In pop music terms Audio Two would have to be called a one-hit wonder. In hip-hop, we put a slightly more positive twist on the situation. They will forever be remembered for their classic. A classic that clocks in under 3 minutes and consists of nothing more than a heavy helping of sliced “Impeach the President” drums, Stetsasonic’s “Go Brooklyn” chant and a young rapper announcing his presence at high volume. But it was exactly the combination of bare-bone drums and urgent vocals that made “Top Billin'” an instant favorite. To this day, the opening bars of the beat and legendary soundbites such as “MC M-i, people call me Milk / when I’m bustin’ up a party I feel no guilt,” “Stop schemin’ and lookin’ hard / I got a great, big bodyguard / so step up if you wanna get hurt,” “I get the papers, so I don’t care,” “That’s how it is, you can ask Giz,” and certainly “Milk is chillin’, Giz is chillin’ / What more can I say? Top billin'” remain etched in hip-hop’s collective consciousness. The MC/DJ duo followed up their hit with one mildly successful and one largely overlooked album before they disappeared. By then, their sister MC Lyte had emerged as the star of the family, while the two brothers failed to recapture the magic of “Top Billin'” or reinvent themselves for the ’90s.
In 1992, DJ Clark Kent refurbished “Top Billin'” for the Jeep Beat era, and as if lured back into the game by the call of his voice once again booming out of cars, Milk Dee made an unexpected return to the scene in 1994 on Rick Rubin’s American Recordings. “Ain’t nothing changed but the label,” he declared on one song, but upon closer inspection the sleeve still bore the familiar First Priority Music logo. “Get Off My Log” was the lead single, featuring the original, a radio and an instrumental version, each 2:22 minutes long. The album itself didn’t even span 25 minutes and included nearly two minutes of phone messages and long moments of silence before a hidden tracked kicked in, yet you still paid the full price. In other words, you had to be a die-hard Milk Dee fan to stomach this price/performance ratio. But in its brevity, “Never Dated” was typical Milk. Why bother when your artistic legacy consists of just a couple of minutes of hip-hop bliss? By 1994, “Top Billin'” had become one of the most sampled rap songs of all time. A recent example had been Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs incorporating “Stop schemin’ and lookin’ hard” into “I’ll Make it Right”, the opening song on the debut of a young R&B singer named Usher Raymond. Ten years later, Usher is R&B’s biggest star, while Milk scores big as the brain behind foul-mouthed teenage heartthrob Eamon (“Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back)”), who is himself likely to end up a certified one-hit wonder.
That’s the context in which we ponder if on its tenth anniversary “Never Dated” manages to live up to its name. Yes and no. Milk is such a unique figure (fitting perfectly into Rick Rubin’s portfolio), that it’s hard to compare him to any one rapper, past or present. He’s keenly aware of it, observing: “I’m from no school, I’m in a category by myself (…) ain’t no other with Milk Dee’s style,” believing himself to be ahead of the pack: “Generic MC’s make me sick.” At the same time, he is such a brute that even back then he came across as a hip-hop dinosaur making one last attempt at avoiding extinction, no matter how much he claimed he had simply been on a “sabbatical.” According to him, he still had some scores to settle: “You said I wouldn’t last, now how you feel? (…) Who said Milk’s voice was too high? / nice guys finish last, so I’m not a nice guy.” Still, it’s not surprising that “Never Dated” remained the Bed-Stuy MC’s final endeavor as a rapper. It wasn’t so much that he sounded like a male, hysterical version of MC Lyte, he just had little to say. As “Laid & Paid II” told it: “If you don’t know, here’s Milk Dee’s rep / cash and booty is what I expect.” Years after “Top Billin'”, “I get money, money I got” was still one of Milk’s major statements, whether put forth matter-of-factly or wrapped up in only slightly amusing punchlines (“Like Robin Hood I get mad wealth / I rob the rich and I give to myself”).
While Milk may sound as self-centered as they come, at times he is “Rude & Cocky” to a degree that’s it’s just funny:
“I’ll get heated and I’ll get hype
Get your name, address and height
then take it out on your dog or your cat
break up your window with a baseball bat
scratch your whip with a key or a pen
If you get it fixed I’ll scratch it again”
Later, he even threatens to “cook a fish right out your fish tank.” Boy, what a pest. But he wouldn’t have it no other way: “Milk is foul, that’s my style.” And so the defiant “I don’t care” of “Top Billin'” still echoes on “Never Dated”, not just because the song is sampled several times, but because it’s part of the Milk mystique. As he asserts in “Go 2 Hell!”: “Peeps say I’m nuts and I’m cool with that.” The problem is that these tongue-in-cheek moments don’t clear up the remaining doubts if the man is actually for real. Guess we can call that the Kool Keith syndrome.
So you can only wonder what prompted “Get Off My Log”, which tells folks to “get off his thing and let the Johnson swing,” to say it with hypeman Big V. Still, Milk gets props for a song title that has you thinking of logrolling lumberjacks before you realize what it’s about, as well as for the dizzying track. Speaking of production, Milk does it all by himself (no Gizmo, no Rick Rubin), and while the album’s peculiarly dry atmosphere is noteworthy, its best track sounds like an outtake from the Beastie Boys’ “Ill Communication”. Which isn’t a coincidence at all, since Mike D is behind the drum kit, Mario Caldato, Jr. is on the mixing board and Adrock is on the mic. Until Ol’ Dirty Bastard joined Busta Rhymes for the “Woo-Hah!” remix, “Spam” was clearly the craziest duet rap music had ever seen. Imagine these “high-pitched brothers from the East Coast” (Adrock) throwing basketball references and old school boasts at each other at top volume before joining hands to diss the wack with a great Spam simile. Here, Milk finally goes for the gusto (“My voice gets higher and HIGHER”), giving the album’s best performance, feeding his livewire delivery with lines like:
“It’s the M to the I to the L to the K
I’ll split your girl when it’s time to hit the hay
Spit in the crowd and curse at the ref
SCREAM on the mic till you all go deaf”
If “Spam” was available as a single, that’d be all you need. And maybe it’d even be up there with “Top Billin'”.