BLACK MILK: Music Can Heal A City
An interview by Sarah Kidd.
Black Milk (aka Curtis Cross) is an American rapper, songwriter and producer who has worked with some of the most prolific names in the world; from Lloyd Banks to Pharoahe Monch and even RZA from Wu-Tang clan; and for the second time he will be appearing at this year’s Splore festival.
About to drop his seventh studio album, Cross has been involving himself heavily with the production and engineering of music which promises to bring a whole new aspect to his latest work.
I recently caught up with Curtis to discuss his current outlook on music as well as his upcoming appearance at Splore and how music and the arts can be the saviour of his home city of Detroit…
You released your first solo album Sound of the City just over twelve years ago, how do you look back on that album now?
“Hmmm, Sound of the City … that was twelve years ago? Oh … it was twelve years ago. Damn. [laughs] You know what; it’s funny because I really don’t consider that my first official album, I kinda consider that more somewhat of like a compilation, gig-tape type of thing. But still looking back on it, you know I feel like I’ve grown a lot, I haven’t listened to that project in a while but it’s more from my earlier work than what I am doing right now. My mentality is different, not just creatively but as an artist and just as a person, as a man in the industry and just how I view the world, is totally different than it was twelve years ago. And I would hope most artists [laughs] would change their mentality and their self over that period of time. But you know, yeah I’ve just grown, and lookin’ at music different, and life different and the world different.”
Speaking of how everything changes with time; how do you view the future of Hip-Hop and your place within it?
“I don’t know, I kinda look at things, not just Hip-Hop but music in general… I just expect the unexpected at this point you know what I’m saying? Cause I think anybody that’s in the industry one way or the other, whether it be an artist or a journalist you know whatever is like we’re all at a point where none of us really know where this thing is about to go musically you know what I’m saying? [laughs]
With the effect that technology has on everything it just changes, it just changes every day and the youth they kinda control, and they kinda steer where things are going. But I’m always excited to see and interested in where things are going to go, it’s always interesting to me where things are going to evolve because I feel like wherever it goes, I know what I want out of this music thing at this point in my career. I know what I wanna create so it really doesn’t have that much of an effect. It has an effect on me to a degree, but not to an extreme, I’m at a point right now where I am over trying to keep up with trends or satisfy whoever, whatever, I’m more so just trying to create stuff that I love and that my fans love and yeah, put on a good show.”
It’s a good point that you brought up about the word trend, as I once had a very wise person say to me ‘Never base your art or music around a trend, because when the trend goes out, you’ll go with it’.
“I mean exactly and you know a lot of younger artists don’t really think about that in the beginning … and a lot of older artists don’t think about that. But in terms of real, true art, the stuff that’s true to you and stuff that has your actual voice on it where people can feel that this is you as an individual, you kinda like have to try to silence all this noise that is going around. Your initial goal in the world and in the industry is tryin to focus on figurin out what your voice is and tryin to like do the best you can to paint the picture you’re tryin to paint, that’s a project.
But you know, it’s ok to have elements here and there in your music and creativity that are modern, I definitely keep my ear to what is going on in today’s music and with artists new sounds and all of that so even though I try to do what I do creatively I still wanna keep up with the modern times you know, I’m just trying to figure out the way to meet common ground.”
It’s a fine line for sure
“Yeah it is.”
So who currently excites you either artistically or musically?
“Hmmm. Who currently excites me, that’s a hard question, oh man. That’s a real hard question cause recently I’ve been more so into engineering music and mixing music and mastering music so that is like my thing, even though I am still producing of course, you know writing and creating songs n records or whatever, lately it seems I’ve been more interested in just sonics you know what I’m saying and frequencies and nerding out over that type of stuff vs. just artistry. Which there is an art to that as well but I feel like my love for that has grown and shifted into more of an engineering type of aspect [laughs] I’ve been watching more so other engineers and more intrigued by that world than actually the music artists. But I don’t know there, is a lot of stuff out here that I’m digging.”
Last year you collaborated with Nat Turner for The Rebellion Sessions; which were something quite unique as they fused jazz and hip-hop and it was instrumental, it was quite a beautiful thing. I understand that you did that for the fans, but where to from here? Is there going to be more of these types of collaborations?
“Oh definitely, definitely. We plan on trying to find some time to get in the studio and make either a Part 2 or just a whole new project, yeah I definitely wanna get back in the studio and create something with those guys. The difficult part about that is we live like different sides of the country, I’m over on the West Coast, two of the guys are on the East Coast and one of the guys is in the Mid-West [laughs] so you know we are all over the place, but yeah we definitely gonna try and manage some time and create more stuff. We have tours comin’ up this year after my album comes out so hopefully I hope to create something by that time, but yeah definitely have plans with those guys to make more music.”
I’m glad you mentioned the album as your last solo album ‘If There’s a Hell Below’ was released in 2014, so you do have another album coming out?
“Yeah I have another album coming our trying to finish it up right now, but the title is kinda under wraps as I am juggling a few different titles, but yeah it should be coming out in February [23rd], that’s what we’re shooting for and right now I’m on the label Mass Appeal so it should be dropping under Mass Appeal. Yeah new music, it seems like those last three years flew past so fast like I didn’t plan on taking this much time off in between these albums but it just kinda happened that way so I’m pretty excited about it you know, it’s another album that has once again a different sound then my last work so yeah it should be interesting to see how people take to it.”
So can New Zealand audiences expect a little bit of the taste of the new album with your set at Splore?
“Oh yeah, yeah, definitely, definitely. I’m going to figure out a way to like fit something in there, something in the set, a song or two so yeah definitely.”
You’re from Detroit, which of course has an amazing art and music scene. It’s a bit of a broad question and I don’t expect an easy answer; but do you believe that music can heal a broken city?
“Well I think it can. I think any being that’s part of the artistic expression can help and I feel like right now that’s one of the only things that people in Detroit have to like hang on to you know what I’m sayin, in terms of having hope and something that they can escape from using art. Having art, whether it’s music, whether it’s illustration, whether it’s whatever, so a lot of that stuff, the art scene in Detroit, the music scene in Detroit is still very much vibrant. It has a lot of life. That’s still one of the few things that’s keeping people going and keeping their mind off the crazy stuff that is going on in their environment and gives them some kind of happiness. So yeah, I can only hope for the best and yeah hopefully there is a lot of justification going on right now in the city and hopefully that works out for the best in the next few years.”
We have a New Zealander who is world-renowned graffiti artist by the name of Askew, he recently was there and noted that even though Detroit seems devoid of life the art scene is still so strong it attracts people to it…
“Yeah, so crazy, like people they have some reason to still be there because of the art, that’s the crazy thing. But I feel like we both know that a lot of the best art comes from some kind of struggle that is going on so I guess that’s the catch 22 to it all.”
Black Milk is one of the amazing artists performing at this years Splore Festival, running from the 23rd – 25th February at the stunning Tapapakanga Park in Auckland. Tickets to the festival are still available from iTicket, but get in quick as it’s selling out fast!