Over the last decade or so Detroit carved out a nice identity for itself among Hip-Hop cities. It’ll never have the history of New York or the aura of Los Angeles, but it’s cultivated a culture that breeds emcees and producers with a distinct sound; a mixture of Motown and steely grit that’s been the city’s lifeblood for many years. Enter producer/emcee Black Milk looking to expand upon his last album, Popular Demand, and follow the footsteps of the likes of J Dilla, Royce Da 5’9”, eLZhi and Guilty Simpson by building his presence on the national radar. With his latest offering, TRONIC, Black broadens his production range while remaining true to his Detroit roots.
On “Long Story Short” he brings listeners up to speed on his journey into the game. Backed by futuristic church organs, muted trumpet and a drum kit, he effectively tells his life story in a succinct four minutes. The beat is minimalist yet layered, and what appears to be feedback will blow out your speakers as the beat segues to next song. On “Bounce,” Black literally bounces from topic to topic as he starts out celebrating making it out of the hood to lamenting the current state of Hip-Hop. The futuristic bounce behind it screams party cut and could still pass for one despite the lyrical content, thanks to the walking bass line. On “Losing Out” he flips Alan Parsons “Let’s Talk About Me” as he and Royce Da 5’9” put on for the city of Detroit. It’s a raucous affair as the two show off their lyrical dexterity and ‘80s flashbacks are sure to ensue.
The production and sequencing on TRONIC is exceptional throughout as Black takes time at the end of each song to segue to the next one. Sure he cuts out 30-45 seconds off of each song, but it goes a long way to show his attention to detail and musical ear. It’s the equivalent of an airplane flight with no turbulence. His flow, on the other hand, needs some refining. He’s always on time to the beat, but it seems he concentrates so much on it he isn’t able to actually ride the beat at times. That may be a result of the timbre of his voice because on songs like “Bond 4 Life” and “Try” he softens his tone and blends with the beat.
Lyrically he’s stepped up his game as well, but when he spits alongside Royce or Pharoahe Monch on “The Matrix,” it goes to show how much he can still improve. Considering the aforementioned emcees, it’s more a matter of time for him if he keeps improving as those two have outshone many an emcee in their day. What Black needs to do is expand his focus outside of days in the D, lyrical prowess, and lamenting the current state of Hip-Hop. Instead of spitting a verse about how he can change Hip-Hop, he should craft a song that makes it happen. He also shows a deft ability for storytelling on “Long Story Short” that isn’t revisited.
TRONIC is a sonic masterpiece full of lush and layered beats that’s held back mainly by Black’s lyrical shortcomings. But at the rate he’s progressing it won’t be long before he puts it all together and is mentioned among the all-stars – underground or mainstream.