Published on October 21st, 2013 | by Boman12l0
Black Milk: No Poison No Paradise [Review]
Like many of Hollywood’s blockbusters, many of this year’s big Hip-Hop releases have been somewhat unremarkable. Yes there have been many good albums that came out to much fanfare and sold well, but the level of impact and excitement was nothing when compared to last year. Black Milk’s No Poison No Paradise, bucks the trend of the “good but mildly disappointed release” and delivers an album that hits hard from the gate and never loses focus.
Like his previous solo release, Album of the Year, No Poison No Paradise is deeply personal. Album of the Year was more therapy, a cathartic release after a year of personal loss and tragedy; ultimately, it was more about moving on — looking forward to the future while viewing the pass with a warm reflection. No Poison No Paradise is a darker affair, filled with ambiguity and uncertainty. The album tells the story of Sonny Jr., a guy from a loving but strict home were his parents try their hardest to keep him on a righteous path. Still, Sonny finds the influences of his city – Detroit – hard to shake and he’ll have to find is own path. Using this as a setup, Black takes listeners on a journey with plenty of emotional highs and lows, filled with excellent production and lyricism that is deeply satisfying all the way to the end.
From the live instrumentation of Album of the Year to the lo-fi dirty production of Tronic, NPNP is the musical culmination of all his previous efforts. Taking the best elements from all of them, Milk has crafted a masterful album. The drums on “Deion’s House” (the only track not produced by Milk on the album) are some of the most infectious this side of The RZA. “Ghetto Demf” is a funky beat that is accented by high pitched synths that creates a spaced out feel. “Money Bags (Paradise)” is Detroit Dilla funk at its best. Each track is beautifully layered with a cool mix of samples, live drums and Black’s cool voice. It’s a testament to the album’s mixing, which was something Milk worked to improve in the time since his last album and it shows here.
Part of the reason why Black has always been so relatable and likable, are his straight forward lyrics. His frankness is part of his appeal and it’s in no short supply here. Most of the songs on the album are small vignettes of Sonny’s life growing from child to young adult. Either from his view or others close around him. “Don’t realize you from a ghetto till you get a little older” Sonny says on “Perfect On Puritan Ave” after reflecting on old Hoop dreams. The track also turns into an acid jazz jam session after a beat switch in the middle. Perhaps the album’s highlights “Sunday’s Best” and “Monday’s Worst.” The tracks show how a good kid could grow up to make the wrong choices. His parents and the city have a lot of influences on him, in the end, its Sonny choice. Milk’s lyrics are bunt and paint a clear picture of a strict religious upbringing, contrasted by a despite young man who lost his way. Milk never condemns any of these characters or comes off too preachy. He simply tells the story as is. It is this finesse that allows Milk’s music to resonate listeners without getting bogged down.
With a Forty-four minutes running time, the album never feels weighted or filled with b-sides. Tracks are often broken up with instrumentals and keep listens fresh. Milk’s not just showing his chops as a producer here, but providing smart intermissions from listeners. “Sonny Jr. (Dreams)” as funky ensemble that features Robert Glasper & Dwele transitions beautifully to “Sunday’s Best.” The Pop of “X Chords” is a nice reset after “Parallels.”
From Album of the Year, to delivering one of the best albums of the year, Black Milk’s No Poison No Paradise is his best work yet. With a refined approach to production pared with his smart lyricism, Black Milk has crafted an album that is as enjoyable as it is listenable. In a year were so many of his peers have attempted to do that with various results, it’s almost surprising that Black Milk makes it look so easy.
Black Milk – “Sunday’s Best/Monday’s Worst”