Black Milk is the professional moniker of hip-hop producer, and rapper, Curtis Cross. Hailing from Detroit, the thirty-four-year-old Cross mightn’t be a household name, but that fact does not reflect his skills or work ethic. In the decade-and-a-half that Cross has been professionally active, he has collaborated on over a half-dozen albums with other artists, released three EPs and seven albums, of which Fever is the latest. With each of Cross’ previous records receiving praise from the critics and hip-hop listening community – especially with regards to his skills as a producer – expectations were certainly high for Fever.
Featuring Texan vocalist/producer, Sudie, unVEil opens Fever with an interesting blend of ethereal electronic beats and light guitar riffs (courtesy of Sasha Kashperko), counterpointed by earthy percussion delivered by Daru Jones. It is definitely not the standard hip-hop beat – as far as there is such a thing – and establishes the listener’s need to be open to surprises, something that is reinforced by the more angular beats that immediately follow on But It Can Be (featuring vocals from Aaron ‘Ab’ Abernathy). If at this point, doubt remains in the listener’s mind regarding Cross’ production skills, this is soon dismissed with the excellent groove of Could It Be and its transition into I Would Try featuring Dwele.
Lead single, Laugh Now Cry Later, utilises news media samples to establish a mood, but the song’s coda really feels as though it should exist separately as an interlude track on the record. Drown features a compelling funk-meets-jazz groove which, when coupled with Cross’ lyrical concern over police brutality and racial profiling, makes for Fever’s standout track, and the musical shift for the song’s outro tonally matches the title. Throughout Fever, Cross’ reputation as a producer par excellence is firmly on display, although the criticisms of his rapping ability seem justified. Not that his rapping is particularly objectionable, rather it is simply the least engaging element in his sound.
Beyond the strength of Cross’ quirky beats, compositional skills, and solid use of samples, Fever also benefits from the utilisation of real instruments and musicians in the recording process. Further to those mentioned above, the percussion of Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave, bass from Malik Hunter, and keys from Ian Fink, imbue the album with a depth and tangibility that could very well have ended up missing from the record. Even for those not especially drawn to hip-hop and rap, Black Milk’s Fever is an album that stands strongly and pulls the listener back for repeat listens.