Music

Detroit Producer Black Milk’s Top Ten Albums of the Last Decade

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“I don’t hear anything else out there like my record.” So says a confident Black Milk, the Detroit hip-hop producer who’s struck 2010’s boldest titular move to date by electing to call his fifth solo project Album Of The Year (out today). With his gritty-yet-soulful beats, Black Milk is often characterized as the heir to deceased underground hip-hop producer J Dilla’s throne — but this time around, he’s attempting to follow a move out of Kanye West’s glossy Lanvin playbook and rise up from producer-for-hire to genuine solo rap star. Building on his decision to pre-emptively nominate his own work as 2010’s best, we asked Black Milk to take time out from readying his album release show at Southpaw tonight to pick his personal albums of the year for the last decade. He obliged, with a selection that mixes up hip-hop heavy hitters and cult rap icons with atmospheric indie rockers and a quirky Swedish chanteuse.

2009

Lykke Li
Youth Novels

“A friend of mine had this old school-sounding track that sampled her voice, and I was immediately intrigued by it. So I tracked it down and found out it came out here in the US and was new. This was out in 2008, but I first heard it in 2009. It’s kinda indie-rock but also with electronic influences. This sounds like something that I would sample. Most of the time I’ll listen to more from an artist after I find something to sample. I know Drake did a remix of ‘Little Bit’ too, which was great.”

2008

Black Milk
The Tronic

“The album wasn’t named after Dr. Dre’s The Chronic–I was just trying to create something new. I think that it works so well because I grew musically from my debut album and you start to hear that. I really like the song ‘Losing Out.’ I sampled the Alan Parsons Project [‘Let’s Talk About Me’] for that. I came across it in a record store and I was surprised that I could chop it up that way. I knew I wanted Royce Da 5′ 9″ on the track too. It’s a real underdog anthem.”

2007

Radiohead
In Rainbows

“I first heard Radiohead when my cousin would play OK Computer all the time. With In Rainbows, it was the first song, ’15 Step,’ that that grabbed my attention. Thom Yorke’s lyrics and delivery are so amazing over that production. They remind me of hip-hop; there’s definitely a hip-hop vibe to Radiohead. Their sound is eerie–it gives you an eerie feeling like some hip-hop, just a vibe they create.”

2006

J Dilla
Donuts

“I can’t lie, when I first heard Donuts I was disappointed. I was expecting something else. It sounded so loose. It was only after time that I understood the craft and hidden messages Dilla was putting into the songs. The loops were so intricate. When I listen to it, I feel a mix of happiness and sadness. The music makes you feel good, but it’s sad that there are these messages in there–it’s like he was letting people know that he was ready to go. He made it while he was sick and I think he knew it was going to be his very last project.”

2005

Kanye West
Late Registration

“Musically, Kanye West is something else. He’s that dude that was like the last artist that the major labels took a chance on. They took a risk on him and it’s inspiring to someone like me who comes from somewhere different to the commercial music world. Kanye showed that good music, good hip-hop music, can win big. As a rapper and a songwriter, he stepped up his game on this one, which is why it’s my favorite Kanye album. I love the song ‘Late,’ the hidden track right at the end. That soul loop, by The Whatnauts, is amazing.”

2004

NERD
Fly or Die

“A lot of people seemed to appreciate what NERD were doing, the sound they came up with for the radio and the clubs, but with Fly Or Die I think they came with something totally new and fresh. The style reminded me of a modern hip-hop update of The Beatles. It was like they got in the studio and decided they wanted to record an alternative sounding Beatles from a hip-hop perspective. I love this record.”

2003

Jaylib
Champion Sound

“I already knew about Madlib and his production when he came together with Dilla for this project. I don’t think anyone was surprised with how good the album came out, considering how consistent they both are. It’s still my favorite Madlib album. The song that really got me was ‘The Official.’ I was amazed that Madlib took the original record Dilla sampled for Slum Village’s ‘Fall N Love’ and managed to get a new sample and a new song out of it.”

2002

Jay Dee
Welcome 2 Detroit

“This was ahead of its time. It took me about two months of having the record before I really understood it. I was expecting Dilla to come with something smoother, more like his work on [Common’s] Like Water For Chocolate, but instead he went in another direction. He threw in the live instruments–I always wished he lived long enough to make an entire live music project. It was dope when I heard him recreating those songs by Earth Wind & Fire and Donald Byrd… When I heard that little ‘Rico Suave Bossa Nova’ track I flipped out–it was dope! It was incredible to see Dilla show on this album that he didn’t just make beats for MCs, but that he started working with musicians like Karriem Riggins and Dwele.” [Pedant’s Note: The album was released in 2001, but Black Milk didn’t start listening to it until 2002.]

2001

Jay-Z
The Blueprint

“This album’s on everybody’s list! It was just classy, raw, and very soulful. It was the introduction of Kanye West and his sound, it had Just Blaze doing his thing too–my favorite production on there is ‘U Don’t Know.’ The beats were just so soulful all around. I remember when I first heard ‘The Takeover,’ with the sample from The Doors and thinking, ‘How can Nas come back after this song?!’ But I’m also one of the people that liked Nas’s ‘Ether’ over ‘Takeover’…”

2000

Slum Village
Fantastic Volume 2

“I’d heard songs from this album for a while before they were out–my cousin used to hang with Baatin from the group so we’d always hear Slum Village’s music around Detroit. They were leaders of the underground hip-hop movement. They created something that was our sound. We already heard what Jay Dee [J Dilla] was doing with his productions for A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul and Pharcyde, but with this album he laid out something that we could call our own sound. It’s summed up by the songs ‘I Don’t Know,’ with those James Brown samples going on, or ‘Untitled,’ which is just a classic Slum groove. This is actually my favorite album of all time.”