Curtis Cross, the man behind the stage name, is a Detroit native and has made music since 2002, creating an international presence across Europe and North America. Cross has made three EPs, nine collaborative albums and seven solo albums, including his latest in 2018, “FEVER.”
Black Milk performs with a trio of musicians known as Nat Turner, who shares a name with the black American slave that led a slave rebellion before the American Civil War. The band features bass, guitar and keyboard to accompany Black Milk’s soulful sound.
Using his lyrics as a script for his music videos, Cross brings listeners into his world. Acclaimed by Pitchfork and the Wall Street Journal, Black Milk is a rapper, producer and performer that is recognized as one of hip-hop’s most acclaimed live acts.
The Daily interviewed Cross about his history, inspirations and aspirations:
Q: What is the story behind the name “Black Milk”?
A: It was basically just a nickname amongst friends and other artists that I didn’t ever decide to change. Once I started putting out my own music and actually got some exposure, I was like, “Damn, now I’m kinda stuck,” (Cross laughed).
Q: How would you describe your music?
A: To me, it’s original. It comes from a place of being a music fan of a lot of different styles and genres of music, so you feel a lot of different elements when you listen to my stuff.
Q: Who are some artists that have inspired you?
A: Oh man, where to start. From the hip-hop side of things, it’s more so producers. J Dilla was a big inspiration to my production and what I do now. Pete Rock, The Neptunes, Timbaland, DJ Premier, Dr. Dre — they were big influences on me as a producer. As a rapper, Jay, Nas, Eminem, MF Doom, A Tribe Called Quest. But outside of the hip-hop space, a lot of soul and funk artist really inspired me as well, from James Brown, Prince, Marvin. All the icons.
Q: How would you describe your album “FEVER?”
A: That was an album where I came into my own as an artist. “FEVER” represents, on a conceptual level, just kind of the times we’re in right now and me giving my perspective of what I see is going on in the world. Compared to a couple albums before “FEVER,” those were more personal albums, in the sense of me telling my story and where I come from.
Q: How did you become associated with the band Nat Turner?
A: That kind of started off from the keyboardist of the band, Aaron Abernathy. We had known each other since 2008 and we started collaborating, and we were friends. That was around the time I was putting out an album, so he was one of those people who helped me in finding musicians for my live show. We have been working together ever since and eventually named the band Nat Turner.
Q: Who plans your tours and why did they add Oklahoma to the list of cities?
A: (NMF) reached out to us, and I had never played there before. I’m always excited to come to a new city and see the energy of the city and see if I have fans in that particular city. I’m expecting to have a good time, a good show. I get excited to put on a performance. A lot of people don’t even know the level I can get to in terms of a live performance.
Q: What has been your favorite show you’ve played, or a memorable show you’ve played?
A: One of the craziest cities to perform in is probably Paris. The energy just gets insane every show. Here in the states, playing at home in Detroit is always incredible, and New York, Portland, Bay Area. But the thing is, every single city has a slightly different vibe, so to be touring as much as I’ve toured over the years, I kind of know how to play off of all of the different types of audiences.
Q: How do you feel about being one of the headliners for Norman Music Fest?
A: That’s a big deal. Anytime you can headline any show, especially a festival, is a pretty big deal.
Q: How do you feel about being one of the first rap artists to headline NMF?
A: Wow, definitely did not know that information ... That’s sweet. That’s even more of a big deal.
Q: What can people learn from hip-hop that they couldn’t learn from other genres?
A: It’s a big pool of all kinds of music in one. The main thing about hip-hop is that the genre is open to all styles of music and all types of people. You can’t really put it in a box as one particular thing. Since the beginning, the production of hip-hop has been about incorporating elements from other genres and seeing what you can create, whether it’s disco, funk, soul, country, classical, jazz, all of these styles. One of the reasons it’s gotten so strong and will be around for a very long time is that it’s not based on just one thing.
Q: What do you look for when creating a music video?
A: Definitely trying to paint a picture. I like for the videos to come off cinematic and dramatic. I’m pretty conscious of when I’m creating the music, like if I have an idea of what the single off the album might be, that lyrically that there’s already a visual aspect to it. It’s easier to put a song to the actual visual.
It’s really annoying when artists are trying to be different or abstract just for the sake of saying that they’re different or abstract. I’m all for creating something that’s new and different, pushing the envelope, but I also understand the art of songwriting and creating something that people can relate to. I try to do my best at giving both worlds. Let me create something that feels progressive but let me make sure, especially on the lyrics side, that it’s relatable.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish with your music?
A: I want to create music that are like some of my favorite albums, where even if it was made in the 70s, 80s, 90s, it’s music that I would never not connect to. There will always be a connection there, versus music that’s just there for a moment — doesn’t matter how great it is, how much it sells — it will be in the past and no one will remember it. I hope that the things I’m creating stand the test of time.
Black Milk with band Nat Turner will play at 8:30 p.m. on April 27 at the Fowler Automotive Stage. Norman Music Festival is free to the public and will be April 25-27 in downtown Norman.