Saturday night Johnny Brenda’s played host to Detroit underground hip-hop artist Black Milk and his live band Nat Turner, named for the legendary slave revolt leader. Local opener The Bul Bey brought a live band as well, his regular collaborators Hazie Blu, with saxophonist Radji Mateen taking the place of a keyboardist. The crew made thorough use of his talents, making room for several sax solos in the course of their brief set. Kicking things off with empowerment anthem “Not Afraid”, Bey kept things positive and upbeat, including altered renditions of Stevie Wonder’s “All I Do” and Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison” that he dedicated to the good girls and the bad girls respectively. Recent single “Where I’m From” managed to be a standout despite the lack of a lead vocalist or sample, the rapper’s insistence that he couldn’t sing managing to encourage the crowd to take over those duties. Drummer Tony Macaroni’s piccolo snare really cut through the mix, making even the most laid-back songs hit hard. If you’d like to see them do it live, check out Halfro‘s album release show at 3rd & Girard on Saturday, or Mickey Factz‘ Red or Blue Pill Tour when it hits The Fire November 1st.
Reef the Lost Cauze lamented being the only performer without a live band, though video mixing by DJ Caliph Now made his set easily the most visually interesting. Using a mixture of Reef’s music videos, album covers, and movie clips, the two weaved their way through his extensive back catalog, emphasizing his recently decriminalized drug of choice in a medley that was certainly the set centerpiece. It was difficult to determine which punchlines were funnier, those in the lyrics or the onstage banter, but tongue-in-cheek track “I’m On My Phone” was certainly the comedic high water mark in either case. Also firmly on board with the evening’s positive tone, Reef performed several struggle songs, climaxing with The Fast Way standout “For the Have-Nots“. The easy camaraderie between DJ and MC and the variety of material they performed made their veteran status immediately apparent, and effectively drew the crowd in for headliner Black Milk. You can catch Reef live with Army of the Pharaohs at The Observatory in Santa Ana, CA tomorrow, at El Rey in LA Friday, and at the Best Buy Theater in New York on Mischief Night.
As both producer and MC, Black Milk has been active since contributing beats to a 2001 Slum Village compilation. The influence of that group’s legendary beatmaker J Dilla can certainly be heard throughout his catalog, though the live renditions he presents on tour obscure that just a bit. Moving between the microphone, a Minikorg, and the compact Serato setup he shared with his keyboardist Aaron “Ab” Abernathy, Black Milk constantly kept the audience hype, chanting back and forth in traditional hip-hop fashion, announcing songs and the projects they were drawn from, and crediting each and every member of the band for their contributions. As mentioned previously, the vibe was unrelentingly positive, with a setlist dominated by more conscious tracks than not. Touring in support of the forthcoming If There’s A Hell Below, due October 28th, they still dug back through his catalog, touching on virtually every release. Again the drums, this time courtesy of Nat Turner’s Zeb Horton, sat prominently in the mix, making it very clear that this was a hip-hop show, no matter how many instruments were on stage. Following in the equally hip-hop tradition of the after party, at show’s end many people present headed up the street to Matthew Law‘s Friends’n'Fam party at Kung Fu Necktie, where Bey performed and shot a video last month. No matter how it ended, anyone who was there certainly had a great night. Check the dates on the flier above to see if you can catch Black Milk on the tail end of this tour.
By Dave Fox | Philadelphia Ambassador | @philosofoxthedj | Beat-Play and Music Without Labels, LLC