The Top 50 MC’s lists going around this summer have been entertaining, but my favorite ranking in hip-hop has always been “Best Producer on the Mic.” It’s a much shorter list: Q-Tip, Havoc, RZA, Dr. Dre, Lord Finesse, Diamond D, J Dilla, Eric Sermon, Kanye West, El-P. Who you got?
Let’s officially throw Detroit’s Black Milk into the conversation. Unquestionably a disciple of Dilla, he’s cultivated his own distinct sound over the years, and while his production has always outshined his lyrics, it’s because the production is so amazing, not because he’s any slouch on the mic. DiVE is the newest addition to his diverse catalogue of solo and collaborative projects.
It’s odd that he’s calling an 11-track, 35-minute release an EP. DiVE feels like an album, and while it delves a bit deeper into R&B, with features from the likes of Sam Austins and BJ the Chicago Kid, it’s definitely a continuation of last year’s Fever.
Slow jams and mellow grooves provide the palette, with most tracks blending rapping, singing, production and live instrumentation cohesively, something that Black Milk always makes sound easier than it is. “Relate (Want 2 Know)” is a perfect example of this chemistry, with soothing background vocals from MAHD and exquisitely programmed hi-hats.
While the energy lags at a couple points, the album is eclectic enough to keep things interesting. The soulful live experimentation of “Out Loud” and the broken drum and bass of “DiVE Part 2” provide a change of pace, and “Swimm” nods to the backpack days of Milk’s earlier albums.
With a nice hook, “Black NASA” is the only attempt at anything like a radio track. DiVE is definitely not trying to blow the roof off of anything, but most of the time, neither am I.
Score: 🏊♂️🏊♂️🏊♂️.5 / 5