Review Summary: Black Milk's 'Tronic' proves the producer is currently one of hip-hop's key artists.
Current trends in hip-hop supposedly point towards the South currently dominating the genre. Lil' Wayne replacing Eminem as the rapper most adored by white fans. T.I. releasing an album with six successful singles that hardly became redundant. Signs are certainly motioning towards the South being in some type of acclaimed "golden age" at the moment. While the assessment has grounds, the opposite opinion also has its validity. Able to be mentioned in the same breath as Eminem, Lil’ Wayne has gorged himself on success and will likely never see the same amount of popularity that he does today. T.I., while releasing a solid record this year, has at the same time given into his pop indulgencies and seems to be transforming into a legitimate Nelly. Pimp C's passing in late 2007 also puts a huge hole into the constantly consistent Southern rappers that have been performing since the early '90s (i.e. Devin the Dude, Scarface, etc.). One could paint the picture that Southern rap is in reality grasping at the straws of its former popularity and has fully lowered itself on the sword of marketability. What does this have to do with Black Milk's 'Tronic'? Direct relations aren't really what can be drawn from this assessment of the current rap game, but what we can understand is that Detroit, with the help of Black Milk and other individuals, has positioned itself to be the next huge rap scene. Black Milk's two most appreciated acts over the past two years has been his work on Phaorahe Monch's 'Desire' and Elzhi's 'The Preface,' both of which were bookmarked by a variety of other work as well as Milk's solo LP 'Popular Demand.' 'Tronic' certainly stacks up against those two releases and his first solo record as a fully realized version of Black Milk's vision. While 'Tronic' may not be the hip-hop classic that its early internet buzz has illustrated it to be, the album has revealed itself to be yet another great rap record featuring the association of one of the best producers currently in the genre.
Keeping with the theme of production, we should first bring up J. Dilla. Dilla is probably the most appreciated hip-hop artist from Detroit and Black Milk, being one of his students, wears the Detroit sound on his sleeve. While 'Popular Demand' and other Black Milk work certainly seemed to full embrace Dilla's sound, 'Tronic' is Milk attempting to reach out for something different. Heavy on the synthetics, 'Tronic' comes off as almost a sophisticated take on Kanye West. The album kicks off with the epic 'Long Story Short' which features Black Milk recounting his stance from unknown MC to the savior of Detroit hip-hop. After the more sentimental intro though, 'Tronic' becomes a very different album revolving on intensely dense beats that feel like a catchier version of Def Jux material. Tracks like 'Overdose' clearly show an electronica influence, relying on a crescendoing beat to build even more intensity into the producer's rhymes. 'Tronic' succeeds in offering a variety of different hip-hop environments, from the extremely poppy 'Without U' to the Phaorahe Monch, Sean Price, and DJ Premier assisted 'The Matrix.' While Black Milk certainly suffers from the same negatives most producers-turned-MCs do, he is able to keep the listener's attention and certainly give the impression that he can actually hold his own on a track with three of the most inventive artists in the hip-hop field.
Perhaps I haven't fully explained the sophistication of 'Tronic.' The album is a cohesive connection between underground and mainstream rap, featuring guests from Royce Da 5'9 to Colin Munroe. Black Milk once again proves he is probably second only to Madlib in terms of producing beats that actually sound like hip-hop should in 2008. All in all, I would be very surprised if any hip-hop album reaches this level of precision this year. Black Milk has simply made a completely unique statement in what is typically a pretty stale genre, and with 'Tronic' he has confirmed his status as one of the best. As ‘Losing Out’ attests, Detroit is hungry, and perhaps the Midwest will finally break out with the success of artists as inventive and interesting as Black Milk.