I generally have a philosophical objection to reviewing live music, especially if it’s an act on the road, bouncing to another market the next night (I’m apt to break through this objection if I’m getting my name on the list or a free ticket for my words the next day). However, I consider this more of a public service. This won’t be a recounting of what you missed out on (a big reason I don’t do show reviews), no, this is a call to action: next time Black Milk (born Curtis Cross) is in your town, you should score a ticket.
There is a good chance that I witnessed the best hip-hop show of my short life last night at Reggie’s Rock Club in Chicago, IL. I’m still mulling over potential contenders, but it ranks, easily, in the top five.
For an MC who’s biggest success to this point has been knowing how to rap over his own idiosyncratic beats, Milk proved himself a solid showman last night and also showed off some improved micsmanship. Stalking, stomping and kicking his way around Reggie’s fairly small sage, hovering over his drummer, slapping his towel on the ride cymbal; the Detroit MC was revved up and excited.
But beyond Milk’s obvious enthusiasm and increased abilities, the real story last night was his band and the MC’s inner James Brown spilling out. Milk’s latest platter, Album of the Year, is heavy on live percussion and utilizes some pretty ripping live bass lines as well, and rather than come with canned cuts of each track, Milk brought a trio of live wizards to play keys, bass and the kit. The band is comfortable with one another, their looks, smiles and nods throughout the show were akin to the way I’ve seen some great jazz combos communicate. Moreover, they’re tight with their MC.
Black Milk accomplished several feats other young(er) MCs have stumbled over: working with and managing a live hip-hop band, bypassing missing guest’s verses, and adapting material for a live setting. Hell, the last two have been difficult for vets (I’m looking at you, Wu-Tang Alumni!). The latter two stumbling blocks were overcome by succeeding with the foremost. Milk and his band weren’t afraid to veer off into jams or “remix” cuts on the spot.
Tronic (2008) standout, “Without U,” lost a little of it’s kicky bounce, the band veered into a silkier burble and Black found a new flow to bubble over top with. “Give the Drummer Sum” and “The Matrix” received similar reworkings. Both favored Sly and the Family Stone-styled R&B rave ups and both tracks showcased the band and Milk’s nimble, adaptive tongue.
And tracks like “The Matrix,” “Loosing Out,” and “Deadly Medley” also served as springboards for deep R&B jams from the band with Milk stomping around cuing downbeats and cut offs.
It’s exciting to imagine what Black Milk could do as he continues to grow as a performer and MC. If this is the beginning of something, Milk may rival The Roots in the live hip-hop arena, however doubtful the rivalry or full-on embrace of live instrumentation is. See him while he’s growing and becoming the epitome of a charismatic MC and bandleader.