Detroit rapper-producer Black Milk floats into his eighth studio album, Everybody Good?, on a bed of the lushest synthetic funk this side of Thundercat. Intro “God Willing” sets a frenetic bassline against strata of electronic keys, soft background vocals, and drums hard enough to knock a filling loose. It’s a stone-cold groove with a hip-hop twist, the kind that compresses 60 years of Black music into a sound equally fit for a sweaty dancefloor as head nods in AirPods. Following in the footsteps of multihyphenates like Q-Tip and the late J Dilla, Milk has spent the years since 2018’s FEVER closing the already small gaps between rap, soul, funk, rock, and ghettotech while honing an anxious, socially conscious writing style. On Everybody Good?, he sounds more comfortable than ever as both a bandleader and an astute everyman.
He remains a producer first and foremost. The music of Everybody Good? was produced, arranged, and mixed pre-COVID, and the beats, as ever, are gorgeous and meticulously crafted. Splitting the difference between traditional and live-band hip-hop, Milk often samples session players and then chops up the recordings the old-fashioned way. What separates him from fellow era-blending contemporaries like Oddisee is his love for the rakish, crooked bliss of Dilla time. Drums pop seconds before and after you expect; the low end is turned up in the mix, looming over the arrangements of “Wait Til Fate” and “Downs Got Up.” Lead single “Is It Just Me?” gives the vintage Black Milk sound a stickier feel with a beehive of synths, bass, and keyboards whirring around stilted drum claps.
There’s a proggy sprawl to these songs only hinted at on previous Black Milk records. Several feature long instrumental bookends that let the song marinate before any voices are heard. “Ain’t Nobody Coming Down to Save You” turns an interpolation of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” into a rapturous stomp that echoes and wails like a Parliament-Funkadelic song. The flickering notes and muted bass of “Feelings Don’t Feel” and “The Black Surf (Everybody Good?)” are disrupted by crunchy drum fills that punch through the mix. The scale of these beats is impressive enough to sequence alongside legends like Karriem Riggins, who co-produces “Fews & Trues,” and Raphael Saadiq, who provides the one beat not touched by Black Milk on “No Wish.” Milk’s growing ambition helps his work slot seamlessly next to theirs.
Milk has struggled in the past with indistinct writing, but with every project since 2010’s Album of the Year, his perspective has sharpened. The lyrics for Everybody Good? came after the beats were made, and they refine the anxieties and joys of navigating the world as a Black man previously explored on FEVER. Sometimes, they’re presented as “tightrope walking in the sky” (“Downs Got Up”); at others, funneled through outlets like money (“For How Much?”) and social media (“Feelings Don’t Feel”). On “Wait Til Fate,” he alludes to a health issue that landed him in the hospital, forcing him to consider whether or not to worry his mother with the news. He’s dealt with life issues directly on record before, but it’s rarely been this tender and exposed. Despite the occasional forced punchline (“came up short like a dress in June”)—and being outclassed by scene-stealing verses from Mick Jenkins on “Feelings Don’t Feel” and Phonte on “No Wish”—Milk’s bars are more fleshed-out than before. Still, the beats are the main attraction. It’s invigorating to hear musical ideas that started out as sample-based noodling on 2005’s Sound of the City and 2008’s Tronic arrive full-formed. In a world gripped by paranoia and mistrust, Black Milk finds solace in the one aspect of life he can control.