Black Milk, a.k.a Curtis Eugene Cross, a relatively sister-scene Rapper from Detroit, Michigan, released his fourth EP entitled, “DiVE” back in August of 2019 to all-around positive marks, due to the Album featuring B.M’s newly minted R&B Instrumentalism and lyrical vocal style. Kyle Mullin (Exclaim.ca) considering the Album, “a deep descent into mellow grooves, soothing rhythms and swaying melodies,” touching upon B.M’s eclectic style which caters to the ‘most narrow-minded rap purists’ as well as fans of jazzy, late-night groove, which he calls ‘deep lyricism’.
However, regarding B.M’s lyrical prowess, Aaron McKrell (HipHopDx.com) discerned a critical observation, that being B.M’s ability to epitomize via abstraction, but never once get lost in the dissolution, “His simple sentiments are nonetheless universal truths that remain relevant as ever and stamp DiVE with a sense of timelessness.” This is most evident within each one of his 11 tracks [three are Instrumental, so eight], as he touches upon existential conundrums that are ubiquitous in everyone’s daily experiences, without specifically highlighting any particular set of variables [senza the eighth track Don’t Say].
In the first track entitled Save Yourself, he cogitates upon the internalized struggle to keep one’s mind on any form of long-term gain, ‘Don't get distracted by getting paid and not pay attention,’ whilst in the sixth track entitled Swimm, the axiom ‘Sink or Swim’ is reconstituted as a conflict between downhill inertness and the just-out-of-reach bountiful future, “The outcome of how you live depends on how you start.” For myself, I found that not only did he incorporate R&B sentimentality, but he experimented with what R&B is thought to be in its fundamental state, dipping into Incidental [think elevator music as a comparison] Lo-Fi mixed with Jazz-band suaveness [Save Yourself], only to reemerge two tracks later with what I call a Late-Night Disembodiment aesthetic, complete with ephemeral, synth-ghosts and signature textual declamationism [Relate]. A remarkable level of consistency does occur throughout ever track, that being his textual life corresponding to his musical choices, a feat hardly respected in modern soundscapes with the birth of ‘The Generic’ where, despite thematic differences, music and text seem never really aligned, like a puzzle piece forcibly stuck into an ill-fitting hole. Track five, Blame, juxtaposes the previous sonic environment’s film-noir coolness for an animated beat-driven atmosphere, superimposed with endearing, tonal blossoms, manipulated audio, and spaced-out jazz riffs. Textually, I comprehend No.5 through a paternal lens, as the contents of the track depicts B.M appealing to his listener’s not to give up on love, nor use it as an excuse for lazy behaviour in one’s life. Through lyrics like “Got your guard up, got a wall up, Tryna tear it down, why tear down?” which could be understood in a myriad of ways [one of his linguistic strengths as a ‘rapper,’ a term that doesn’t seem to quantify B.M. as an Artist], he reaches through the music to the listener, inviting them on a journey of self-discovery through his music, a type of sonic therapy via shared wisdom.
That being said, I must point out some glaring structural, and musical, errors that cannot be overlooked, and which have not been addressed by any Critic in the Album’s public life [now 1 year and 2 months]. First off, an idiosyncratic element of the Album is the three, purely Instrumental, tracks included in the second half of the Album, namely Track 7, 9, and 11. Each one is given a name, Dive Pt.2, Out Loud, and Now Begin, but the problem is not the names, nor the Instrumentation alone, but the placement of said Tracks, especially the final, 2-minute ‘mashup’. Because of their position on the album, 7 following a vocal track and 9 following a vocal track with 11 in conclusion, one would have hoped that some overall narrative would have constructed itself, but this didn’t pan out, as the tracks with text, No. 8 [Don’t Say] and No.10 [TYME], although incredibly evocative on their own, lose their impact when preceded and followed by disjunct instrumentalization. The listener quickly forgets the text and its meaning, and becomes absorbed into a new sonic environment, one that is unfortunately completely distinct from the previous one, thus rendering any potential ruminative effects null and void. This is a shame, as No. 8 is one of, if not the most, politically-charged tracks on the Album, discussing matters of police brutality through readily identifiable messaging, “Since days of a youngin, cops ain't gave me one reason to trust 'em. It's not what they say, it's what they don't.”
The following Reggae-Chill Instrumental Track, while itself skillfully constructed, featuring Bass Guitar riffs which are themselves marvelously fluid, almost cheapens the highly-charged thematic nature of the previous track, as if to say, “That was hard. Ok, moving on.” Quickly touching upon the problems with Track 11 [Now Begin], its musical construction is sonically dirty, that is to say too much unrelated musical-content layered together. There is a Space-Age [think the opening of Final Countdown] arpeggiated session, which quickly morphs into Jazz-Fusion which isn’t given adequate time to settle [you’re greeted with a rhythmically consistent pounding ostinato]. However, neither the ‘acoustic spandex’ [synth-organ flourishes], nor the undemanding ‘sonic-Baja hoodie’ [guitar melodicism with punchy bass] are given enough time to stand apart and develop, and instead what happens is an awkward exchange of deconstructed, thematic re-articulations, finishing with almost Album-wrecking drum punches, as if to say, “You’re going to hear the Album and like it.” Overall, Black Milk thrives when he allows his textual consciousness to run wild, but suffers tremendously when he decides to attempt to orchestrate a sonic atmosphere, let alone construct an Album utilizing wordless musical-matter. He’s a talented poet and a masterful lyricist, but can one call him a musical composer? I would refrain from that title as of right now, and hopefully, he has used 2020 to perfect his Music Theory skills to match his command of English.
He’s a rising talent for sure, but this EP is a clear example of a ‘work in progress.’ His lyrics evoke perceptions of an Artist who uses his individual experiences to produce communal experiences via pre-generated soundscapes. But, however exceptional his lyrics are, they are weighed down by three, oddly placed, Instrumental tracks which, because of inadequate placement, not only read as ill-suited but harmful to the EP's overall construction. Black Milk is from Detroit, and thus, I will always be a supporter of Detroit-born Artists no matter their medium. Nevertheless, George Gershwin Black Milk is not and he doesn't have to be, but in order to have Instrumental tracks on any Album, you have to know what you're doing.
Writer: John David Vandevert [Johndavidvandevert.com]