As a producer, what do you do when you’ve covered so many bases in style? You find new ground or you refine what you’ve already touched upon. No Poison No Paradise is the palette on which Black Milk has painted his latest masterpiece, mixing old techniques with newer designs.
His “gallery” of albums so far make for well-rounded listening; his first three, heavy on the Dilla/Slum Village/soul chop influence with a more commercial slant, meandered into the synth sample masterclass that was Tronic before Black delved into the realm of live drumming and expansive songs for Album Of The Year. But for No Poison No Paradise, there wasn’t a solitary “theme” throughout. Rather, it was Black growing even further in what he was good at.
The album cover may seem garish at first but it actually tells part of the album’s tale, from the disheveled looking Grim Reaper to the religious imagery and smoking gun. The darkness emanates on tracks like “Codes and Cab Fare” with its almost paranoid and fearful melody and featuring yet another flawless performance from frequent collaborator Black Thought. The opener “Interpret Sabotage” is something of a synthphony, waltzing through in 6/8 and starting with tranquil Rhodes chords played out by Robert Glasper, a motif that crops up once more later into the album.
In the song, Black addresses the greats who created legendary eras unbeknown to them, leaving behind the music they never thought would have come with a curse and change for the worse (to paraphrase the Detroit emcee), before reassuring listeners he wouldn’t fall into the latter category.
In relation to the calls of covering old ground, “Ghetto Demf” and are undoubtedly from the school of Tronic – weighing in heftily with scuffling hi-hat arrangement and undulating synth lead – while “Sonny Jr. (Dreams)”, featuring the delectable talents of Robert Glasper on the keys and Dwele on the trumpet, are straight out of the AOTY book of jamming. The setting suits both musicians due to their emphatic musicianship. Arguably the stand out pieces on No Poison No Paradise are the double-track Sunday’s Best/Monday’s Worst. The former tells the semi-autobiographical story of a young ‘un, forced to go to church and grow up when video games, friends and NFL were higher on his list of life priorities.
The latter tells the kid’s tale as a grown-up, corrupted by crime and his untimely demise. Compositionally, Sunday’s Best will take you to that proverbial church in your mind thanks to a choir chanting sample doused in holy water and heavy knocking drums while Monday’s Worst cruises through with a prime cut soul organ melody and the lingering hook, “It’s never too late to get your values straight”. Always good to hear a hip hop track with a profound message.
No Poison No Paradise portrays the concept of doom and gloom better than Kanye attempted on Yeezus, in both lyricism and music. “Dismal” sees Black lamenting the life of being broke in a bleaker tone to his hip hop contemporaries (a polar opposite to Kanye’s comical “Broke Phi Broke” fraternity) while the lesson in “Monday’s Worst” is far from cheery but he doesn’t sugar coat anything and in an era of glossy materialism and fakery, this is a refreshing take. He doesn’t drill the message home in a confused way either, rather letting the beats tell the story on occasion.
But not everything was dreary and bleak, as the sensual grooves of “Parallels” and instrumental cut “X Chords” act as brief respites and showcases Black’s ability to make music that can stand on their own without the need of lyrics to tell a story or invoke a mood. While No Poison No Paradise didn’t necessarily hold the tight cohesive nature of, say, Tronic or Album Of The Year, it makes up for that with experimentation. A territory not traversed by Black Milk as much in previous offerings is jazz and moments on “Perfected On Puritan Ave.” with its frantic jazz drum solo and the later fusion era trumpeting at the end of “Money Bags (Paradise)”.
The breaking away from a single concept to allow his experiments to flow has paid off on this album and it is worthy of many replays to come.