Producer and MC Curtis Cross, better known to the hip-hop world as Black Milk, released his newest album on Tuesday, titled No Poison No Paradise, which is already proving to be one of the year’s best and most unique hip-hop albums.
The hype surrounding the release has not gone in vain, with Cross creating an album that is sure to be talked about for the rest of the year.
What distinguishes No Poison No Paradise from other albums released so far this year are the unique blends of different genres of music, all layered to create a complex, highly engaging album that feels more like a symphonic experience than a roster of rap singles. Guest artists on the album, which include Black Thought, Robert Glasper, Dwele and Quelle Chris, speak to this alternative direction that the album takes.
The tracks on No Poison No Paradise don’t feel like beats engineered in a studio, but rather sweeping musical compositions that draw on rhythms and melodies from jazz, soul and electronic music to create a wholly unique sound. Hazy background vocals, skittering drums and rich electronic beats create a lush soundscape that allows the listener to return again and again to the album and discover something new each time.
Additionally, this album features Cross taking a different approach to his rhymes, with a running narrative throughout the album about the hardships of growing up in an urban environment. Cross’ delivery is hard and clean, and he manages to rap about serious issues without taking on the didactic tone that many non-mainstream hip-hop albums can fall into. Cross evolves into a storyteller throughout the album, weaving scenes about the challenges of everyday life.
The opening track on the album, “Interpret Sabotage,” featuring Mel, sets the sonic tone for the rest of the album. The atmospheric opening piano chords, Cross’ rapid-fire delivery, his cleanest on the album, soulful backing vocals and hard-hitting electronic pulses all maintain the essence of Cross’ different genre influences, and at the same time mold them into a fresh new sound.
The two stand-out tracks on the album, “Sunday’s Best” and “Monday’s Worst,” are exceptional in their production, drawing on Motown-influenced vocals, driving drums, pulsating electronic beats and recordings of everyday life on the street to create an excellent sonic summation of Cross’ influences and aspirations with this album.
These tracks not only provide engaging lyrics for the more lyrically minded hip-hop heads, but generate beats that can be blasted on car speakers while driving through the streets of Los Angeles. In the end, No Poison No Paradise is an album that appeals to many different kinds of music listeners, from the production-minded to the more rhyme-oriented fans.
There are moments during the album when Cross allows instrumentals to take center stage, letting the listeners immerse themselves into the sonic landscape that he’s created. This takes Cross’ album beyond the genre boundaries of hip-hop music, challenging the listener to take conflicting genres of music and reconcile them into a whole.
The combinations of jazz, soul and electronic music on these tracks create a wholly different soundscape than the predominantly electronic or jazz-heavy albums that dominate hip-hop music today. It is a soundscape that takes a wide variety of musical influences and combines them in surprising ways to create a varied and interesting musical journey.
There is no distinguishing melodic line that runs through the entire album. Instead, each track works with each genre of music differently, sometimes drawing on a genre such as jazz for its rhythms and other times for its melodic lines. Each song can stand on its own, yet all of the tracks work together to generate a well-rounded mood for the album.
No Poison No Paradise emerges as an album that is best listened to from beginning to end, following the musical and narrative progression that Cross creates with each passing track.
The end result is a hip-hop album that can stand as an engaging listen long after the hype surrounding its release has died down.
What Cross’ album represents is a move towards the genre-bending music that is beginning to define the playlists of more and more listeners. In an industry that is constantly feeling the pressure to generate sounds that push the boundaries of traditional genres, No Poison No Paradise proves that time spent in the studio and an honest effort to create something that can engage listeners beyond a novelty factor can generate an album that can be listened to again and again, long after any musical trends have died down.
The sounds on No Poison No Paradise are representative of one of the most creative minds in hip-hop today. While the genre-crossing tracks might prove challenging to many genre purists, the wide variety of musical influences and Cross’ lyrics allow new listeners multiple gateways into the unique soundscape that is Black Milk.
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