"We at nine right now; I wanna bring it up to ten," Black Milk instructed the orchestra of fans near the end of his set last night at The Roxy. Actually, they'd already surpassed his directive. The crowd's energy, simmering dangerously close to boiling at the open of the Detroit native's release show for his recently dropped Album of the Year, was now popping and spitting, overflowing even. But they were willing to follow Black Milk to whatever heights he wanted to take them.
A great conductor inspires that sort of devotion, and Black Milk is a great conductor. That's not surprising, considering he's as much a producer as an emcee. Neither is that sort of dedication--there's a certain purity to the love an audience has for an artist who isn't yet a mainstream name. Despite being active in the scene for almost ten years now, working with such legends as J. Dilla, Pharoahe Monch, and Slum Village, Black's still not a mainstream name. If last night is any indication, however, that's about to change.
It takes a commanding emcee to stand up to a live band, especially one featuring the impressively tight, crisp executions of keyboardist AB and drummer Daru Jones. But Black Milk's split musical personalities served him well. His performer hand reached out to the audience, inviting them closer and hoisting them aboard for the ride; while his producer hand led the band, throwing signals that resulted in straight razor-clean cut-offs.
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No wonder, then, that the futuristic parade that is the first track on AOTY, "365," sounded as precise and exuberant live as it does recorded. No wonder, then, that when he responded to a fan's screamed request, "I got you--fuck that rap shit for just a minute; I wanna rock out," and dove into Caltroit's chest-pounding "Goatit," The Roxy's floor seemed a trampoline. Master of Ceremonies Black Milk was expertly both directing and starring in this show.
And sweating. That's what happens when your set list, already a jubilant sprint through joints old, new, and borrowed (of which half the crowd knew every lyric), expands of your own volition to a marathon. Black's such a polished and through performer, it's likely he had planned to "spontaneously" and repeatedly ask an unseen promoter, "Can I do one more?" and the audience, "Are y'all tired? 'Cause I'm not tired!" But: He's such a polished and thorough performer, it seemed as natural and unrehearsed as the a cappella verse he spit (again, on crowd request) when Daru experienced some technical difficulties.
His voice, powerful, clear, and obviously well-tended, remained strong throughout the night, though he got a break nearing the end of his set when Cali native Bishop Lamont, with whom he collaborated on Caltroit and who also was one of the openers, and Elzhi, formerly of Slum Village, joined him onstage.
Someone shouted for Black to do "Deadly Medley," a jangly rock-n-roll track on AOTY that's overlaid with a heavy bassline, persistent drum, and frantic piano. "If I do that shit, y'all gotta get live in this motherfucker," he directed. They already were, but ecstatically agreed anyway.