Wow. It was a fucking honour to interview Black, who I can safely call one of my top 5 producers out there right now. Black Milk discusses his upcoming projects, different methods of making beats, and his favorite soul records.
ML: Hey man, how you doing?
Black Milk: What’s going on, man?
ML: The first single, “Give The Drummer Sum” came out fairly recently. Is that the first time you used live instruments in your beats?
BM: I’ve brought live musicians in for certain tracks but it wasn’t for my actual album. We did some live stuff for a few Slum Village tracks I did. This is the first time I used live instrumentation for my solo project.
ML: Is it something you could see yourself doing more of in the future? It’s an interesting fusion because you did some programmed stuff – I watched the video of you making it and you’ve got all the programmed elements and then you cue in the pre-recorded live stuff and add some live instrumentation on top.
BM: Right, right. It still samples and evolves on that. That particular track, “Give The Drummer Sum”, there’s no samples in there. That’s all me – I chopped up a breakbeat, programmed it on an MPC and brought in a live bass player to play it over, a couple organ stabs and live horn. That was all basically original music. Still sampled, but you know, I flipped it in my own way. But yeah, other tracks on the album that had live instrumentation on it, that’s played over actual samples.
Like the first track, “Long Story Short”, I got Dwele playing the horns on it, I’m playing a Moog, and a live bass player…I got Kid Rock’s bass player playing on it. And piano by my man Ab. You know, all those elements on top of an actual sample that I chopped it up.
That’s how I start off, with a skeleton of a beat, you know, a sample.
ML: What’s your studio set-up right now?
BM: It’s basically the same. I’ve been working with basically the same set-up for the last year, I guess you could say. A lot of vinyl, a lot of old records, an MPC 2000 XL, Pro Tools. You know, the basics. A few synth keyboards, stuff like that. That’s how I start off most of my production, with the MPC, still. I haven’t tried any new programs or nothing like that.
The only new thing I did was work with other producers and musicians.
ML: What contemporary producers are you checking for?
BM: There’s a few people I always check for when I see that they released some new music, cats like Jake One. He’s releasing his new album, White Van Music, which I think is one of the dopest hip-hop records this year I done heard. I’m actually on that album, but yeah, Jake One is a dope producer to me. Nottz. I talk to Nottz every now and then over the phone and we chop it up. DJ Khalil out on the West Coast, he’s dope. Focus. Dudes I always check for when I see their names on the track. I always take a listen, see what they’re coming with.
They’re kinda like the underdogs, they done produced a lot of big records but their names are still kind of on an underground level. I think they’re real talented producers.
ML: These are people you also worked with on Caltroit. Did you pick out producers for that project, or were they cats Bishop was working with?
BM: I wasn’t scouting for producers, that’s Bishop’s team out there, that he was already working with at the time. Like I said, Khalil, Jake, Focus. He had beats from some of those dudes already, so on my end, I was already working with certain artists from the D that I wanted to have on Caltroit. So we basically brought both of our camps together, both of our teams together, to make that one album, Caltroit. That’s basically how it came together.
He had played me some of the beats by Khalil, some of the beats by Focus, and we were sitting in the studio, just listening to tracks and we would pick the tracks we wanted to record to. And that’s how we came with most of the songs.
ML: When is the follow-up to Caltroit coming? I heard about a sequel called Caltroit Metropolis or something like that.
BM: Uh…We don’t have an official date for it yet, but that’s still something we want to try to make happen. I just got off tour with [Bishop] in Europe, we was talking about it over there. If we get the time to finish and record it, it’ll definitely come out. We got a few songs already that didn’t make Caltroit, we could probably use for that project. It’ll take a lot of time.
I’m at a point where I want to be kinda perfect. Anything I release from now on with my name on it, I want it to be great music. So I had to play that one by ear.
ML: Caltroit is just one of the collaborative albums you’ve done this year. You did The Set Up with Fat Ray and almost all of Elzhi’s album The Preface. How do you approach doing an album with one emcee with you producing it, as opposed to placing one or two tracks on someone’s album? What’s the collaborative process like for you?
BM: When I’m doing beat CDs, there’s really no set sound or certain direction I’m going for when I’m creating music. It’s really the first thing I hear off a record that I like, that I’ll chop up. Whatever the genre of music I’m sampling from. When I’m working with an artist, like the Fat Ray project or working with Elzhi, when I can actually get in the studio with these dudes and you know, get ideas from them, give them ideas from what I’m hearing about what the project should sound like, that’s different. That’s what I prefer anyway. I’d rather sit in a studio with an artist and do my job as a producer, and produce the track than just email in 10, 15 beats off to somebody. They might [laughs] do something you really want with the track, every now and again it might happen with a track. But I’d rather be in a studio with an artist.
ML: You did “Motown 25” on The Preface. Which is Royce Da 5’9 and Elzhi with you behind the boards. Amazing. I read in an interview somewhere you were planning to do a full album with Royce and Elzhi. Is that happening?
BM: Yeah, that was another idea we had. We trying to come with all types of projects, [laughs], you know ideas for different projects. That was one of ‘em, and yeah, if time permits, I definitely want to do that album. Elzhi, Royce, me, we all got our different schedules, we all working on solo projects and different stuff. And if we get some time, we’ll put together like 12 or 13 tracks. It’ll be dope, man. That’s something I really enjoy producing because we already know what type of beats I give ‘em. [laughs]
ML: Are you doing anything on Royce’s upcoming album?
B: I don’t know if his album is finished now but next time I talk to him I’ll definitely ask him. I plan to, I’d love to have something on Royce’s album. I’ve been working with him, but most of the stuff I’ve done with him has been for my projects. From him on Caltroit to the “Sound The Alarm” remix. He’s also on my new album, about to come out soon. Yeah, I definitely want to do a couple tracks for his album.
ML: One other project I wanted to ask you about, which I’ve been hearing about since Popular Demand came out: The Random Axe album, with Guilty Simpson and Sean P. Is that still happening? Is there a release date?
BM: No release date yet. Once I get some time off the road, after I’m done doing a lot of these shows, I’m going to be in the lab and finish that.
That’s my focus, my next project I’m focused on when I get some time. I’m definitely going to finish that up, we already got like 10 tracks. So we only need to do about 3 or 4 more tracks, and that album will be wrapped up. Trying to push for a release date the first quarter of next year.
ML: How do you approach producing a track for yourself to rap on, like a track on your album that doesn’t feature anyone else, versus producing for another artist?
B: I know a lot of producers have a certain sound that they always come with, a certain drum kit they always use, a certain sound on the keyboard they always use. But with me, I don’t really have a set sound, I never know what I’m about to make. Sometimes I might feel like I want to make a crazy, hard-sounding track. Sometimes I might feel like making something laid-back. Most of the time, whatever I hear on the record, I’ma chop it up and if it come out dope, I’ll keep it and whether I use it or not depends on the beat.
The way a beat catches me most of the time is if I make something kinda funky, that I can flow to, just feel-good music. That’s how a track catches me most of the time. But yeah, I never really know what beat I’m going to come up with and chop. I never know what beat I’m going to come up with until I find that sample, that loop.
ML: And you kind of work off the feeling of it, whether or not you actually want to get on that?
B: Yeah, yeah. Definitely. I mean, a lot of tracks I made for this new album that I thought was dope but I end up cutting the machine off and just breaking the whole track just because I knew I wasn’t going to use it for my album. That was the only thing I was working on at the time, so I’m like, “I’m not even going to keep it,” know what I’m saying? [laughs] I mean, I kept some, I kept a couple, but a lot of stuff got erased, I was like, ‘Nah’.
I felt like, if it couldn’t grab me at the first two bars of listening to it, then I didn’t even want to use it for the album.
ML: One final question: Your three favourite soul records. Doesn’t matter what era.
BM: This ain’t in no particular order, but one would be Willie Hutch, The Mack. That’s one of my favorite soul records.
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Special Occasion [now out-of-print]. That one is a real rare Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ record.
Willie Hutch’s soundtrack to Foxy Brown, that’s one that stays in the crates. Willie Hutch, that’s one of my favorite soul artists.
ML: Thanks so much for the interview, Black. Peace.
BM: For sure, peace.
Tronic is out now, be sure to cop that. Hit up FatBeats for the vinyl too.