Words by William E. Ketchum, III
After paying dues as half of the production duo B.R. Gunna, Black Milk launched into a solo career in the mid-2000s, garnering acclaim as the heir apparent of Detroit hip-hop. With more than a dozen solo and collaborative releases in nearly a decade, Black Milk has become a bridge between Detroit rap’s old guard, lead by Slum Village and production luminary J Dilla, and the city’s promising future, shown by younger acts like Danny Brown. At 31 years old, Black Milk is a made man–and his new album If There’s A Hell Below [Buy it here], which is blessed by cameos from legends like Pete Rock and Bun B, is the latest showcase of his consistent artistic growth while becoming one of Detroit’s greats. To celebrate this week’s release of the album, read below for a list of essential Black Milk tracks. (Note: for the sake of brevity, the list does not include songs that Black Milk has produced for other artists, or songs from his collaborative LPs: The Set Up with Fat Ray, Caltroit with Bishop Lamont, Black and Brown with Danny Brown, and Random Axe.)
“Sound The Alarm”
After two self-released projects, Popular Demand was Black Milk’s official debut with Fat Beats—and with “Sound The Alarm,” he came out swinging. “From the floor to the ceiling, Detroit in the muhfuckin’ building,” Black spits before launching into his opening verse. With booming drums, a manic loop and a guest appearance from Guilty Simpson, Black Milk had officially solidified himself, in many’s eyes, as the heir apparent to the recently deceased J Dilla.
“Action” (feat. Slum Village, Baatin)
The original Slum Village trio had broken up by 2006, but Black Milk reunited all three of them–T3, Elzhi, and former member Baatin–for “Action,” a highlight from his Fat Beats debut Popular Demand. A chipmunk soul sample fuels great verses from each of the Slum Village alumni, while Black Milk’s opening verse establishes himself as Detroit’s new voice to pay attention to before handing off to the three Motor City vets. “Still repping the cause, to put the D on my back like a shirt that I bought,” Black spits. The song serves as a proverbial passing of the torch from Slum Village to Black as the new voice to listen to.