[RH Interview] Black Milk Breaks Down The Fever, and The Importance of Truth

For over a decade Black Milk has been an integral part of the Hip Hop scene in Detroit, and the independent scene worldwide. As a producer, emcee, and performer, Black Milk has had a dynamic career, completely changing his style more than a few times while always staying true to himself and to his art. Back in February, he released his 7th entirely self-produced studio album, Fever, which he is currently touring on. Recorded in 2017,  Fever is an intense, emotional album that addresses the tumultuous political and social climate in America since the 2016 election. I called him up to talk about his career, his city, and to ask if he thinks there is a cure to the “fever” that we all have. Read the full interview below.

rubyhornet: How’s the tour going?

Black Milk: It’s going good so far. It’s good to play the new music, hear the new music and see people’s response to it, so it’s been good.

rubyhornet: The outro on laugh now cry later says “He just said the truth will make us free/Question that we have to ask is do people know the truth?” What is the truth that you want to bring to the world?

Black Milk: I don’t know if there’s an actual truth that I’m trying to bring to the world outside of staying true to what I do, who I am and what I believe. You know what I’m saying? Even with this album, I’m giving my own perspective on how I see the world and what’s going on in this day and age, I guess that’s the only way I can put that answer.

rubyhornet: It’s interesting because right now is a time in history when truth is up for debate.

Black Milk: Yeah definitely, even when we all know what the truth is, the powers that be find another way to distort what we already know. So many people are easily swayed into believing nonsense, that’s where the challenge comes in.

rubyhornet: So do you think that people do know the truth?

Black Milk: A lot of people do. Or at least I feel like some people have common sense, or a good intuition, to know when they’re on the right path. It’s a challenge to get the other side to not fall for the trap. It’s like a war that’s been going on for so long. It’s amazing how the people who always fall for the trap can’t see how the world is being pulled over their eyes. A lot of people don’t want information, some people just ignore the truth. It’s a cliché that has been around for a long time, the truth hurts. And it really does hurt and people have to face what the real is.  

rubyhornet: One of the themes on Fever is how people are getting information, and how the culture around that is impacting us. If we look at the last few months in hip hop from Kanye West to the Drake/Pusha T beef, to what happened yesterday with X is this what you’re talking about on “Laugh Now Cry Later”?

Black Milk: Yeah man, I feel like we’re getting to a place where you’re not even conscious that you’re being consumed by being online, on social media. How many hours are you spending on your phone, in front of your screen? So me making a song called “Laugh Now Cry Later” it’s just about putting attention on that topic. It’s also about the emotional rollercoaster that you’re going through that people don’t even realize they’re going through. Feeling all of these different feelings while looking at all these posts. Scrolling through their timeline, stuff making them happy, stuff making them mad, stuff making them sad. You’re going through an emotional rollercoaster every few minutes, every few seconds, and it’s going to be interesting to see how that plays, if it even has an effect on us, years down the line. Especially the younger generation because they were born into this era of social media so it’s going to be really interesting to see how they handle it.

rubyhornet: And you don’t even really have time to process it.

Black Milk: You don’t. You really don’t. There’s so much coming at you that you put your phone down and it all kind of blows through your head and disappears. It’s an interesting thing, and an interesting period of time to be living in.

rubyhornet: You’re an artist that came up on the cusp of two major moments in the rap game, it was right at the end of the old way of doing things, and the very beginning of social media, how did that impact your career?

Black Milk: Coming up online and on social media, the internet is a gift and a curse. Without it who knows if I would have an audience. Who knows how I would have been able to connect to all of those people who listen to my music. If you take the traditional way of getting on, getting a major record deal then they take you through the motions. I don’t know if my music at the time would be considered something that a major label would take on. Luckily enough I had the internet. I came up in the MySpace age so I used Myspace as a tool to get exposure, to get connected to people and put my music out there. It was a snowball effect, over time it just kept building and building. The internet is a tool, but I think over time we’re being used by the tool instead of us using the tool, I think everyone is a victim of it to a degree. It’s kind of not to be caught up in it, it’s just the world we’re in.

rubyhornet: What were your main influences when making Fever?

Black Milk: I was listening to a lot of wavy type stuff, really vibey stuff at the time. I remember I was listening to Tame Impala’s Currents a lot. I was listening to The Internet’s Ego Death a lot too around the time so it put me in a place where I wanted to make something vibey and good, with my own twist of course, and that’s pretty much what I did. Going into the album it was supposed to be a feel good, upbeat album but because of where the world was at at the time and everything that was going on, you know with the election and police and everything, it changed what I was going to talk about, I felt like I had to give my perspective and address certain things that I saw going on. So when the album came out the music was feel good but the lyrical content was kind of heavy.

rubyhornet: So is that what the “Fever” is?

Black Milk: Yeah, it’s about living in a time when it feels like the temperature is high and everyone is on edge. It feels like it could explode at any minute. That’s why I named the album Fever.

rubyhornet: Do you think that there’s a cure to the “Fever” that the world has now?

Black Milk: Hey man, look, I’m not sure. Human nature is an interesting thing, I don’t think it’s anything that you can really cure. I do think that a lot of people are influenced by outside forces. I think that’s the goal. All you can do is influence people’s behavior and if you don’t get a hold on some of that then people will just keep getting crazier and crazier. I think that’s the first part, targeting the different forces that influence the way people think and the way people act, especially when those forces come from a negative space.

rubyhornet: What makes the Detroit sound?

Black Milk: The environment, I think the environment plays a part in the Detroit sound. It’s kind of a gloomy city, it’s always pretty cloudy and grey. I think that affects the music. Years ago when the auto industry began it brought an industrial vibe which is why a lot of the music sounds the way it sounds now. The streets of Detroit, the hood, plays a part in the way that the music sounds. I definitely think the environment has a big part in the sound.

rubyhornet: If you think about the biggest rappers from any other city, they tend to rap about all of the money and materials that they have, but rappers from Detroit don’t really do that. Why do you think it’s like that?

Black Milk: I think the Detroit rappers that are most known are the more lyrical rappers, even though we have street rappers… Most of the time they’re lyrical artists, for the most part the “hip hop” artists don’t brag as much as the street rappers. You have artists like Eminem, Royce da 5’9” and Danny Brown they come from the school that’s more lyrical, but then you have artists like Big Sean who’s a little more materialistic in his rhymes but he comes from a slightly different area. Plus a lot of the artists that are from Detroit still live in Detroit so you don’t want to be throwing that type of stuff in people’s faces that don’t have those material things cause that will put you in a place of danger.

rubyhornet: Even though you don’t live in Detroit anymore you still work with a ton of artists from your city, are there any that we should know about?

Black Milk: Artists from Detroit: Sam Austins, he’s a young artist. He makes real melodic, even kind of poppy, wavy type music which I think is really interesting for a kid that’s coming out of the city. Artists like ZelooperZ, he’s from danny brown’s camp. There’s a lot of artists coming out of the city with all kinds of sounds, all kinds of genres, so it’s kind of hard to give you a list.

rubyhornet: Definitely. I was in Detroit a few weeks ago and I was completely blown away by this group called Video7, have you heard of them?

Black Milk: Yeah, a couple of those guys played on my album. The guitarist, Sasha Kashperko he’s in Video7 and played on the album and keyboardist Ian Fink, he played all the keys on the album. Those two guys are incredible. Video7 is dope.

rubyhornet: What does it do for you creatively to work with a live band?

Black Milk: It just allows me to have a little more freedom in terms of where I can go. I can have a little more spontaneity in the live show. It opens my mind up to more things rather than just being stuck to just a record or a sample. You can be more original and do more things. It allows me to take chord progressions and melodies to a whole new level. I love incorporating live instrumentation into my show.

rubyhornet: How does that work? Do you bring the band a track and say, “This is a skeleton of it, let’s build it out”?

Black Milk: Yeah pretty much. For the most part I’ll bring ideas to them or I’ll hear a melody on a song from back in the day and we’ll build on it and expand on it and try to make something else out of it. That’s basically what it is, just bringing ideas whether it’s a beat or a melody and then we build on it in the studio. It’s bomb man, it makes you want to keep creating.

rubyhornet: I see a lot of Flying Lotus influence in the production on Fever.

Black Milk: That’s crazy. I feel like me and Flying Lotus are kind of cut from the same cloth so I can see how someone could hear similarities in the music, or hear some kind of connection. But with this one, I already mentioned some of the albums I was listening to when I was putting this together, but I wasn’t really listening to very much hip hop I was listening to a lot of indie stuff.

rubyhornet: How do you keep your sound so unique?  I know a lot of artists that don’t listen to other people in their genre when they’re writing and recording an album, do you do that?

Black Milk: Nah, I still listen to what’s going on. Cause when I walk into projects I feel like I always have my own unique perspective or direction in a way that no one else is going to think about going in so I don’t really about being influenced by other projects or other artists that might steer me in a different direction, I kind of always know what I want to do. I’m always listening to the music that’s out there to try to stay aware of what’s going on in modern music. I try to take little things here and there and incorporate it into my sound because you never want to sound dated.

Stephen Kaplan