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Posted at 1:57 PM ET, 02/15/2011

In concert: Black Milk at U Street Music Hall

By Rhome Anderson

black milkDetroit rapper Black Milk performs during soundcheck before Sunday's show at U Street Music Hall. (All photos by Josh Sisk/FTWP)

Black Milk's brand is built on tightly orchestrated, hard hitting, anti-pop beats, but his performance on Sunday at U Street Music Hall showed that he also deserves consideration as the best producer currently on the mic. Kanye West has had little competition for the slot since J Dilla's passing so the field is wide open for the driven Detroit spitter to grab the title.

The evening started slowly with a light turnout taking in a slate of top Washington rap talent, all of whom augmented their performances with full bands. X.O.'s ensemble lent a G-Funk'ish backdrop to his uptown NW drawl, which sparked the best response on "Feels Good To Be Home." Gods'illa's exuberance at times threatened to overpower the delivery of their earnest lyrics but the three siblings delivered a strong, energy-raising set, particularly with the ominous "Glaciers." SmCity rocked with the most polish of the openers and his tracks benefited from a stripped down approach.

By the time Black Milk's band stomped on the opening chords of the autobiographical "Long Story Short" from 2008's "Tronic," the room was sufficiently riled up for the assault that was to follow. Beginning his approach to the stage by rapping from the dressing room, Black Milk hit the accelerator on the calamitous "365" and didn't let up over the course of nearly 20 tunes.

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No breaks for acapella freestyles, no soliloquies, no exhortations for crowd response, just breath control powering a metronome flow that kept time against the staccato syncopations of his massive sounding music. Black Milk has presence, charisma and boastful bars as an emcee but his show puts the beats in the lead role, thanks to Daru Jones' turn as a hip-hop Travis Barker on drums, Malik's bass pocket and keyboardist/vocalist AB punctuating the sample stabs with organ and synth riffs.

Over the course of three albums, Black Milk's sound has evolved from head-banging boom bap to a polyrhythmic avalanche of vamps, drum fills and surging bass. "Warning (Keep Bouncing)" from 2010's "Album Of The Year" struck a particularly good balance between club banger and street sweeper, rumbling the club's speakers while still allowing space for the lyrical swagger to cut through. The supremely funky "Round of Applause" and "Give The Drummer Sum" generated a mid-set climax, prompting a unified sea of bobbing arms and heads despite both songs' aggressively warped meter. "Sound The Alarm" sounded like the soundtrack to a riot and was a fitting closer to a breakneck sprint through a bruising selection of beats and rhymes.

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By Rhome Anderson  | February 15, 2011; 1:57 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags:  Black Milk  
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Next: In concert: OFWGKTA at U Street Music Hall

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