It’s been three years since a certain Detroit rapper has released a solo studio album, and his latest effort just might be the best hip hop album of 2013 (hint: it’s not Eminem). Black Milk’s superiority as a producer has long over-shadowed his abilities as a lyricist, but with his newest release No Poison No Paradise, he has taken major strides in bridging that gap. This is in large part due to the lyrical content that is presented in NPNP, in which Black abandons the braggadocio “I’m better than you now let me tell you why” style raps that have dominated his catalog, and replaces them with conceptual songs that are filled with keen lyrics and imaginative storytelling.

Throughout No Poison No Paradise, Black Milk loosely constructs the narrative of Sonny; a young boy from Detroit with potential whose perspective is constantly being shaped and re-molded by his bleak surroundings. Sonny is first mentioned in “Deion’s House,” which is wonderfully soulful with infectious drum rolls and a beautiful piano melody. It’s told from the perspective of Sonny’s childhood friend who he often gets into trouble with, but doesn’t mind taking the wrap because Sonny is his only friend with the talent and potential to make something of himself.

Black Milk and Black Thought of The Roots trade gritty verses over haunting organs and a chilling string sample on the very noir “Codes & Cab Fares.” Robert Glasper and Dwele are featured on “Sonny Jr.” a soft, jazzy instrumental which can be interpreted as a dream sequence in the overall narrative of the album. The track also serves as an interlude to the album’s core and strongest material.

“Sunday’s Best” and “Monday’s Worst” were combined and released as a single along with one of the best rap videos that has been put out this year (check it out below). The former contains detailed observations of a disinterested, young Sonny on a typical Sunday morning as he sits in church wishing he were anywhere else. The upbeat drums and gospel choir samples give the song a hopeful feel, while the repetitive bridge “it’s too late” segues beautifully into “Monday’s Best.” Here we find Sonny grown up and struggling with the path he has chosen for himself as he resorts to stick ups to make ends meet, and Black cleverly tells this story from the perspective of both Sonny and his victim.

No Poison No Paradise is Black Milk’s best work to date. The production is exceptional, as expected, and varies nicely from synthed-out to soulful throughout. He surprises and impresses lyrically with a narrative that is cleverly told from different perspectives, but is not too overbearing. This makes the album enjoyable whether you’re just listening to a few tracks or taking it in as a whole. 

Black Milk - Sunday's Best / Monday's Worst