After years of getting it in with B.R. Gunna, Black Milk was mistaken for a rookie in 2007, and won accolades from fans and critics for both his evolving rapping and his booming beats. As he waits on mainstream placements to the likes of Lloyd Banks and Pharoahe Monch, Black Milk continues his stream of independent albums, first with Bishop Lamont on Caltroit, coming soon with Sean Price, but for the moment it’s The Set Up with neighboring partner Fat Ray.
With a baritone vocal delivery Fat Ray stands apart from his peers. The Detroit rapper uses a melodic tone similar to The Re-Up Gang‘s Sandman, as he drives verses that use pavement-hard imagery of shake-downs, collection runs and alley-way stomping. Comparatively, Ray lacks the linguistic versatility of Guilty Simpson, and he fails to have the sensitive charm that made Slum Village accessible to females, but Ray exceeds most with his convincing tough-guy bravado, albeit with skill. On songs like “When It Goes Down,” Black Milk‘s faster, lighter rapping sets a great contrast for Ray to balance it with boisterous words and powerful cadences. On “Ugly,” Fat Ray comes alive, with a faster, more syncopated rhyme-pattern than heard elsewhere. Although subject matter finds itself limited to head-receiving, money and stick-ups, Fat Ray joins Phat Kat, Trick Trick and Guilty in being resonant voices that show what’s really (not so) good in the D.
It’s presumed that it’s Black Milk‘s board-work that brings many to this project. New instrumentation shows a revitalized energy in the young producer’s craft. “Not U” uses a chopped-up guitar loop with altered volume to create a charged texture that matches the aggressive verses from the duo. “Ugly” uses a similar formula with a pensive piano lick, however it is Black‘s expert drum programming that gives the track motion. Like Ghostface‘s “Run,” the song feels like chase music, as the rappers use tempo in their verses to make something complex with simple expectations. Just as DJ Premier spent years making classics leading up to his 1994 paradigms with Guru, Biggie and Nas, 1995 was considered his pinnacle. With so much praise in ’07, beginning with this self-sustained project, Black Milk might be following a similar trend of creative genesis.
For the last 10 years, Detroit Hip Hop, whether abstract, street or commercial has had one common quality – it sounds incredible in the car. The Set Up is truck music in its finest: big bass, pushy lyrics and anthems that are as dynamic as the road ahead. While neither Fat Ray or Black Milk are impeccable emcees, both give album-worthy attention to what many greats would just as soon pass off as mixtape material. The Set Up likely lives up to its name, a preemptive strike for years of collaboration to come. However, in the quiet quarter meantime, fans of the hardcore Hip Hop can embrace this quality collection.