Catching Up With Black Milk Before His Debut In-Town Performance as A Dallas Resident.
When we first learned that Black Milk had moved to Dallas from his native hometown of Detroit, we were pretty excited. The 30-year-old born Curtis Cross has been in the hip-hop world for a while now, having long gained a deserved reputation as one of the most celebrated emcees and producers in the alternative rap world.
This attention is all deserved: Next month, Black Milk will release No Poison No Paradise, his first album in three years.
In advance of that album's release — and in advance of Black's performance tomorrow night at Club Dada that comes as part of the Central Track-curated Red Bull Sound Select show for September and also doubles as his first in Dallas since moving to town — we caught up with the immensely talented hip-hop head to discuss his new release and how he's been adjusting to his new home in Dallas.
How are things going in your world at the moment?
Good, man, good. Just doing a lot of promo type stuff for the new album. We also just started rehearsing for the tour. Just been busy, man. Trying to make people aware of this new album.
And the album, No Poison No Paradise: It's fully finished, right?
Yeah, it's getting pressed as we speak, and it's actually probably getting shipped over now. It will be on shelves on the 15th. The pre-orders for the physicals went up [Tuesday].
I saw that there's a vinyl option on the pre-order. You seem like the kind of guy who favors the old school. Do you prefer that over digital?
Oh, yeah. I always prefer the physical copy, especially the vinyl. I don't really listen to vinyl that much because I spend more time in the car driving around or whatever, but the physical aspect of an album is just better, being able to hold it in your hand. And with the art design I have for the new album, having the physical gives you a whole new perspective of the whole project because you're able to see the artwork going from the front to the back all the way to the inside. The artwork wraps around the entire project.
On your last album, Album of the Year, you got more personal because of the events going on in your life during that year — hence the title, which was maybe a less boastful name than people realized. What was the driving force for this new album?
With this album, I went into the studio just wanting to make some good records. I didn't have a specific concept at the beginning, but after I recorded about half the album, I kinda started to notice that the songs I was writing could be seen as conceptual — that they could be linked together. They really got into my upbringing, where I grew up and how stuff affects me now as an adult. Instead of putting this album out and promoting it as, “Yo, this is my life story!” or some shit like that, I decided it'd be more interesting if I created a character and let this character tell the story of some of my experiences and some other things I've seen or been around, whether it's experiences from my younger days or if it's experiences from adulthood. When you listen to the album, you get a mixture of a lot of different storytelling from different perspectives, and also, the way the album flows, it's almost like you're in this character's dreams.
Do you think storytelling is something that's missing in hip-hop these days?
It seems like these things are gradually coming back and rap artists are actually starting to take a little more time and making sure the music makes sense and, even if it's not like a literal or bold concept, just making sure it's cohesive whether it's in the production or the lyrics.
You mentioned how the album's gonna be about events that occurred in your childhood, which would be in Detroit. But you've recently made the move Dallas. How's that been for you?
It's been cool. I haven't really been out that much in the Dallas streets or hanging out in the scene, but it's cool. It's a cool vibe out here and there are definitely some dope artists here — visual artists and music artists — I've come across so far. But, really, I spend most of my time in the studio working just like I did in Michigan. Y'know, I didn't really go out that much back home either [laughs]. I spend most of my time in front of my machines recording a lot. As long as I can record, I can be anywhere in the world.
Engadget recently featured the home studio you just kinda mentioned. Can you explain your setup for the people who haven't seen it?
It's pretty simple, man. I left a lot of my gear back home in Detroit. Some of the stuff that's harder to ship. Like, I had this big ass 88-key Fender Rhodes that I wish I could've brought out here with me. So, yeah, I just have my drum machines, my MPC 3000, a couple synth keyboards, about 1,000 records and, mostly, just working off Pro Tools. It's not too much, but luckily enough I've been making music for a while now and, from doing stuff that's real stripped down to recording music with a lot of live instrumentation, it's pretty cool that at this point. I don't need too much to accomplish the stuff I'm hearing in my head at this point in my career.
Did you do all the production on the new album or did you share the role?
I did all the production except one track. There's a track on the album called “Deion's House” where it was a live band from Detroit named Will Sessions. They actually produced that track. It was a sample that I came across, and they replayed the whole sample.
Earlier, you mentioned some visual artists and music artists in Dallas that you like. Anyone in particular?
One of the guys I kick it with or socialize with is DJ Sober. I'm cool with him and he's a really dope, talented DJ. Anytime I get a chance I go out to one of his gigs and just vibe out, I do. Visual artists? Actually, the artist Joonbug did the artwork for the new album. He's incredible with the pen. We linked up and I let him hear the music and told him the concept of the record and he started sending me drafts back and forth, and it just came out wonderful. He's probably one of the easiest people I've ever worked with when it comes to art design. He basically hit the nail on the head one time. Just, boom. That dude's real talented.
Anything else you wanna mention about the new album?
People are gonna see a different side of my artistry that they really haven't seen before in terms of my songwriting and storytelling and being personal here and there. Just a different side of my music.
Black Milk performs Friday, September 20 at Dada, to kicks off his national tour in support of No Poison No Paradise. Tickets are $3 and being distributed on a first-come, first-served basis at the door. Let us know you're coming here. Cover photo by Jonathan Stafford.