Review Summary: Bout to get that fuckin' chain took.
Black Milk (aka Curtis Cross) always has been a man with a lot to say, many of his songs revolving around his own insecurities, his personal life and the world around him, but he sometimes has a little trouble expressing it. Black Milk’s rap style while merely passable from a technical standpoint serves more appropriately as a vessel for the storytelling involved with his lyrics. While the lyrics on No Poison No Paradise
aren’t anything you haven’t heard before they remain personal and endearing, Black Milk explores many of his insecurities around stardom and questions the impact he has had on the lives of the people around him and why things turn out the way they do.
No Poison No Paradise
serves as a fitting title for this album as the album’s story revolves around Black Milk’s rise as a rap artist. While he feels like he should be more grateful for what he has he can’t help but to feel all the sacrifices and hardships made along the way make the so called ‘paradise life’ all that it isn’t cracked up to be. Without sacrifices and challenges there will be no success, pain is inevitable, is the sort of message to leave this album with, although it isn’t necessarily an uplifting message, Black Milk never promised any sort of happy ending.
While the lyrics are fairly straightforward, the conscious nature of this album is the real highlight. At face value a listener could absorb most of the detail. But the listener is also rewarded for digging deeper into the album, I’m convinced that there are many underlying messages, ideas, a sort of ‘unheard side’ to this album as pretentious as it sounds, it may just be myself over-reaching for meaning but it is hard to resist Black Milk’s endearing story and convincing atmosphere. A large part of my conspiracy theory is derived from the beats; they are the true highlight of the album, featuring an impressive diversity, multiple layers to explore and play a large role in the actual telling of the story.
The beats on this album although made up of a lot of tapping, uncharismatic drums and whirling synths they can only be described as natural. It is odd to call the beats natural on this album because of the sheer diversity found throughout the songs: from the harsh rumbling of the synths on the intro track, to the nostalgic whimsy of Deion’s House and the smoky, moody drift of Monday’s Worst it is difficult to pin-point what exactly makes the album’s flow feel so natural and composed rather than a disjointed mess. To first begin, the ‘narrative’ or the rapping is a very important piece to understand how all the piece of the album come together.
The album’s story is told from multiple time periods, there are three different lines in which the story takes place: from Cross’s childhood, Cross’s life in the hood, and then his presumed present where is depressed and afraid that he has made the right choices he had in life leading him to become a ‘reach for the stars’ rapper. In his childhood the beats are more timid, happy, and friendly, while creepier, shady and irritated in his hood life and bare bones in his current state. So although the sort of mood portrayed can feel disjointed, the overarching theme of contemplation and context of the story help to derive a lot of meaning into the beats.
The beats on this album feel really powerful because they aren’t simply just a backing for the vocals but rather they become part of the story, building along with the songs. The most notable case of instrumental storytelling are through the intense jazzy interludes throughout the album. The most notable case of storytelling through instrumentation is the breakbeat/jazz outro of ‘Perfected On Puritan Avenue’ where all hell breaks loose, simply given the context of its place in the story it hits really hard, Black Milk doesn’t need to describe his life falling apart, you feel
his life falling apart, as exposed further by the songs that follow Perfect on Puritan Avenue taking a much more skeletal tone and sort of shaken sound.
No Poison No Paradise
is a very stubborn album, it forces you to pay close attention to detail and narrative to get the full scope but it also leaves a lot up to the imagination. For all I know half of my theories about this album are completely wrong, but I think that’s okay because this album after all is all about over contemplating things we have no control over.