Flatbush ZOMBiES Return with Classic Hip-Hop Homage “Headstone”

Zombie Season is upon us, and it begins by putting your favorite rapper's name on a headstone.

Zombie Season is upon us.

At long last, Flatbush ZOMBiES—the Beast Coast trio of Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice, and Erick Arc Elliott—have emerged from the two-year break that followed their last album, 2016's 3001: A Laced Odyssey

"Headstone" is a glorious return for the glorious dead. Atop an aggressive knock, the Brooklyn trio skillfully packs an impossible number of classic hip-hop references into their verses without once sounding forced.

The colorless video (directed by Luke Monaghan) is appropriately grim and ominous for the Zombies to pay homage to your favorite rappers before putting their names on a headstone. 

Vacation In Hell—Flatbush Zombies' sophomore studio album—drops April 6.

Confirmed: Rakim Doesn’t Do Twitter Rants

Confirmed: Rakim Doesn’t Do Twitter Rants

The (manager for the) God MC has spoken.

It was only a week ago when Rakim had Rap Twitter going HAM over statements chastising the current generation of rappers. Except, just as we suspected, Rakim wasn't the voice behind the keyboard.

"The Eric B & Rakim account is managed by a third party office that Rakim has no affiliation with," Rakim's manager Matthew Kemp confirmed in an email to DJBooth. "Rakim does not directly contribute to the account posts and this and other messages are not reviewed or authorized by him. 

“The post you refer to in particular does not reflect his sentiment,” he continues, “which in my words—only paraphrasing what he has said many times before—is that hip-hop has always been founded in experimentation and individuality. That is the core of the culture and should be celebrated regardless of someone's personal taste. The ONLY time he ever makes a criticism is when artists abandon what is true to them to chase a trend. In his exact words, 'Always Do You,’ not what anyone else tells you to.”

The post that Kemp referred to in his email is a since-deleted tweet from the official account for Eric B & Rakim that read:

“You are now witnessing the devolution of rap music. The death of poetry and smoothness, they use this. The absence of a message. The inability to create meaningful change through words and verses, but the worse [sic] is, they don’t even know they hurt this artful purpose, it’s tragic.”

Shortly after the tweet went viral, hip-hop media decided en masse to run with the story because that is what hip-hop media does, but instead of following in lockstep with nearly all of our peers, DJBooth reached out to several contacts within the same circle as the two hip-hop icons, among them Rakim’s own booking agent, and the press contacts for their 2017 reunion shows.

Our question: Did Rakim actually voice any part of the above statement, and if he didn't, does he agree with it or not?

Within half an hour of hitting send on all three emails, the entire history of the Eric B. & Rakim Twitter account was deleted. Though we’ll probably never know for sure if this firebomb approach to avoiding a question was, in fact, a direct response to our question, we at least now know that our gut feeling about Rakim’s involvement with the account was indeed correct.

So there you have it. The only devolution as far as this story is concerned is the reporting done by the rap media, which has largely become an adult version of the children's game Telephone.

“I’m Scared, Bro”: Lil Skies Explains Why He Avoids Lean & Xanax

“I’m Scared, Bro”: Lil Skies Explains Why He Avoids Lean & Xanax

"It's just not a way of life."

Atlantic Records signee Lil Skies might only be 19, but the rising star appears to be wise beyond his years.

During a recent interview with French media outlet Rap Fire Officiel, the rapper born Kimetrius Foose was asked to talk about the popularity of lean and Xanax among today's new generation of rap artists. While Skies doesn't completely denounce either drug (and is an avid smoker), he does explain why, for him, using or abusing them has never been an option.

"I'm not against people that do that shit, [but] to me, it's just not a way of life," Skies said. "I don't want to ever rely on something [like that]. I've said in my interviews, I'm scared, bro. I'm not going to sit here and act like I want to do drugs. Bro, I know I'ma have a bad trip so that's why I won't do it. I'm the type of person, my mind is too strong, I think too hard. I'm not going to put myself in that situation where I can get fucked up. But I've seen drugs really badly fuck up my friends, got some of my friends locked up for life. It's not for me."

Following the accidental drug overdose death of Lil Peep this past November, several of Skies' peers have formally denounced both lean and Xanax, including one-time Xanax endorsers Lil Pump and Lil Xan (who has since flirted with changing his stage name to Diego). 

In December, Skies released his formal debut, Life of a Dark Rose, which, so far, has produced two charting singles: "Red Roses" (peaked at No. 69 on the Billboard Hot 100) and "Nowadays" (peaked at No. 55).

rekordbox v5.2 – is it now the most complete DJ software?

rekordbox v5.2 – is it now the most complete DJ software?

While much of the DJ market appears to be at a standstill, Pioneer DJ marches on and pushes forward with the rekordbox offering. Now at v5.2, it now adds support for new hardware, but in particular has been enhanced for use with DMX lighting. Has this addition made rekordbox the most complete DJ software around?

For the very best in DJ gear news, check out DJWORX.

Key Glock Goes Off Top for Ep. 20 of DJBooth & TIDAL’s “Bless The Booth” Freestyle Series

Key Glock Goes Off Top for Ep. 20 of DJBooth & TIDAL’s “Bless The Booth” Freestyle Series

The fast-rising Memphis rapper is the latest participant in our freestyle series.

Fresh off the recent release of his Glock Bond project, Memphis rapper Key Glock, the latest addition to Young Dolph's Paper Route Empire, goes off top for the latest installment of our weekly Bless The Booth freestyle series with TIDAL.

Shot at DJBooth’s SoHo, New York City studios, Bless The Booth showcases the lyrical dexterity of rappers both established and on the rise.

Head on over to our YouTube channel right now to watch past Bless The Booth episodes from Rapsody, G Herbo, Don Q, CyHi The Prynce, Wyclef Jean, Nyck Caution, Mir Fontane, Zoey Dollaz, Rob $tone, Jimi Tents, Khary, OMB Peezy, Kris Kasanova, Jarren Benton, Sylvan LaCue, Skyzoo, Yung Pinch, and Cozz.

Work Hard & Woo$Ah: Childish Major’s Incredible Journey From “U.O.E.N.O.” to Debut Album

Work Hard & Woo$Ah: Childish Major’s Incredible Journey From “U.O.E.N.O.” to Debut Album

The days of making chicken tender subs as a Publix deli employee are now a distant memory.

I. The Sound of Humility

“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes an orchestra to play it.” —H.E. Luccock

The music industry has sharks in the sea, crooks in the castle, and knives for every unsuspecting back. There are con artists who wear the masks of managers, dreams sold by finessers disguised as friends, and record labels as trustworthy as a talking snake offering a golden apple. This is the game, devious and unforgiving.

The only way to know what's happening behind the veil is to exchange horror stories, but on January 8, when I spent three hours watching Alabama clash with Georgia in the NCAA National Championship game alongside rapper, producer, and songwriter Childish Major, his day-to-day co-manager DaShawn, and their close friend and collaborator Groove, there was no talk of past beef, burnt bridges, or deals gone bad. 

Instead of stories about their time spent in the belly of the beast, recounting nightmares before their dreams were realized, we talked about memorable collaborations, brotherhood, and the willingness to starve in a city full of artists who are equally hungry. 

Long before Gucci Mane offered to sign him as a producer during the Brick Factory days (he says he only entertained the thought for a day), and before he produced Rocko’s 2013 wave-making and controversy-stirring single “U.O.E.N.O.,” Childish was signed to the Atlanta producer and DJ collective Hoodrich. There was one problem, though: he had no real management and survived only by making chicken tender subs as a Publix deli employee:

"I was still with my ex. I was living in Sandy Springs. I had been working there for a minute. I was down so bad I was thinking I’m going to work this job and become a manager. Still making music, but not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I was going to work my ass off. I ended up getting my boss a promotion, he goes to another store, and I have to start over with somebody else. It was at that moment I said, 'Fuck this.' I was already signed to Hoodrich at the time, but I didn’t have a hit so I was still working a job. After I get off work, I would just go straight to the studio. It was me, FKi 1st, Spinz, and Alkebulan. Once I caught 'U.O.E.N.O,' I probably waited two weeks before saying, 'Fuck it, I'm going to figure this shit out.'"

II. Disturbing tha Peace

Childish Major had previously worked with Two-9, Rome Fortune, Spillage Village, and other blossoming talents in Atlanta’s underground scene, but “U.O.E.N.O.” escalated everything. First Pigeons & Planes named him a producer to get familiar with, then Billboard placed him in the top five producers shifting the sound in Atlanta's rap scene, and finally Complex hailed the work of the South Carolina transplant in their list of 25 new producers to watch for. Childish doesn't employ a tag on any of his beats―he's a student of the school of Timbo and The Neptunes―but that didn't stop his sound from being acknowledged. Quickly, his name was starting to travel. Everyone from Jeezy and J. Cole to Quentin Miller and SZA blessed his audio foundations. Success, however, didn't turn him into a mainstream darling.

In response to being asked about producers being shafted by major labels over beat placements, Childish recalled the time when, years ago, Atlantic Records offered him and a younger, less notable Metro Boomin $2,500, in total, to be split in half for a beat the two co-produced. “The placement was for Trey Songz," he said. "They wanted to put the record out online, but they called it a digital release to downplay the price.” Sound familiar?

Instead of taking the offer and securing a placement with the popular R&B singer, Childish took the advice of his current co-manager, Jeff Dixon, who convinced the young creative that agreeing to the deal presented by Atlantic would put him in a similar position in the future. Of course, it takes someone with a vision of tomorrow to turn down unworthy opportunities today. In addition to being one-half of Major’s management team, Dixon is well known for co-managing Ludacris with his brother Chaka Zulu and co-founding Disturbing tha Peace Records.

In fact, DTP's early team members represent some of the biggest movements currently bursting in Atlanta and overflowing into mainstream music media:

"Love Renaissance can be linked to DTP because Sean Famoso and Tunde Balogun started there. Courtney Stewart manages Khalid. Meezy co-manages 21 Savage. Paris “PK” Kirk is manager of label services for Tunecore. B.write is head of Eardrummers marking. Producers Ducko McFli, DJ Fu, and Syk Sense. As far as the new niggas, they all came out of the DTP studio."

III. Shadowboxing in Studios

In 2013, following SXSW, a then-21-year-old Childish Major was invited to DTP by Tunde Balogun for a session with a songwriter. There he met Jeff and Chaka Zulu, the three chatted, and a connection was made.

“Before I left, Jeff tells me to take down his number and offered for me to hit him up if I ever needed any advice or anything," Childish recalls. "Funny enough, I [started] blowing him up asking him all kinds of questions. From there he said I could use the backroom whenever I wanted.”

Now 26 years old, Childish has spent the last five years in DTP's backroom studio, turning the space into his own personal dojo. He learned to record and engineer, needing no assistance to make music. At all hours of the night, you could find him there, making music and—in the process—finding himself. 

Jeff and Chaka gave him access and keys to the studio, but more importantly, they provided priceless insight:

“There’s a lot of questions artists don’t ask themselves. Taking my first couple of songs ever recorded over to the office side of the building, playing them, and getting asked: ‘What type of space is your music going to live in? What are you molding this after?’ There’s a lot of artists who don’t know where they want to go. They don’t know where they want their music to live. After having those questions asked it was [time] for Deshawn and me to figure out.”

IV. Aim High

This past December, Childish Major released his debut album, Woo$Ah. The album cover, shot and edited by Gage McRae and Justin Dunnigan, is one of my favorites from 2017. The image of his head split open grabs the eyes and makes you wonder, a feeling encouraged by good, original art.

  Woo$Ah cover art.  

The music found on Woo$Ah is mostly mellow, but full of venting lyricism and dulcet production. It’s soft, but true to its title―stress is a common denominator intertwining each song. The weight of relationships crumbling, financial shortcomings, and life’s pressures burdening shoulder blades.

The project stands tall at eight tracks, but two entire projects were made and scrapped in the process of finalizing what would be the third version of the same album. The first project was called Humility City, named after Childish's company. Then it was Apples Don’t Fall. The only tracks that made it on to all three projects were “I Like You” and “Happy Birthday.”

Both Lorine Chia and Dreamville MC J.I.D were set to feature on the original version (Humility City), with the intro and outro narrated by Big K.R.I.T.―think Common on the first Man on the Moon, T.I. on Travis Scott’s Rodeo, or Big Rube on various OutKast albums. Two iterations later, however, Woo$Ah boasts features from Isaiah Rashad and SZA, 6LACK and DRAM, and the excellent Hero The Band. Even with such a talented cast, Childish utilizes everyone as assistants to his vibes, like background muses.

Building an album around the concept of stress is a relatable subject. Even someone who has seen varying degrees of success in music has days where it all becomes too much. When asked about his lyrical approach, the young artist provided an answer that displayed an innate sense of awareness for his audience and the desire to connect with listeners who are more grounded in reality:

"There’s four records that I feel like define me: “Damn,” “Window Seat,” “Madd Hatter,” and “Woo$Ah.” All are essentially the same type of records. Vent songs with different beats. Coming up in the production world and the songwriting world, I know a lot of songwriters who want to be an artist. I think the problem is… The reason it doesn’t work out for a lot of them is they think since they’re able to give so and so a hit, that they can give themselves a hit. It's less about that, and more about people connecting to you personally. I felt like that’s my approach. It needs to be my approach. To be personal."

V. 4YourEarzOnly

Four years after his hit song with Rocko, Childish Major is seamlessly transitioning from behind the boards and into the vocal booth. Patience has been a virtue he’s practiced since entering the backroom studio. When he speaks of improving, it’s with a sense of excitement. The ambition to progress has driven him this far and the results prove it has paid off. 

This is a South Carolina hip-hop fan who earned a placement on HBO's Insecure for a song J. Cole produced for him, who remembers downloading Cole’s Warm Up mixtape from Datpiff like it was yesterday. From being a fan of Little Brother to bringing Big Pooh out at his first-ever concert in Raleigh, North Carolina, to opening for Big K.R.I.T. and speaking to 9th Wonder afterward―this is what kids dream of when they think about a career in hip-hop.

When he moved from South Carolina to Atlanta, Childish Major had music connections but no family to fall back on. That’s what makes his story one worth telling; his success has been a product of patience and personal growth. We often hear about the foul side of an artist's rise, the pitfalls and the dirty deals and the broken promises, but Childish is an example of all that can go right. Be good to people, be good to your team, work damn hard, and don't forget to woosah.

By Yoh, aka Yoh Major, aka @Yoh31

Nipsey Hussle Claims JAY-Z Clearing “Hard Knock Life” Sample in 1998 Included Future Clearance for All Rappers

Nipsey Hussle Claims JAY-Z Clearing “Hard Knock Life” Sample in 1998 Included Future Clearance for All Rappers

"We benefited off his negotiating in 1998."

If you've run through the credits for Nipsey Hussle's newly-released album, Victory Lap, you might be wondering why JAY-Z is listed as a composer on "Hussle & Motivate."

According to Hussle, who sat down for an interview this morning with The Breakfast Club, it was JAY-Z who signed off on the "It's the Hard-Knock Life" sample from Annie for the record, which Hov famously cleared for his 1998 single.

"You know what's crazy about that record?" Nipsey said. "This is what I learned when we was going through the process and the paperwork. When JAY-Z got Annie to clear the record, I guess when he paid them, he said, 'Y'all gotta let every rap artist after me use this.' That was his deal with whatever producers and writers—so we benefited off his negotiating in 1998. We just had to get JAY-Z to clear it."

To confirm Nipsey's claims that Jay managed to both clear the sample for himself and for all future rap artists, we have reached out to the Warner/Chappell Music representative listed by performance rights organization ASCAP, who, per their public database, oversees 50% of the copyright on the original song by Andrea McArdle, an even split between Charles Strouse Publishing and Morris Edwin H. & Co. At press time, we have received no reply.

For those unfamiliar with the origin story of Jay managing to clear the Annie sample, we highly recommend reading the now-defunct Grantland's 2014 oral history, which includes this gem from Hov himself:

I decided to write the company a letter myself. I made up this story about how when I was a seventh grader in Bed-Stuy, our teacher held an essay contest and the three best papers won the writer a trip to the city to see Annie. A lie. I wrote that as kids in Brooklyn we hardly ever came into the city. True. I wrote that from the moment the curtain came up I felt like I understood honey’s story. Of course, I’d never been to see Annie on Broadway. But I had seen the movie on TV. Anyway, they bought it, cleared it, and I had one of my biggest hits.  

Rappers, Hov (reportedly) did that so hopefully you won't have to go through that. 

Rap Dads: How XV’s Son Changed His Perspective on Music

Rap Dads: How XV’s Son Changed His Perspective on Music

Sharing music with his son has completely rewired XV’s understanding of the artform.

There’s dad rap, and then there are rap dads. Navigating the world of fatherhood is tricky enough—just ask our editor-in-chief—but being a father and a professional recording artist at the same time is whole other beast. 

Over the past two years, fatherhood and hip-hop have intersected on a regular basis, with 6LACK canceling his last tour in order to spend more time with his newborn, J. Cole centering an entire album around Black fatherhood, and Chance The Rapper crafting a GRAMMY-winning "mixtape" with his daughter squarely in mind.

All of these examples have led to some great material, but how does becoming a father change the creative process? Or hip-hop fandom, in general?

In an effort to answer these questions—and because who doesn't love to talk to rappers about their kids—we proudly present Rap Dads, a new series that aims to highlight the roller coaster ride that is trying to be a legendary parent and a legendary artist at the same damn time.

First up, we have a born-again XV, who recently announced his return to hip-hop. After his son was born in 2008, and following some major complications, Vizzy’s entire workflow changed—for the better. Where he was once loose in his process, being a father forced him to become more organized and better at managing his time. In fact, he affirms that there is a whole new level of creativity unlocked when you are no longer living for yourself.

Of course, music has also been instrumental in his connecting with his son. While XV admits he’s protective over what material his son hears, sharing music together has completely rewired XV’s understanding of the artform.

“The music that my son gravitates to changed my music taste completely because it made me realize the power of melody and how children will gravitate to feel-good and uplifting music without even understanding the lyrics,” he explains. “It just made me realize how powerful the frequencies and vibrations music have over us even as kids. Especially when it's something from the heart.”

The full transcript of our equally heartfelt interview with XV, which has been lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

DJBooth: Tell me a bit about your son and your relationship.

XV: I have one kid, my son, and he was born in 2008, the same year I turned 23. His mother had complications early on and ended up having them at only 22 weeks. He was born a twin, but his brother passed away a month after they were born. As early as they were born neither of them should have survived, and my son should have had major complications, but he was blessed. He didn't get to come home from the hospital for about three months, so when he finally did, I spoiled him like crazy. Just because of all of the hardship he had endured for the first few months of his life. He got pretty much every toy he wanted those first few years. It's been hard weaning him off of that lifestyle, [laughs].

Aside from toys, what tunes do you put your son on to? Has sharing music together changed your music taste?

I'm always lowkey protective over the things my son hears and sees at an early age, so I would play only the classics around him growing up. Michael Jackson, The Jackson 5, Prince, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and of course hip-hop like Kanye West, the uplifting 2Pac, Macklemore, and myself. It's dope because when he was only six years old and watching movies like Shrek and Guardians of the Galaxy, he would be singing every word to the songs from the soundtracks like he grew up on them.

The music that my son gravitates to changed my music taste completely because it made me realize the power of melody and how children will gravitate to feel-good and uplifting music without even understanding the lyrics. It just made me realize how powerful the frequencies and vibrations music have over us even as kids. Especially when it's something from the heart. My son's favorite songs are all amazingly written records with great production like Kanye's "Power" or Macklemore's "Can't Hold Us," and even the rock songs he finds on his own now through YouTube.

How has being a father changed the way you create music?

Well, I had my son the year my music career started taking off, so I always think he was helpful in the change in my mindstate and my music. He made me realize who I was as a man, and the journey that I went through just having him and having to man up to the situation I was in helped me realize who I wanted to be as a man and that transcended into who I wanted to be as an artist. I also started grinding like no other, really trying to make it as an artist. I created my mixtape, Square in the Circle, the month he returned from the hospital. After that, I started working on my concept album, The Kid With the Green Backpack, and even did 80 songs with my 40 Days, 40 Nights series. So, he definitely triggered a work ethic that was in me that I never knew was there.

What was your process like prior to that?

It was a lot more loose and free. Not in a good way, though. No schedules. No organization. No release dates. I was releasing music, a lot, but it didn't have the same direction that came after becoming a father. Being a young dude pursuing music without any responsibilities outside of himself and his own bills gives you this freedom of self that sometimes can hold you back from figuring out who you are and what your purpose truly is. Not saying a child does that for everyone, but it definitely changed my writing. I was trying to be someone I wasn't in my music, I didn't care about repercussions of things I said in my music. I was like Peter Parker with the spider bite but Uncle Ben hadn't died yet. I needed that life-changing moment.

Would you say you’re a more organized creative now? Does that help the music?

Definitely more organized now. Even more so, since my son is in school and has his own schedule that I have to keep him on as a father. So it will help me organize studio dates and times. I'll fly out so I can still get to be part of his day. Depending on your priorities, it can help or hurt the music—I've learned that just from trying to learn how to balance it. I would feel overwhelmed when I'm in the midst of promoting or touring for a new project but I also want to enjoy all of the moments I can with my son.

Too many people feel like they'll get those times back or be able to create them when they want to, but that's not how it works. So I would have to say it helps the music have a certain style of rollout and release schedule which also helps an artist be able to balance his personal life. But if the artist creates better by having a more free lifestyle and schedule, then it can definitely have a negative effect as well.

How has fatherhood changed the way you approach the business side of music?

It made me start looking at music as an actual business. I've never been a money-driven person when it comes to creating music. But, I've always wanted to have my own record label so I've been reading and studying up on the business of music since I was 15 years old. It just made more sense when I had this other person that I said I would be responsible for.

What’s the best surprise that has come from being a father and an artist?

My son's school friends knowing my music, either from their parents showing them who I am or them looking me up because I do a lot of school events with my son and talk to kids at the school. It's amazing when they come up to me knowing my songs, and my son develops a sense of pride and confidence from that too so it's a great feeling.

Worst surprise?

Your daily routine changing from being a solo artist and free person to having to be this responsible, nurturing, intuitive father of a child that is watching what you do, not just what you say. It changes the way you move. I'm sure a lot of your favorite trapper rappers chose to take music seriously after having that responsibility hit them in the face.

Is there a level of creativity that becomes unlocked when you’re no longer living for just yourself?

I would say so, just because my career and so many artists that I'm friends with have evolved creatively after that change in fatherhood happens, from JAY-Z to Wale to Wiz Khalifa. It also depends on the time that you became a father and the place you're at in your career. For some, when you're at a loss for creativity or feel like you don't have the inspiration to make new music, a change in your lifestyle can jolt that creativity. It definitely did that for me when I was 23.

I know you’ve got new music on the way. Has fatherhood directly influenced any of your forthcoming material?

Definitely, I started taking off in my career when he was born and now I'm seeing him turn 10 years old, I want him to understand and hear my growth just as much as my fans do now. He understands music completely different now that I've raised him with so much good music so I want to add to that catalog and give him classics of my own.

Wiki & Antwon Deliver a Lesson in “Ballin on the Low”

Wiki & Antwon Deliver a Lesson in “Ballin on the Low”

“Ballin on the Low” is one of two bonus tracks found on the vinyl release of 2017's 'No Mountains In Manhattan.'

Wiki is a man of his city, truly New York to the bone.

Following the release of his acclaimed debut project, No Mountains In Manhattan, a tour of the five boroughs in sound and diet, the 24-year-old MC is back with “Ballin on the Low.”

“Ballin on the Low” is one of two bonus tracks found on the vinyl release of the album and is a crash course in Wiki’s artistic range. He packs all of the variety and charisma of No Mountains in Manhattan into the track, opening with his unmistakable and grainy croon, the conviction in his delivery palpable.

Leaning into his wiry and cutting cadence, Wiki raps about getting girls and doing laundry, proving that no amount of success will ever stop him from being a man of the people. Frequent collaborator (and fellow Secret Circle member) Antwon adds a tight guest verse. 

“What a fucking year,” Wik spits. We agree.

Beat Break: Black Milk Shares the Story Behind His 5 Biggest Songs

Beat Break: Black Milk Shares the Story Behind His 5 Biggest Songs

With his new album 'FEVER' out this Friday, we sat down with the esteemed Detroit producer.

Black Milk is the best double threat to come out of Detroit since the late, great J Dilla.

Coincidentally, it was with Dilla’s old group, Slum Village, in the early ’00s that Milk first made a name for himself by taking over Jay Dee’s production reigns on Trinity, Detroit Deli and Slum Village alongside the likes of Karriem Riggins, Wajeed and Young RJ. That’s right: his first gig was to fill the shoes of one of the greatest producers of all time for his favorite group of all time. Only in Detroit can that type of pressure produce a diamond.

While Dilla’s name always seems to crop up in conversations about Black Milk (sorry, Milk), Curtis Cross has quietly carved out his own legacy as a multifaceted creative force. Known for his hard-hitting drums, live instrumentation and obscure sample choices that leave no genre unflipped, Milk has released six solo albums and collaborative projects with Danny Brown (Black and Brown!) and Sean Price and Guilty Simpson (Random Axe) while putting on one of the best live shows in hip-hop with his band Nat Turner.

Besides the consistently quality product, one of the keys to Black Milk’s 16-year career is the way in which he evolves and experiments (on both sides of the booth) with each new release—whether it’s writing and recording a powerful concept album like No Poison No Paradise or composing a sample-free instrumental jazz album like The Rebellion Sessions. Black Milk isn’t just a beatmaker who knows how to rap; he’s a bandleader who can perform.

With his new album FEVER out this Friday (Feb. 23), Black Milk isn’t souring anytime soon. “It’s a lot of shit going on in the world right now,” he says of his upcoming LP. “The title FEVER is based off the hot and high temperatures that we’re seeing with all of the different social issues that’s happening right now. I’m speaking on some of those topics and expressing how I’m maneuvering through this era that we’re in right now.”

Here are the stories behind five of Black Milk’s biggest songs.

Slum Village — “The Reunion” ft. J Dilla (2004)

Sample: John Abercrombie “Timeless”

“Man, that one’s crazy because the beat was so simplistic in terms of the way it was put together so fast. It was just a loop that I came across by listening to some records, one of those dollar records that just had one little part that I chopped up. It wasn’t even nothing too amazing or groundbreaking [laughs]. I just looped it down and threw a kick and a snare on top of it.

"That’s how a lot of the records that people gravitate towards the most actually come about. Something that you don’t really put a lot of thought into. But, for whatever reason, you capture a feeling that people like. And all the records that you do put a lot of time putting together hoping that somebody will dig, they be the ones that get looked over [laughs].

“I actually almost deleted that beat because I didn’t think it was anything crazy. But when I put everything together on, at that time, a CD [laughs], it was just a 15-second interlude. It wasn’t even a two-minute-long track ’cause I didn’t expect [Slum Village] to want it. But they heard the track on my beat CD and were like, ‘What’s that one?! The quick one?’ So I brought the beat up and put extra little stuff around it.

“They had the concept of talking about their issues within the group at that time. Nobody said any lies; it’s [Baatin] in that song. They were just speaking about the drama that was going on at the time within the group between all three of them. I guess they just felt like they had to get it off they chest and put it on a record.

“The way they was able to get Dilla to drop a verse on it was amazing. I was blown away. Like, jaw dropped to the ground in awe. ’Cause Dilla wouldn’t have jumped on the track if he didn’t think it was dope. So getting that stamp of approval with that particular track—and some other tracks of mine that he had heard at the time—was amazing.

“Dilla was like most producers: a recluse, a homebody, at the crib making tracks. He wasn’t out like that, coming to the studio all the time. So you didn’t really see him much [laughs]. If you wanted to see him, you had to go to his house.”

Black Milk — “Deadly Medley” ft. Royce da 5'9" & Elzhi (2010)

Sample: Blackrock “Yeah, Yeah”

“I think that was one of the last records that I recorded for the album. I knew I wanted Royce and El on a song, but it took me a while to find the right sample, the right beat. I was coming across records where I was like, ‘That’s dope, that’s cool.’ But it just wasn’t the shit.

“I eventually found that [Blackrock] record on YouTube. It wasn’t a thing where I was digging through records at a store. I was just searching around on YouTube and I came across the ‘Deadly Medley’ sample and I was like, ‘Oh, this is it right here.’ And yeah, it worked [laughs].

“El actually came to the studio to do his verse. Royce, I think I might have emailed the track to him and he recorded his verse at his studio, and he sent it back to me.

“I wouldn’t say it was necessarily intimidating [rapping on a song with Elzhi and Royce]. You just know that you have to bring your A game [laughs]. I took a few days to put the verse together. I didn’t hear their verses beforehand, so I was strategically crafting something where no matter what they say, I’ma be satisfied with what I say. I know a lot of rappers, they’ll wait ‘til they hear the features on a record then they’ll write their verse. But I like to just put my best foot forward, record my verse and send it to whoever’s getting on the song with me.

“People love that record, man. Anytime we perform it live, it always goes off.”

Black Milk & Jack White — “Brain” / “Royal Mega” (2011)

“[Jack White] reached out to me, to my people and wanted to collab. Of course, I wasn’t going to say no ’cause I was already a fan of all his records. I was like, ‘Hell yeah! That’d be really dope.’ I went down to Nashville with my crew and met up with him at his home studio. We got in there for a few days and just kinda jammed out with some his musician friends and the musicians I brought down. And we came out with a few records.

“I actually performed at his venue, the Third Man Records venue that he has down there in Nashville. I did a show and it was a great time. Real great time.

“I was curious [as to how he found out about me] as well so I asked him that same question like, ‘Yo, how did you even come across my music?’ And I think he said he came across the [‘Deadly Medley’] video and liked it. He said he had been wanting to work with a Detroit hip-hop artist for a while, one that made the most sense for what he does. I guess me being a producer and a vocalist, he probably felt that we could find some common ground in the creative process.

“I was basically [running point] in the studio. He just let me determine who plays what and how it’s played. All of those guys are obviously talented musicians and everybody was jamming out. It was a thing where they was just playing and if I heard something that I liked, I would tell them to play that part and I'ma chop it.

"We never discussed doing a full project. He brings a lot of artists to Nashville with his label and they work on a few records. He has this 45 series where he just puts out these 45s with all kinds of different artists, and I was just one of the artists that was part of the series.

“Which is my favorite song? Damn, that’s a hard one. Ummm… I don’t know. ’Cause one of the songs—I can’t think which one—I really love the beat. And the other I really like my verse on. Probably ‘Royal Mega.’ But I like ‘Brain’ a lot. I don’t know, man! [Laughs]"

Random Axe — “Chewbacca” ft. Roc Marciano (2011)

Sample: Tangerine Dream “Tangram Set 1”

“My manager at the time, Hex [Murda], he was working on Guilty Simpson’s album; he manages Guilty as well. He and Guilty wanted to get a Sean P feature on his album. It was over one of my beats. They made it happen. Then Hex had the idea of like, ‘Man, it would be crazy if all three of you did an album together.’

“So [Hex] talked to Duck Down and Sean P to figure it out. I don’t think Sean P was too familiar with me and Guilty’s music, but he did his research and he was like, ‘Oh yeah, these guys. They know what time it is.’ [Laughs] Once we got the green light on that, we dove on in.

“I started sending beats Sean P’s way and he’d send back verses. Then Sean P flew to Detroit for like a week to work with me and Guilty and Hex, and we was just knocking out music. As much music as we possibly could while he was in Detroit. Then he went back to New York and I took everything that was done in the studio, in terms of all the recordings, and I did what I did to it.

“[‘Chewbacca’] was another one of those beats that was thrown together as a quick interlude [laughs]. I can’t even remember what the sample was but it was just something that I looped up while exercising. I like to exercise on the drum machine where I’m just making beats at a fast pace. It was one of those tracks that I just threw together. The vibe of it was dope so I decided to save it. And sure enough, [Sean and Guilty] messed with it too and they jumped on it. And then we decided to get Roc Marci on it.

“[That week in Detroit] was a ton of jokes, man. Anybody who knew Sean P or is a fan of Sean P knows he’s a comedian [laughs]. He loved to crack jokes and talk crazy shit, so it was a lot of that all week. After the first couple days, it got to the point where we had to tell ourselves, ‘No, we need to focus in’ [laughs]. But yeah, Sean P was an interesting guy, man.

“[‘Scum’] was like the start [of a new Random Axe project]. I did that record to spark everybody’s interest, to get fans of Random Axe excited that the next one was on the way. So I thought it would be cool to set it off on my album. Rest in peace Sean P, man.”

Danny Brown — “Really Doe” ft. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul & Earl Sweatshirt (2016)

Sample: Giovanni Cristiani “Fragments of Crystal”

“That was another YouTube sample [laughs]. That was when I was digging online heavy. I’ve found myself in the last two or three years going to the record store less and less because I’ve been finding so much stuff online. But yeah, that was one of those simplistic samples that I didn’t really have to do much to but put some gritty drums on there, but with my touch and my swing. It’s simple but it’s raw. I love that beat a lot.

“It was on the batch of beats that I had sent over to Danny when he was working on [Atrocity Exhibition]. He mentioned to me that he had sent some beats over to Kendrick to just kinda go through ’cause I guess he wanted Kendrick on the album, and that was just the beat that Kendrick picked! [Danny] hit me back like, ‘Yo man, we about to do this posse cut.’ I was excited because I had hoped to work with every one of those guys at some point in the future. It was kinda crazy to have all of them on one record [laughs].

“I think Danny just allows a producer, especially a producer like me that likes to push the envelope a little bit, he allows you to really get experimental with the beats. His verses, his voice and his flow are so crazy. He allows you to do crazy stuff musically. So that’s what I really like about working with Danny. A lot of times as a producer, you don’t really get to take it there with your beats. The artist you’re working with might not allow that type of energy. But Danny definitely does. That’s fun for me.

“Oh yeah, man. I’m going to be sending Danny some more tracks soon. Now that my album is out the way, I’m about to be sending out a lot of beats to a lot of different people. There’ll probably be another Danny Brown/Black Milk collaboration at some point.”

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