Black Milk On Creating ‘Fever’, Questioning Truths and Chasing Feelings
Black Milk prefers reality rap. Cruise through his latest album, Fever, and the Detroit native paints a collage of his thoughts that weave in astute observations about human behavior, social media, police brutality, religion and relationships.
Despite the raw honesty and sharp ear he lends to his work, the rapper, songwriter and producer (born Curtis Cross) also confesses to being his own worst critic. Especially when the goal with each project is to capture what he describes as the “ultimate feeling,” or an adequate representation of the sounds floating in his mind.
Before hopping in the driver’s seat for an episode of Car Test with Elliott Wilson, Black Milk rolled through the TIDAL HQ for an insightful conversation on life, love and the pursuit of musical happiness.
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How has the political climate and everything going on in the music industry affected what you write and speak about in your music?
At this age and at this point in my career, I kind of look at it like any real artist does. Any real artist should be able to address what’s going on in the world, in their life at the time, versus just rapping about rap. It’s hard for me to just make music for the sake of making music or just writing raps for the sake of writing raps. That’s kind of where all these topics of discussion on the album come from — just me watching what’s going on and being aware of social issues and current events.
What were some of the like changes that you were going through personally?
As you get older and see all these different things happening, you try to find your place in it all and try to find a way like how do I do my part to make people aware of certain things or be a part of a certain cause in a positive way? The album is kind of based around me, personally trying to figure out what role do I play in all these different issues. You want to have some kind of positive impact on people’s lives.
Where did the title Fever come from?
Fever came from looking at the climate that we’re in kind of saying that the current temperature is high and everybody’s on edge with all the things that’s going on, not just in the country but in the world. Fever was a simple, bold title for the album, and plus, I just like the way it looked. I address the things that’s been happening for the last two to three years — police brutality to just observing how we react to social media, anything that’s been a topic of discussion the past few years. I try to figure out a way to write my perspective and my observation on it.
This is your seventh proper album. How do you continue to make sure that your creative process evolves as an artist?
I think by just listening to other art and what’s going on in modern music and staying inspired by art and music that came before me that inspired me. I was listening to a lot of the Internet’s album Ego Death. Like a lot of metal vibe-type like Tame Impala’s Currents and Anderson .Paak’s album [Malibu]. The musicality is pretty high. I love seeing Kendrick [Lamar] do his thing [as well] because he represents artists like me, and it gives not like necessarily hope for myself, but hope that more artists that’s on our side of the fence. It shows that people will fuck with that type of music if they’re exposed to it.
Who is the Black Milk listener to you?
I try to keep everyone in mind. On the writing side, I try to write almost like in a way where it’s still kind of witty because I know a lot of hardcore hip-hop fans is going to be listening, so I have to have a certain level of wit. At the same time, I try to find a medium where the average person on the street who is not as music-savvy can hear it and still get the message I’m trying to get across. In terms of production, I try to push the envelope. I’m aware of what’s going on in the current state of music, so I try to take little elements that I like and make it into my own.
Would you say Fever is providing an escape for people from the harsh realities that are going on right now?
I think music in general provides an escape for the average person who may not have the best life or has that 9-to-5 that they hate, co-workers that they hate. Even for me being an artist and I do it every day. Listening to other artists takes you to another place. From the response I’ve been seeing to comments on social media, I feel like that’s what they’re getting from [the album]. That’s the weird thing about me as an artist. I feel like I’ve gained so many new fans with each album. It’s like a real slow grow, but it’s cool.
Break down the significance behind the songs “Could It Be,” “2 Would Try” with Dwele and “True Lies.”
“Could It Be” is more like a reflection of me stepping outside of myself and writing a song about pursuing this particular dream. I say in a rhyme like “From the back porch back then, dreams of a stacked fortune, black kid with dreams by any means, sees himself holding keys to a black Porsche, product of the environment that he’s forced in.” I’m looking at myself from outside of myself at a young age and all of the dreams that I had, and kind of getting to this point and still trying to reach certain goals. It all represents a never-ending journey in terms of trying to get to those goals and dreams.
You think young Curtis is proud of you now?
[Laughs] Yeah, because young Curtis didn’t ever want to ever work a real 9-to-5. I love art, but the ultimate goal is to move on your own terms and be on your own wave. I made him proud.
With “2 Would Try,” I felt like I just needed some love and relationship shit on the album. It’s funny because I was going to write a different concept to that record, but it was too late to go back and rewrite a whole new record to that track. I was like damn, I should have wrote this record of a relationship from this perspective but I don’t want to give that away because I’ma save it for the next one.
“True Lies” was [a song where] I address education, religion and even what you’re told. What people tell you like when you grow up in a certain kind of environment in terms of like the urban community, the hood and what you think of the perceptions that’s put upon you, like what should matter to you in life. It’s like true lies in terms of the stuff we’d been taught from a young age, the education system, like what’s real, what’s not, stuff we’ve been taught growing up in a religious household, getting older and then coming into your own and looking back, trying to figure it out. Stuff that you’re taught in the street, in certain communities, from older people, OGs, whatever you want to consider them, these things have passed down to you, things that they tell you you should care about or things that should matter to you at a young age. You get caught up in a certain thing or certain lifestyle, and sometimes, it can become too late when you get older, depending on how you move. That’s kind of what that song was about, trying to take snapshots of all the little things that a lot of us have been taught …. and it being moreso about tradition than truth.
Was there ever an overlap in the faith-based teachings that your family put on you versus things that you learned growing up in the streets?
I just kind of always have been really observant and wanted to play the back of the room and just watch everybody else. I knew how to, I guess, maneuver or move in a way where a lot of my friends were into shit that I didn’t necessarily want to be a part of or I just knew it wasn’t a positive end result if I was a part of it, but I still knew how to kick it and have friends. There wasn’t peer pressure. In terms of the religious side of it, going to church every Sunday, every Wednesday, two, three times a week, I was able to sit there and observe. I just questioned everything. Then, I got to a point where some of my cousins were Hotep-type motherfuckers [laughs]. So once I started coming across all this different information about different things, it definitely opened my mind up to make me want to believe nothing, question everything, and that’s how I’ve always been since.
Are you still hungry as an artist? What fuels your passion these days versus when you first came out?
Being my own worst critic, I think that’s what fuels me. Even with all of the positive feedback that I get, not just this project, just music I’ve put out from time to time, it’s like I’m never satisfied. I love my work. I love what I do. I love the album. I think the album came out great, and I did what I needed to do but I hear stuff in my head like I could tweak this or how can I add something like this, these colors?
I don’t necessarily look at myself as a perfectionist but I’m trying to capture the ultimate feeling. I don’t even know how to explain it. Just a mental thing that I go through. I know a lot of other artists go through it. It’s like always chasing this thing you might not ever capture or grasp so I think that keeps me fueled, just being a music lover and enjoying seeing people having a feeling and being happy when they do get something that’s different from the status quo. I feel like that’s what my album kind of provides — something that’s kind of a curveball, something that’s a little left, something that’s not in the box. People know they’re always gonna get that from me.
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