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As the buzz of many of hip hop's young leaders-to-be evolves from loud commotion into hushed whispers, Black Milk has stayed relevant by remaining focused on creating music that endures. He's achieved recognition from fans, critics, and his peers as one of the best producers around, and when coupling that talent with his sharp lyricism and stylish delivery as an emcee, Black has proven to be one of the most vital hip hop artists of his generation.
This is already clear to those who heard his 2008 album Tronic, which capped a successful and astonishingly prolific year (in which he also released collaborative full-length releases with rappers Bishop Lamont and Fat Ray, as well as producing the acclaimed solo album from Slum Village's Elzhi). Tronic showcased a growth in production technique that few expected from a beatmaker best-known for chopping samples, as his signature drums were now peppered with live instrumentation and richer arrangements.
After a difficult 2009 that saw the untimely death of Baatin of Slum Village--who Black credits with jumpstarting his professional career--and the sudden illness and paralysis of his manager HexMurda, Black Milk announced that his new release would be audaciously titled Album of the Year. Black quickly explained that the title was referring to the course of events from the previous 12 months. Many fans and critics discounted that explanation, expressing either excitement or objection that he was brashly proclaiming that his work would be the year's best before the year had even started.
Far from a melancholic work, Album of the Year once again sees Black Milk working to break new ground in hip hop production, and to both refine and redefine his sound. While continuing to construct the skeletons of the tracks on his same trusted AKAI MPC-2000 XL that he's been using for years, he now employs a team of studio musicians and session players to add new layers of fat and muscle to his songs, with most of the players' parts composed by the artist himself.. A broad range of influence shines through in the tracks, with tinges of rock, reggae, and afrobeat joining his trademark hip hop bangers.
Other than the heavy contributions from both members of his live band (vocalist/keyboardist AB and drummer Daru Jones), the album exclusively features players and vocalists from his hometown of Detroit, including vocalist Melanie Rutherford, bassist Tim Shellaberger, and the versatile horn player and string arranger Sam Beaubien (who arranged horns and strings on Mayer Hawthorne's A Strange Arrangement). The few guest raps are provided by Royce Da 5'9" (Slaughterhouse), Elzhi, and newcomer Danny Brown.
Made up of two long tracks that periodically build and release for forty minutes over two sides of an LP its an improvised masterpiece combining Afrocentric spiritual soul, jazz, poetry, amazing solos, a tasty bass line or two and more than a fair share of funky beats. Its also one of the earliest albums to feature rapping. I called the project Black Renaissance because that is what I wanted to see happen especially in music.
Given its rarity, when asked if he was surprised that people knew about the album Whitaker jokes Ive told enough people about it over the years! Now they can actually hear it. It was a record before its time.
Harry Whitaker cut his teeth on the best of the Roy Ayers Ubiquity releases (including playing keys on We Live In Brooklyn Baby and co-producing the Coffy OST) on and making a living working closely with Roberta Flack as her musical director, even playing on her big Eugene McDaniels written hit I Feel Like Makin Love. Black Renaissance Body, Mind, and Spirit, was his first attempt at a project where he wrote and composed the music and played keys on all tracks.
2. Welcome (Gotta Go)
3. Keep Going
4. Oh Girl (feat. AB)
5. Deadly Medley (feat. Royce Da 5'9" / Elzhi)
6. Distortion (feat. Melanie Rutherford)
7. Over Again (feat. Monica Blaire)
8. Black and Brown (feat. Danny Brown)
9. Round of Applause
10. Warning (Keep Bouncing)
11. Gospel Psychedelic Rock
12. Closed Chapter (feat. Mr. Porter)