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Black Milk on Working With Danny Brown and Jack White

Black Milk
Black Milk
http://www.facebook.com/blackmilk

Black Milk (his mom calls him Curtis Cross) isn't much for trends. Getting his start producing beats for Slum Village (which featured J Dilla in its ranks), he embraced eclecticism and shunned mainstream affectations (in a 2008 interview with XXL Magazine he started a campaign "FAT: Fuck Auto-Tune").

Mainstream success has never been much of a goal for Milk.

"Even if I wasn't getting paid to do it, I'd still be making beats," he says. "Of course, sometimes I might make a record or two that has a certain appeal to it, but for the most part I kinda make music for my ears, and luckily enough there's a lot of people who want to make that same kind of sound. I make what feels good to me."

Which isn't to say that people aren't taking notice of his work. Both as a producer and MC, his profile has been rising steadily. And he's not alone -- Danny Brown, his partner on 2011's Black and Brown, has been noticed by both critics and underground heads, thanks in no small part to Black Milk's funky, across-the-map beats and melodic showmanship.

Black Milk talked to Up on the Sun about his Detroit roots, working with Brown, and collaborating with Jack White on a single for Third Man Records.

Black Milk is scheduled to perform, Saturday, March 17, at Chasers in Scottsdale.

Up on the Sun: In addition to MCing, you've done a ton of production work. I've been listening to the record you did with Danny Brown, Black & Brown a lot, both the regular version and the instrumental. How long have you known Danny and how did you come to the decision to make a collaborative record together?

Black Milk: I've known Danny for probably about three or four years now. I was already doing my thing on the hip-hop scene, and Danny was like one of the new up and coming artists in Detroit, kind of making a name for himself, doing shows, and starting to grab everybody's attention on the local scene. I finally got around to checking out his music and really, when I got around to seeing his stage show, it blew me back. I was like, "Damn, this guy's dope. His voice is crazy, and he's got a unique delivery and flow."

When I was working on Artist of the Year, I wanted to feature him on a song. We got in the lab and recorded over a few tracks, and one of them stuck. That was "Black and Brown." The chemistry -- the song and the title turned out so dope -- I was interested in taking it a step further. We finally got time to get into the studio, and he flipped a few verses, and I did my thing. There you have it: Black and Brown.

He's attracting a lot of attention right now -- he was featured in the XXL's Freshman class.

It's real dope that he's getting a lot of coverage right now. He just had the Fader cover also. It's fresh, you know what I'm saying? A lot of people are starting to take notice of what Danny is doing.

It seems to be like folks are starting to search out hip-hop with unique approaches. You draw from a lot of different sounds in your production. Is that just a byproduct of being from Detroit -- a town known for just unique music?

I think that definitely is. Not even conscious of it. There's just an atmosphere -- all the different styles and artists in the city. It's crazy, man. I don't know what's in the air here that makes the fusion come out the way it does. Everybody knows about the Motown days, and then all the way to the electronic scene, and all the way to you know, the underground hip-hop. I'm influenced by all styles of music. Cats can hear the different influences I have, from electronic to funk, to soul, to rock. You can hear different tidbits in all of my production, but at the end of the day Detroit hip-hop still has a certain funk about it, a different movement and swing to the drums. There's a certain bounce to it that people feel --that's the Detroit sound. We experiment with so many styles and sounds in Detroit. You can't put it into words. It's a feeling.

 

Have you noticed people taking notice of the kind of stuff you and Danny are doing, people kind of getting turned off by the mainstream and looking for something deeper?

I mean, for me personally, I could say yeah. It's been happening with me for a long time. That's how I've been able to keep doing my thing, building a broad fan-base. The audience and a following into what I do. A few new crop of artists that have a fresh vibe, that's bubbling up and making a lot of noise in the independent music world. Will everything cross over to the masses, to the mainstream? Who knows? Me personally, that's never been my concern. Even if I wasn't getting paid to do it, I'd still be making beats. Of course, sometimes I might make a record or two that has a certain appeal to it, but for the most part I kinda make music for my ears, and luckily enough there's a lot of people who want to make that same kind of sound. I make what feels good to me.

You recorded with Jack White last year. How did that happen?

His people sent an email over to mine, like "This is Jack, I wanna work with Black." We didn't believe it was him; we looked at the email kinda strange. I think he hit up my manager two or three times before we were like, "I think this really is him." So I went out to Nashville, of course I was like, just blown, like, "How does this guy know who I am?" Even though he's from Detroit too, he's a megastar, you know? A rock star for real. So me and my band all went down to Nashville, went to his studio, and a crazy experience. It was crazy, just kicking it with him. The vibe in his studio is crazy. It felt like a dream. It still feels like that shit was a dream. He was real cool dude, and musically him and I were on the same kind of wave. We all just got in his studio and started jamming out.

It was dope. Probably the most crazy experience of my career. Hopefully we can meet again and do some more work. We performed at Third Man Records, his record store on the third day, and they recorded that to tape. Everything about Jack White is old school, vintage, and that's what he's about. I love that, cause that's what I'm like too. Old school, kind of stuck in my ways. It might take more work, and more time, but the feeling you get from making it with that old school formula just feels different.

Black Milk is scheduled to perform, Saturday, March 17, at Chasers in Scottsdale.

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