songs for the rest of the album.
I created this character where I’m telling my own personal stories, stuff I saw when I was younger, stuff I’ve been through as an adult, as well as other people’s stories, people I grew up with.
Sonny. He’s in a dream state. He’s seeing these different things from his younger years and his adult life. He’s seeing all these moments in his dream state. That’s why the art design for the project feels dreamy and psychedelic. That’s the state of mind he was in.
I end the album with this song called “Poison,” where Sonny’s awakened out of the dream, trying to figure out what it all meant, like, “What did all those visions and dreams mean?”
I didn’t want to make the album too literal–so conceptual that it was too literal. I wanted it so that if you weren’t paying attention you could still enjoy the album. And if you were paying attention, and figured out that all the songs are connected, then the album means that much more to you.
What inspired “Sunday’s Best/Monday’s Worst”?
Those were the first two records I recorded for the album. For “Sunday’s Best,” the beat has this gospel sample in it, so I felt it was only right to talk about growing up with religious parents, because that was a big part of my upbringing.
On “Monday’s Worst” I flipped it–the good kid gone bad. Some of this stuff I’ve been through growing up in the Detroit streets, other stuff I drew from stories my friends told me growing up. I built the rest of the album off of those two records.
It sounds like you’re exploring new territory.
I think me getting older, you naturally grow and think different, just do things different when you get older, as an adult. I see it affecting my music, to a point where this album, I feel like I have more control, more poise. Even my tone of voice is different when I deliver my rhymes over certain beats. I don’t know if it has something to do with me getting older, or all the experiences I’ve been through doing music. Now I’m at a point where I don’t have nothing to prove. I’m at a point where I’m mastering what I do, and what I’ve done in the past.
You can see it with your live show, the orchestration.
Definitely, man. That comes from being on stage a lot, being on the road, building the chemistry with the band over the years. I’ve been rocking with the band for four years now. It’s just time, a lot of practice.
Do you think the band’s showing off?
I mean, they might be a little bit at times [laughs]. They definitely might show off at times. I feel like we have one of the best hip-hop shows. We try to mix it up, with rock elements, punk rock elements, electronic elements, R&B and soul elements, and of course hip-hop. We try to mix it up and still make it cohesive. Have a nice flow to the show.
What’s your favorite Detroit record of the year?
It hasn’t even come out yet. The guy that opened for me tonight, Quelle Chris, he has a new album coming out on the 29th called Ghost At The Finish Line.
Did you take in the Danny Brown project, Old?
Definitely, I mess with Danny’s project. My favorite record on the album is this one Oh No produced called “Torture.”
Juicy J, Chance the Rapper. The Stay Trippy album–that album bananas.
I think the future is going to be pretty bright. Who do you have, man? You have cats like Clear Soul Forces, this young group of guys from Detroit. They’re like early twenties. They have the traditional hip-hop elements with a young energy, so it sounds fresh. I mess with those guys heavy.
We’re in Toronto right now, on College Street. What do you think of Toronto?
This is my 5th, 6th time in Toronto. I’ve been coming to Toronto since my first album, which dropped in like 2007. I’ve been coming here a lot. This is definitely one of my biggest markets when it comes to live performances.
Do you ever get out of the hotel and away from the venue?
Sometimes I get to kick it, every now and again. Unfortunately we didn’t get to this time. I try to record shop when I get out here, because there’s some dope vinyl spots I like to hit, especially Cosmos. If I have time in TDot, I dig for records.
Purchase Black Milk’s No Poison No Paradise via iTunes.
Photographs (other than featured) by Toni Morgan.
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