Black Milk and his band Nat Turner play The Mothlight

PERPETUAL MOTION: Black Milk plans to spend most of the second half of 2018 on the road, including a July 30 stop at The Mothlight. But when he's not onstage, he's constantly working on production. "You might see some of that show up on a couple of different artists’ projects," he says. Photo by Delaney Teichler
PERPETUAL MOTION: Black Milk plans to spend most of the second half of 2018 on the road, including a July 30 stop at The Mothlight. But when he's not onstage, he's constantly working on production. "You might see some of that show up on a couple of different artists’ projects," he says. Photo by Delaney Teichler

Add Black Milk to the list of respected musicians with a fondness for Asheville’s live music fans.

The rapper and producer last stopped in town for a 2015 set at Asheville Music Hall, but it’s his local debut at the One Stop in 2014 that most stands out in his mind.

“I didn’t expect the crowd to be that amped up throughout the whole show,” he says. “There was a lot of screaming at me and people just really getting into the music.”

Black looks to build on that momentum Monday, July 30, at The Mothlight, where he’ll perform selections from his new album, FEVER, and other highlights from his decade-plus solo career alongside his band, Nat Turner. Composed of drums, keyboards and bass with the vocalist occasionally hopping on keys, the setup allows for an exciting fusion of styles on a nightly basis.

“You’re seeing what we love as artists, just in terms of touching on a few different styles and genres of music,” Black says. “Of course, it’s rooted in hip-hop, but we’re taking funk approaches, more rock at times, more jazzy at times, soul at times. It’s an up-and-down, roller coaster of music all night.”

Live hip-hop bands like Nat Turner, however, remain a rare commodity. In addition to the ease and cost-efficiency of a rapper utilizing a DJ on stage, Black acknowledges that, as with any kind of band, it’s a challenge to keep an ensemble together. He notes he’s been fortunate to have played with a band in his live show for nearly 10 years and says he’ll probably always tour with instrumentalists in tow.

“You can do more things. It adds that extra layer. You can have more spontaneous moments, go off-the-cuff during the show [and] feed off the crowd with different things,” Black says. “That’s the main thing I love about having musicians on stage with me. With just a DJ, you’re bound to the track. When the track stops, that’s when the song stops.”

Black is quick to acknowledge the influence of The Roots on his live show but feels as if he and Nat Turner have created something that’s slightly different. “I still like to play the music that I’ve produced in the studio, and the band enhances it by playing on top of it,” he says. “Of course, there’s parts of the show that’s all live without a backing track, but it’s kind of a hybrid of all of that.”

In the midst of a 30-city U.S. tour after a run of European shows in May, Black says his current favorite songs from FEVER to perform are “But I Can Be,” “Could It Be” and “2 Would Try.”

“I feel like this album, it doesn’t have too many superaggressive [songs] on it like some of my previous albums,” he says. “We still have our crazy, high-energy moments, but for the most part, there’s kind of a cool vibe musical tone to the show.”

As for choosing tracks from his back catalog, Black says he makes sure to work in his better-known singles, but on the present tour he’s often relying on concert attendees to shout out requests.

“Sometimes, there’s fans in the crowd who’ve been around for a minute since my earlier work and they want to hear some particular songs,” he says. “But it’s cool to see the newer fans who are just getting on from the last couple of albums mix in with fans who have been around for a while all in one room, just going back and forth.”

While performing with a band is his preference, Black still does scattered solo shows throughout the year. Those outings focus on his instrumental work and find him onstage with a few pieces of his beat-making equipment, playing primarily unreleased material.

“It’s definitely a different vibe. [People who] come for those sets, they know what they’re getting into a lot of the times,” Black says. “A lot more beat heads come out — people who just like instrumental music — so it gives me a chance to test out new things, new rhythms. Stuff that I probably wouldn’t put on my rap set, I can play in that setting.”

It was production that allowed Black to initially thrive in Detroit’s hip-hop scene, working with Slum Village while still a teen in 2002. The longtime Motor City resident moved to Los Angeles a little over two years ago but visits frequently — much of FEVER was recorded there — and keeps close tabs on his hometown happenings. Though the music naturally evolves and changes due to newer artists’ incorporating fresh perspectives, he still enjoys it because of the consistent underdog mentality that’s defined the city’s musicians for years.

“Detroit can be overlooked sometimes in certain aspects of hip-hop, so I feel like there’s always a hunger there with Detroit artists,” Black says. “You feel the music changing, but you still hear influences from past Detroit artists in some of the newer stuff, the newer cats — but they have their own flavors.”

WHO: Black Milk with Beat Life
WHERE: The Mothlight, 701 Haywood Road, themothlight.com
WHEN: Monday, July 30, 9 p.m. $12 advance/$15 day of show

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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for ashevillemovies.com and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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