Dissecting rap albums has been a major part of my life ever since I bought Nelly’s Country Grammar back in the fourth grade. OK, well perhaps it was my mom who bought that one, and I’m pretty sure it was the edited version, but that’s neither here nor there.
The point is, creating albums has always been a major part of the rap/hip-hop game. Words such as classic and timeless are always being tossed around in the rap community, however lately, it’s come at such an alarming rate that it’s begun to dilute just how profound of words they truly are.
I can’t deny that I do it myself, though. Now, there was one album that came out late last year that you may not know much about.
If There’s a Hell Below, by Detroit-based artist Black Milk was one of the most underrated projects of 2014, and it is not getting the credit it fully deserves.
The beginning of a rap album is a lot like going on a first date. You really want to make a good impression, and hopefully connect on a personal level. Black Milk delivers on all cylinders on his opener, “Everyday Was” ft. Mel, with precision storytelling, a perfect beat, and flow to be reckoned with.
The Detroit emcee lets the world know that a typical nine-to-five job is not for him, and that the money under the mattress was just preparation for the life of his dreams. If this attention-grabbing lead doesn’t get you stoked to wake up and work your ass off to chase your dreams, then I may actually question your taste in music—or at least in hip hop.
His follow up, “What It’s Worth” can only be summarized in two words: The Beat.
That’s all I really need to say. Moving past production, the Detroit product poaches some pretty profound questions about finding out what life is really about. Throughout the song, he questions what we are all working for, and makes it apparent that keeping your family’s well-being first is the true definition of life. Turn this one up, folks, and roll the windows down, it has that underground, head-nodding Detroit sound that’s so difficult to come by these days.
As I proceed writing this album review I realize how much I love hip-hop music in general. It has always spoken to me. I’m not really sure why or how, but it just always has.
The third track on this album really sparks that type of feeling, with “Leave the Bones Behind” ft. Blu & Ab. It has an old school feel to it, with a dynamite guest verse from one of my favorite rapper/producers out of the Los Angeles area, Blu.
“Quarter Water” ft. Pete Rock is about as underground a song as they come. With a deep, dark beat accompanying the vocals here, Black Milk raps, “All we really wanted was a piece of the pie, you ball’ or you barely gettin’ by.”
If you’re into classical storytelling rap, then this album continues to creep down your alley. Every single song plays off the one before, conveying a message filled with brilliance and beauty. In an age of instant gratification and accessibility, sometimes, it’s comforting to find an album that requires more than one listen to really understand the entire project or concept.
If There’s a Hell Below carries on with an instrumental track, “Hell Below” ft Gene Obey, that serves as a transitioning segment. With some incredible saxophone notes backing up a smooth bass and jazz-like percussion, this song is pure musical talent on display. While it’s mellow, it serves as the ultimate palette-wetting primer for the rest of the album.
I’m being honest when I say that I wasn’t a major fan of “Detroit’s New Dance Show” the first time I listened to the album.
While writing this review, that quickly changed, and I heard the song in an entirely new manner. With a funky, club-style beat that nods to the song’s title, Black Milk really does provide a new type of dance and rap song here. This song is innovative as hell, and I’ve never really heard anything like it.
It serves as an incredibly smooth and unique track following the interlude and leading into one of my favorite rap songs I’ve ever listened to.
“Story and Her” is that good. But don’t take my word for it, go listen to it yourself. You won’t be disappointed. Everyone has always had that one person they’ve wanted to get with, but it just never panned out. Think about that person for a second, and then get lost in this musical masterpiece with lyrics and a perfect flow that have you reminiscing about the past.
Halfway through, the whole record completely transforms and the vibe changes once again. Pure musical genius, folks.
“All Mighty” begins with some crazy snare drums and some passionate lyrics, but quickly transforms into an entirely new track about a minute and thirteen seconds in.
With the beat changing to some heavy synths and a new drum progression, this record is another example of how musically talented Black Milk truly is.
“Stuck with me, the fans that fucked with me, threw that middle finger up like fuck the rest, so fuck the rest, no sleep I’m up when I’m up against the world, but only up against myself.”
Yes, let that bit from “All Mighty” sink in.
Once again, Black Milk drops a damn classic record with “Scum” ft. Random Axe. The musicality is so on point, and it’s amazing to listen to people who do this for a living. This is what he does, and he delivers once again. A haunting beat backed by lyrics about past and pride, proves that Black Milk and Random Axe can be one of the collaborations of the year.
There are few combinations in rap that speaks on every level of the spectrum quite like the classic North-South collaboration.
Bringing Bun B and his dirty south style to the track is like teaming up Jordan and Pippen. OK, maybe that’s a bit far, but Stockton and Malone certainly fits. Turn up this song, sit back, and think about all the things that make you the person that you are.
You are changing the world, you just may not know it.
The final two tracks on If There’s a Hell Below are “Grey for Summer” and “Up & Out”, which play as two more homages to the environment that made him the person he is today.
“This a product of those Detroit summers, grey clouds in the sky, circlin’ above us. Shake ‘em off, shake ‘em off, make a win, take a loss. This a product of that smoke ‘til it ashes, store liquor, poured in the cup that’s plastic.”
While “Up & Out” perfectly closes out the most underrated rap project of 2014, it also cements Black Milk as the most underrated rapper in the game today. Yes, I said it.
Finalizing the project with those murky, head-bobbing beats, Black Milk signs off channelling his inner Outkast, stating:
“You want that money, I need a hun’, you better get up, get out and get some.”