One of the busiest producers and emcees in the game, Black Milk will be releasing his third album of 2008, Tronic, on October 28th. This week the Detroit native sat down with RapReviews to discuss his unreal work schedule, whether or not the internet has actually helped level the playing field for independent artists, and who, or what, is to blame for the dumbing down of music.

Adam Bernard: How ya doin this morning?
Black Milk: I’m chillin, I’m in Germany right now. I’m on the Caltroit tour with Bishop Lamont and Guilty Simpson. We have a show later on tonight. It’s about four o’clock here right now.

AB: I always get jealous of artists because they get to travel like crazy. Should I really get jealous, though, or is it like living out of a backpack?
BM: It’s living out your suitcase for those couple weeks, or however long you’re on the road, but when it’s show time that’s when it’s worth it because the people have a lot of energy, especially over here. The show is just live, so we’ve been getting a good response from every venue we’ve been to up to now.

“I started off emceeing. I got into making beats through being around family members of mine that were really into Hip-Hop.”

AB: For those who may be unfamiliar with you, hit everyone with your background and how it helped shape you as an artist.
BM: I started off emceeing. I got into making beats through being around family members of mine that were really into Hip-Hop. I started trying to create my own sound. I was influenced by legends like DJ Premier, Pete Rock and J Dilla. I was putting beat CDs out. I finally linked up with Slum Village and sold my first couple beats to them for their Trinity album. One song was “What is This?” and the other song was the title track. I ended up working with more artists from like Pharoahe Monch, Lloyd Banks, Dwele, Canibus, and the list just goes on.

AB: That’s a very varied list. You’re not staying in one little subgenre, you’re completely branched out on the tree.
BM: Word. I finally started doing my solo thing and putting out my own projects from Sound of the City, to Broken Wax, to Popular Demand, to Caltroit, to The Setup, and now we’re at Tronic, the new album.

AB: Your last solo effort, Popular Demand, came out last year. What inspired such a quick follow up?
BM: Really, I wasn’t going to try and come out with an album this year, I was going to try and take this whole year to just work on music and make the album for the whole full year, but I felt like I needed more exposure, I felt like I still wasn’t at a certain point in my career where I wanted to be fan base-wise, so I felt like I had to push out some more music for the people that are not familiar with me to get more familiar with me. I felt like I had to make an incredible album in a short amount of time, four and a half months, basically, and I think I pulled it off pretty well. There are certain things I wanted to get a chance to do that I didn’t get to do, but overall I think the album came out dope as hell. I’m satisfied. I can’t wait till it comes out and hear what people have to say about it.

AB: Will it be significantly different from your previous work?
BM: Yeah, definitely. There was a conscious effort to make sure this album sounded like nothing like my last album, Popular Demand. That was an album that was more so soulful, feel good, type of music. This new album is more futuristic. It still has the soul in it but I’m using more synth sounds and more Moog chop samples. I’m even using live instrumentation on a few of the tracks, like live instrumentation over samples. The Hip-Hop edge is still there. I still got the break beats, the hard drums. Like I said, it’s a new sound from me. I stepped up from the production standpoint and I also stepped up the lyrics. The rhyming is even better than last time.

“No, no don’t throw the old albums away! People will definitely see the growth from the last album.”

AB: So if the people have the old albums they should just throw them away and buy this one.
BM: No, no don’t throw the old albums away! People will definitely see the growth from the last album. I’m not saying Popular Demand is not a good album anymore, but like I said, Tronic is nothing like Popular Demand and you definitely hear the musical growth from that last album. Of all my projects I feel like this is the best music I’ve put together yet.

AB: As someone who both rhymes and produces, in what way do you feel you express yourself best, through rhyming or producing?
BM: Oh definitely the production, that’s the craft I’m really trying to master. I feel like I haven’t mastered it 100% yet, but I’m getting there. I’m still learning so much stuff musically all the time, every day, every week. I can’t imagine what my tracks are going to sound like a year or two from now. Really, I just do the rhymes so I can stay on the road like I am now, do shows and be able to perform and get that show money and basically show people I can rhymes just as good as I make beats.

AB: You have an almost universally positive buzz, why do you think that is?
BM: I don’t know. I think it’s because I stay putting out music all the time, or at least I try to. This is my sixth project that I’ve put out since ’05. A lot of people don’t do that. I put out Popular Demand, Caltroit and The Setup in less than a year alone, so I’m on my fourth project already. So like I said, I just try to keep music out there and I’m always creating, so I might as well put it out and not hold on to it or hold it back. I think people appreciate that. They want to hear new music and they want to hear good music at that and there’s not a lot of good music to find out there. Even if I’m just leaking something out there for free I like to put shit out there. I just released a zip file full of beats that I sampled off of Prince. I just gave that away and there’s already a thousand downloads off that zip file. I like to put them type of treats out there just to keep the buzz going and let people know I’m still working.

AB: That’s also a good way to get something out there where you know getting the samples cleared would be impossible.
BM: Right. That’s why I did it. We’re in the internet age, so that makes it even better. You can instantly communicate and be in contact with your fan base just by pressing a button.

AB: I’m glad you mentioned the internet age, because back in the day everyone said the internet was going to help close the gap between the mainstream and the underground. Do you think it has?
BM: In a way, especially today with people not selling as many records as they used to. The major label artists are almost coming down to our level now. It’s about to be an even playing field in a minute and everything is download and internet. People are not really going to the stores no more unless it’s for a certain project where they know they’re going to get more than five good songs on the CD. It’s kind of closing the gap. Obviously it’s good for artists like me who aren’t on a major label to get exposure to millions of people all over the world, so that’s dope. Even though you still need your promotions through other ways the internet is a big help.

AB: Is there any chance you can explain why artists that are reviled sell so many units while artists who nobody has anything bad to say about have to work so hard to make a sale?
BM: The commercial world is totally different when you’re talking about music, especially today in Hip-Hop, the audience is younger. The 106 & Park crowd, the MTV crowd, you have to cater to those fans and that audience if you want to sell a certain amount of records. If you don’t cater to that audience you’re not going to have big Soundscans. With me, I can talk from my point of view, it’s really not about the Soundscans to me, even though every artist wants to sell millions of records and have platinum and gold plaques and all that, but to me it’s more so about making timeless music and making sure people will still be able to pick my CD up five to ten years from now an it’ll still sound fresh. A lot of artists can’t say that. Most artists aren’t making those type of albums. It’s like fast food. They’re making something to get a quick ringtone deal, or a quick radio spot, and make that fast money. And that’s cool, if that’s your thing, do it, more power to you, but personally that’s not my thing, I’m on some real musical shit and as a producer that’s just the way I think, it’s just more so about the music.

AB: Lemme tell you, if I never hear the word “ringtone” again that would be fine with me.
BM: {*laughs*} Yeah, man.

“I’m just trying to figure out how I can play both sides and still do what I do but also get that type of major label exposure.”

AB: I can’t even stand the concept. “It’s gonna sound dope coming out of your phone!” So?
BM: {*laughs*} Yeah, it’s crazy, man. It’s totally different, man. I’m just trying to figure out how I can play both sides and still do what I do but also get that type of major label exposure. That’s what I’m trying to figure out right now.

AB: I know the younger audience isn’t your audience so perhaps you can answer this question; were we just smarter when we were growing up, because I don’t remember us liking crap? We had our moments where we liked some songs where we look back at them and go “ugh,” but even those songs, you can still party to them today and not look back totally regretfully.
BM: You can’t be mad at (the youth), you gotta be mad at the people who control the labels and the radio, you can’t be mad at the kids. And times change, man. Who knows how music is going to sound five years from now, or what’s going to be hot. As an artist you just gotta play your part, do what you do, and stay creative. I wouldn’t necessarily say people were smarter back then, but it was… you had to take more time to create music and you had to really work on your craft. We have so many different things to help people make hit records and help people make almost good music, programs like a Fruity Loops, or a Reason, instead of a person working on an MPC. I’m not saying you’re wack if you use Fruity Loops, or you use Reason, I’m just saying there are so many different things to help people create music these days and I think that’s the biggest difference. You actually had to be talented back in the day to make good music. You had to actually know how to play an instrument, you had to actually know how to sing. There wasn’t no auto-tune, or any program to help you fix your vocals to put you in key with the record, you had to really know how to do that type of shit, you had to have talent. I think that’s the difference, everything is just fast and everything is on some, I don’t know, it’s just different.

AB: Finally, since I know we’re running out of time, how would the industry, and the world in general, be different if Black Milk was the most famous rapper alive?
BM: Wow, that’s a tough question. Damn, I don’t know. I think the game, like radio, it would change and it would change for the better if I was one of the top artists out right now, selling the most records. I think it would make artists want to be more creative with their sound and their style of music because that’s definitely what I’m on. I think it would open up a lot of eyes and ears to new sounds, especially the younger audience.