Filed under: Album Reviews
When I was thinking about a name for this blog back in December, I didn’t really labour over the task too heavily. I knew I wanted to reference the first LOTUG album in some way as it holds a special place in my heart, and I also wanted something that sounded good. Whether I achieved the latter or not is down to personal opinion, but I still like it and I enjoy the fact that it hints towards the urban nature of the genre (bricks = buildings, get it?!). What I didn’t really consider was the reference to Jersey (Newark is ‘The Brick City’), and it is only really as a by-product of writing this blog that I have fully realised the significance of ‘Da Bricks’ within the culture as a whole. Redman, Naughty, Artifacts… the list goes on. Of course, I wasn’t unaware of its role in hip hop, but I just hadn’t really thought about it that much and given it the full credit that it deserves.
With this in mind, today’s post focuses on Miilkbone, a Jersey resident whose debut release ‘Da Miilkrate’ seems to get overlooked despite a satisfying combination of beats and rhymes. A Naughty By Nature affiliate, it is no surprise to see Kay Gee popping up on the production credits a number of times, and generally speaking, the beats are solid with a classic mid ’90s flava: big drums and well chosen samples. Mufi is the lead producer on the album, putting together no less than seven of the cuts here, and this surprises me as he is a relatively unknown entity whose only other major production credit is on Queen Latifah’s Grammy winning track ‘U.N.I.T.Y.’. Highlights for me are ‘Keep It Real’ with its jazzy piano sample (the remix is also excellent), ‘Move Wit’ Da Groove’ which has a real ‘party in the summer’ vibe and ‘Check Me Out’ that features some classic sleigh bells and an enjoyably broody soundscape. This is not to say that the production is exceptional as there is some filler here, and I do find myself reaching for the skip button on a number of occasions when listening to the whole album: they’re not awful, but some of the beats lack punch and are easily forgotten.
Miilkbone can handle his business on the mic, with a flow reminiscent of his Naughty By Nature affiliates but without the finesse that make Treach and Vinnie so engaging. The lyrical content essentially falls back on the staple diet of boasts, brags and parties, but he carries the style off well enough over the course of the album. What really grates for me is his relatively consistent reference to the colour of his skin, and many of the skits revolve around the idea of his rejection of the ‘traditional roles of the white male’ as a result of growing up ‘next to the projects… with just flat out hoods’. If Miilk was so keen to prove that the colour of his skin was irrelevant to his music, then why the hell did he choose to bang on about it all the time? The irritatingly simplistic vision that he puts forward with regards to notions of race and identity in hip hop end up coming off as superficial at best, and at their worst, highly ignorant. Perhaps this is overly harsh given that this was released in ’96 when issues of colour in relation to hip hop had not been addressed in the same depth that they have been in more recent times, but there is no doubt that these overly earnest ‘justifications’ of his place within the genre feel heavily played out over the album in its entirety.
However, putting this issue to one side is worthwhile, as ‘Da Miilkrate’ is a solid release that contains enough highlights to keep the majority of heads happy. Don’t expect to be blown away, but in places this will have your head nodding and feet tapping: show Jersey some props and hit the link.