A cloud of weed billows as Black Milk hits the stage with Nat Turner Band for their show in Portland, Oregon. The band begins playing and Black Milk marches up to the front of the stage, his maroon pants barely making the trip, exposing his boxer briefs. The crowd is psyched he’s finally here; it’s hot and muggy and the opener played an hour-long set, during which I left and ate a burrito while Black Milk’s fans stayed put, unwilling to give up their spots.

The beat drops, the red lights dance across Black Milk’s face, his body finds the beat. The crowd keeps the tempo with their hands, hypnotized by the energy of the live band and the charismatic Detroit rapper/producer. As the first song ends, he breaks into a speech about how Portland is the “livest city." It may be a line, or it may be true. Portland is starving. The lack of hip-hop here is tangible, the need is evident. In a city where rap shows are few and far between, the audience is here to quench their thirst with Black Milk.

After the enthusiastic show, a mild-mannered, chilled-out Black Milk sat on a small leather love seat in a brick-walled hallway doubling as a green room, relaxing as I quizzed him on a variety of topics, mainly the details of his upcoming album. Slightly guarded at first, he seemed to open up more as we delved deeper into discussing his creative process. Peep what he had to say:

I heard you don't drink milk, but your name is Black Milk so...

I don't. I mean, I can drink it with cereal and some shit, but not by itself, it's disgusting. I don't do milk like that. I'm not lactose intolerant or anything. The name is just something that happened kinda accidentally. I don't mess with stuff like that, milk, cheese, it's so sketch man.

If you had to change your name, what would you change it to?

I can't even... I got some things in mind.

Do you have some future projects in mind where you're going to change your name?

Oh hell yeah! I already made one. But it's not even like in the hip-hop realm, I'm gonna see if people even figure out if it's me or not.

Like what Flying Lotus did with Captain Murphy?

Yeah. Well, it's like in reverse because he's rappin' as Captain Murphy and mine's more instrumental stuff. Just switching it up. I've been sitting on a lot of music, you know what I'm sayin'? For the last, like, two or three years. That's why you kind of see me releasing projects left and right. Some of the music is just stuff I've been sittin on, some of the music is new, just trying to stay out there, trying to keep my name out there.

You've been around for a long time, but you've kind of been under the radar. You’re making it clear you’re not going to allow people to sleep on you anymore. You’ve dropped a couple projects this year and recently announced your upcoming album as well. What’s prompting you to drop so much music?

Really, I’ve done almost five projects this year... because I dropped Synth or Soul, the instrumental project, at the beginning of last year. Then No Poison came at the end of last year, then December I dropped a kinda under-the-radar project with this female vocalist, her name's Mel, the EP we did called Burning Stones... Record Store Day we dropped Glitches in the Break, and yeah, I'm about to drop an album here, so that's five projects.

That's kinda crazy 'cause I wasn't trying to do it like that. I took off a little time after Album of the Year came out, which was 2010, I kinda fell back. We dropped Random Axe in 2011, but like solo stuff, I kinda fell back and dropped a little EP with Danny Brown, Black and Brown, but yeah, 2011-2012 I was kinda laying low, trying to create something else, better my craft. I just had to take a break.

Why’d you take a break?

I was putting stuff out too fast and I just needed to readjust and rethink which direction I wanted to go musically. So once I kinda figured that out and got comfortable with the music I was making, that's when you had Synth or Soul [and the rest].

When can we expect the new album to drop?

Um, it'll probably be later on, 4th quarter, end of year type deal. It seems like a long time from now, but it'll be here before you know it. So probably around October or something like that.

So the name of the project is If There's a Hell Below. The obvious question: Do you believe that there's a hell below?

[laughs] I think it's different forms, different types of hell depending on the person. I got the line from Curtis Mayfield, his Curtis album, you got the line on the intro where, I think it's Richard Pryor, talking, like, “Why are these crackas, Jews, niggas, if there's a hell below we all gonna go.” When I was listening to that I was like “Damn that'd be a dope title, 'If There's a Hell Below,” and kind of flipping all the words. Like some people feel like they're already in hell. So the music kinda got some of that content, where I'm telling stories of what I've seen, what I've been through growing up in a certain kind of neighborhood, growing up in Detroit or whatever. If there's a hell below... some people think this is it, you know. I was not that deep, I don't want to come off like this is super deep shit, I just felt like the title was kinda fresh.

You said that "What It's Worth," the single you recently dropped, will be on the album. True or false?

Yeah, that's on the album. That's one sick track, dude.

What else can we expect to hear?

You can expect the unexpected. I got, you know, a couple legends on there, a couple cats that I've never worked with before, some hip-hop stuff, a couple MCs that I've worked with before. It definitely has more features than the last album. No Poison only had like two rap features, Black Thought and my man Quelle from Detroit. You know, I was like, “I'm going to try to get as many cats that I mess with and mix it up,” so it won't be all my voice for the whole album. So that's what it is. I got one artist on there that I know people are gonna be surprised with. That might be the second or third single too.

So you are currently on tour with a live band, Nat Turner. Can we expect some live instrumentals on the upcoming project?

Always. There's always going to be a little touch, sprinkle of live instrumentation in the album, sprinkled throughout. A lot of it, though, a majority of it is just kinda me, sample-heavy, straight drum machine, doing what I do. But it is a little, some horns here, some live bass here, you know, live drums here and there. But it still is real raw.

The performance with Nat Turner... It was dope. The show experience makes the records sound even better...

I definitely like to bring a different experience live from the studio. When I'm creating in the studio, I have the live show in mind. Like how are we gonna flip this with the band? How are we going to do this, here and there.

We try to make it more than just typical rapping, you know, we try to mix it up. Cause all of the guys, we're all influenced by different things outside of just hip-hop. We try to bring all of that flavor, a little bit of rock, a little bit of soul, a little bit of R&B, a little electronic and uptempo, downtempo.

When you're in the studio, when do you start thinking about album art? Because you always have dope art, and I know you like to illustrate.

I try to think about it throughout the process. It depends on the title, the music, and I have a few different artists that I work with so all of them have their own different style so it just depends on the vibe of the project.

black milk no poison

Who will be producing the album art for If There's a Hell Below?

Right now I'm working with the same guy that did No Poison. So we're trying to figure out what direction we're about to go into with this new art. So with the title, we don't want to make it too scary or too hellish but of course it's gonna stand out and pop on the shelf when people see it, and be something that people want to display. So shout out to June Bug.

Last question: You have a huge music library. What would surprise people about it? What's hidden in there that we wouldn't expect?

I listen to everything, man, I don't know what would be a surprise. I go from hip-hop all the way to folk music. It doesn't matter, man. I don't listen to country though, that's probably the only genre that I don't get into a lot. But yeah, shit I've got some nursery rhyme records that are dope as hell. There's all kinds of shit. My record collection is all over the place. But if you listen to my music you know that it's all over, it's so sample-heavy. I'm really all about what sounds good. That's the thing, I don't care where it came from as long as it sounds good, feel good, I'm alright with it.

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