It’s hard to believe that it’s been 5 years since we lost J Dilla, one of the most prolific artists and producers ever. And Thursday night’s Black Milk show at SOB’s was just as much about celebrating and paying homage to J Dilla’s life and musical legacy as it was about embracing Detroit’s new musical future.
Setting the atmosphere for the evening was Black Milk’s DJ, DJ Bill Sharp, who pulled no shorts as he began taking us through countless Dilla beats. DJ House Shoes come on shortly after. DJ House Shoes was like a musical conductor in many ways taking us through Dilla’s musical journey. Every person in that room either knew a Dilla track or if they didn’t know it was a Dilla track they knew after that set. He even found time to sneak in a preview from the upcoming Random Axe album, consisting of members Sean Price, Guilty Simpson and Black Milk.
Following the DJ set was Detroit’s own native son, Danny Brown, along with DJ House Shoes dropping the beats. He and DJ House Shoes seemed quite surprised that so many in the crowd knew who he [Danny Brown] was seeing as how a few months ago when he graced the same stage people were apparently sleeping on him. Guess the world is waking up. Danny’s set was raw and animated and his flow, explicitly illustrative. Midway through Danny’s set DJ House Shoes experienced a few technical difficulties with his Serato but Danny never missed a beat as he continued to flow a cappella.
After a few technical difficulties and a late start, Black Milk, along with his dynamic band of musicians featuring Daru Jones on drums, Aaron “AB” Abernathy doing work on keys and vocals, Malik Hunter on bass guitar and DJ Bill Sharp on the turntables, apologized for the delay and got right down to business. Black Milk has a great way of eliciting crowd participation and getting the crowd hyped, which is easy considering his stage presence and the fervor emanating from his band members. Daru Jones is a beast on the drums and amazing to watch. At times, he’ll punctuate a beat or the hit of a snare by standing up and sitting back down. Hunter and AB are also passionate musicians and it’s easy to see how involved they are in the music as the emphatically rock and nod their heads to the beat.
The set opened with several tracks from Black Milk’s latest release, Album of the Year including “Welcome (We Gotta Go).” Black Milk’s band brought so much energy and with every track the energy just got higher and higher. That energy manifested itself even more on the funky “Give the Drummer Some” from 2008′s Tronic. Later in the set, Black Milk decided to rhyme over a few Dilla beats. Black Milk humbly gave props to Dilla whom he credits his career to. With one finger raised up, Black Milk dropped his head and started to chant “Dilla” with the crowd joining in with him. The D was definitely in the building as singer and musician Dwele came out to support the show and Danny Brown came back onstage with Black Milk to perform “Black and Brown.”
The night was a reminder of the timelessness and rich musical heritage of the Motor City. Black Milk’s music and live performance proves that he is definitely carving his own space and creating his own legacy. Dilla would be proud.
Words by Terri Neal