01 April 2007

BLACK MILK - Popular Demand - 2007 - Album review

BLACK MILK – Popular Demand – 2007 – Album review
HIGHLIGHTS: Sound the Alarm – Play The Keys – Watch ‘Em
SOUNDBITE: You don’t want to get got in Motown…
RATING: 2.5 out of 5

A death here and a semi-retirement there and Black Milk is being lauded as Detroit hip-hop’s new standard-bearer - and what with all the talk about this new LP I was expecting competition for classics like Infernal Affairs or Black On Both Sides. After all, this man’s acquired an impressive reputation for production of (among others) Canibus, Pharoahe Monch and Slum Village - all of whom are fairly good reference points for his sound. It takes little effort to imagine Pharoahe putting out something as good as Sound the Alarm - the second track on this LP. The last time I heard a bassline that stretchy was on Diamond D’s Sally’s Got A One Track Mind but the next time anything striking appears it’s the sparse piano tinkling of Play The Keys over half way through the album - and this is also one of the shortest tracks on at just over a minute and a half. It's followed by Watch ‘Em which heads for the club and stands out enough that things look up – until the next track starts. One problem is that this LP just lacks memorable hooks. There is, for example, nothing to rival the quality of Black Milk’s heavyweight Mr Porter collab. Keep It Live from the recent Broken Wax EP. And while he might spit lyrics like Don’t put me in a box dog/ We do it all - compositional variety is also lacking on Popular Demand and again, Broken Wax has a greater range of material in less than half the space. There is some variance in the breaks but most of the tracks on this LP seemed like an undifferentiated heavily layered sonic blur all at a similar tempo and featuring spirit-sapping use of almost identical wailing female soul-ballad vocal loops and layers of strings which were bearable the first time but made me lose the will to live the thirteenth time, but then - admittedly - it’s not a style of hip-hop I particularly like. The outro to Shut It Down which initially I took to be the start of a new track with it’s guitar and thumping kick drum sounded promising - but no, it was just an outro – and it’s never a good sign on a hip-hop record when something like that sounds like it could have been one of the best tracks. As far as flows go, we’re told Producer rappers get the most criticism/ Till they heard Black now they gonna feel different. Well actually, I never had that much beef with ‘producer rappers’ (apart from Diddy) and the first two that sprang to mind (Diamond D and Kanye) never struck me as being inadequate in either rhymes or vocals. While Black Milk’s delivery and lyrics are ok they’re just not that remarkable. So, sorry mate, I don’t feel a whole lot ‘different’. Ultimately it’s all very competent but it just doesn’t set my world on fire. A claim to be hip-hop’s Jimi Hendrix (which I’m sure I heard at one point) is somewhat previous too - stand-outs are the exception rather than the rule on this album. If you like Slum Village and J Dilla you’ll probably like this too, but I’ll leave you with a quote of something I once read in another review that seems to apply here, “Phew!…reviewing records like this is really tricky. It’s not good, it’s not shit…it’s just average hip-hop.” Out now.
Listen to Black Milk - Popular Demand

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