Waking up far earlier than I was accustomed in order to be able to dial up Black Milk to discuss his (fantastic) new album, FEVER, I quickly got over feeling tired, looking forward to a chat with a long time favorite. Then I called. No answer. A few minutes later, trying again, a laughing Curtis Cross answered, having not recognized the foreign number, he'd checked with his manager to see just what the heck was going on: he was immediately warm, clearly just open to chat away without any sense of pretense. We got promptly to business.

Chase: So let's just get right down on to it: with FEVER, what were your thoughts going into this particular project?

Black Milk: My thoughts? I think my mind state was, more so, to make more of a feel good album. I felt like my last two albums, If There's a Hell Below and No Poison No Paradise were darker albums, and I didn't wanna do somethin' like that again. I wanted to do something brighter, and more 'vibey-er', more good vibes and stuff. So that was my initial thought process, but then, you know, that was like a year and a half ago. So, then, all these events occurred, all these social issues, which kind of made me steer in another direction. You know what I'm sayin'? So in spite of what I wanted that had me going the opposite way, back into a more dark (laughs) vibe.

Chase: I think that mixture is part of what made the album into something unique.

Milk: I think if you listen to the album you hear both sides of the fence. Like, you hear those brighter vibes, those more feel-good vibes with the more socially conscious, reflective thinking on top of it, as well. That's kinda how it all came together. That was my thought process initially going into it.

Chase: I hear you, so since you mentioned them, with the last two records, No Poison and Hell Below, those came after each other pretty quickly, with this one you took some more time in between, was that a conscious choice, or just how the process worked out?

Milk: Yeah, it was pretty conscious, you know what I'm sayin'? Once I'd finished No Poison, I was like, I'm jumping into the next one immediately, and now I kinda feel about this album as well, this album isn't even out yet, but I'm tryna jump into the next one immediately, and hopefully drop somethin' else the following year, next year. I just kinda go through spurts like that, where I'll be on a certain wave or certain vibe, and get that out of my system, then I'll probably take another few years and try to come up with something new, a new vibe, or a new sound, something that I haven't touched on yet.

Chase: I'll be looking forward to next year, then! So, with the album title itself, at least it struck me, a fever can be sickness, then desire, or enjoyment, there's so many different levels to the word, is that something you were intentionally playing with?

Milk: Yeah. Well, I came with that title based on, like I said, looking at all the different social issues going on. The climate of the country, the world, temperatures are high right now, and that's what the title is reflecting. Just trying to...everyone's attitude, energy, tension, it's high right now, on both sides of the fence, no matter what side. Everyone...there's just anger in the air.

Chase: Needless to say, post-Trump everything is fucked up.

Milk: (laughs) Right, it's just crazy.

Chase: So, yeah, I was gonna ask that as well, with Kendrick for example, he's not so much interested in talking about Trump, and I don't think you went into it too directly on the record, but was he a big part of the record, or were you trying to avoid him?

Milk: Trump? He was definitely a part of it. Going back, I had my initial thoughts of what I wanted the record to be, a little before his...(trails off tellingly). Then we had the election, once that happened, all this other craziness started happening in terms of what people felt they could start saying and doing, you know, and feelin' like...for the first time kind of feeling kind of hopeless. Or – not hopeless, not hopeless, that's not the right word. For a time feeling like 'this is out of your control', you know what I'm sayin'? (laughs) You can't really...do, I can't think of the right word right now, it's on the tip of my tongue, but you just can't take control of the situation, you just gotta deal with what's happening. That was a feeling I hadn't felt, in terms of someone being President. So yeah, he was definitely a part of my thought process, and watching everyone react to it; and of course, then you've got the whole police thing still going on...how their interaction with the black community, the urban black community, has been...watching how from woman's rights to everything, all the issues you can think of that have boiled over in the past year or two, I tried to figure out a way to touch on all of them. But I still don't feel like this a politically charged album, I wouldn't consider it that, but it is an album showcasing that I'm aware of what's going on, and I'm expressing how I see it. My perspective, and how I'm trying to maneuver, personally.

Chase: Absolutely. I definitely think this is the most at ease you've ever sounded on a record, it all just flows naturally vs. the precise, painstaking feel of some of your other albums, speaking as a fan of those as well. I'd say No Poison and the like, you were focused on, I wanna say, almost jagged sounds, and this one's a lot smoother, you already kind of addressed that, but it's a major factor to me.

Milk: Man, you definitely picked up on that, I appreciate that. I'm glad that's something you felt when you heard it. (Laughs) Because I didn't know if I was too relaxed on the album, I was like, 'Damn, am I too relaxed, do I need to be more aggressive?' But, yeah, that's just the place I was in at the time.

Chase: So, on the first track, some words that stuck with me are, 'Hoping love will make you insane', and also, trying to break the illusion. What is the illusion to you? Culture, the modern world?

Milk: Yeah. Everything! Everything that we're forced to believe, and it's just like we're in this never ending maze of having greed for these things that have really no value to them at the end of the day. Whether it's, from my perspective as an artist, certain things in the industry that you have to do as an artist to feel like, whatever, to get ahead or make people pay attention. Then you've got religion, how we force people to just be...you know, like everyone's brain is just consumed by so much...I'll just put it like this: everyone's brain is so consumed with shit that don't matter. Versus being consumed with something that actually does matter, stuff that helps, not just the world, but humans in general. You know what I'm sayin'? I think everyone's focus is just all fucked up. I feel like everything is just an illusion, man. Nothing is really, none of this is really real and matters. Especially when it's all said and done.

Chase: Yep.

Milk: What really matters? Culture, that's something. Helping other mother fuckers, helping other people, that's something that matters. Something that has a lasting impact. I think the stuff that we focus on, to shorten my fuckin' phrase (laughs), is that the things we're obsessed over don't have a long term effect. On humanity. That's what I mean in terms of an illusion. I wish that everyone could focus on things that matter. Not only on their legacy, but on other people.

Chase: To me it's almost like, for a lot of us, culture's almost in a stasis right now. Like you were saying, there's nothing we can really do about Trump, I almost stick my head in the sand...I was in Korea when he won, so I've almost avoided that whole reality.

Milk: Oh yeah? (laughs)

Chase: I think a lot of us have cut into another lane, just finding refuge in music and the culture that we like vs. the reality.

Milk: Right. I think most people, especially people that don't support him are still, like, in a certain level of denial, in hoping that something happens that we can...(trails off, laughs), that he'll be removed from office. Just please not another 4 year term. But the fact of the matter is, we do have to deal with what we have to deal with. We gotta do our best to just fight fire with fire, and I look at it like this: this isn't the worst. It could be way worse. When I try to compare this era to the civil rights era, where they had it way worse... (laughs). Ya know what I'm sayin? We're just mad about the type of stuff that comes out of his mouth. There was a time when it was way worse, especially for people of color. It's more embarrassing, like wow.

Chase: The only question when I get in a taxi here, 'Why is your President such an idiot??'

Milk: (laughs) Wow, yeah man, just damn.

Chase: The stuff he creates internationally, being here, them living right next North Korea, it's crazy seeing the reality for them vs. what we feel, any time he tries to stunt with the DPRK, they're afraid of getting nuked.

Milk: That's crazy. See? That's crazy. It's definitely embarrassing and I try to, even at this point, to be aware of my social media intake. (laughs hard) This is the first time I feel myself being drained by being online too much. Just watching all of this, watching everyone's comments and opinions, and arguments over so many things. Petty debates, you start to feel drained, especialy if you're watching news headlines and all of that shit. I try to detox it, being online in doses, just the Internet or Twitter, to not consume as much anymore...because I feel like it really has, personally, has an effect on me in a hugely negative way.

Chase: It's created a divide where each side just thinks the other is completely stupid.

Milk: There's no middle ground. It's crazy, man, so crazy. And they're [Trump supporters] so willing to go to an extreme to support him, it's a total denial of reality. The reality of it is, no matter what y'all do, you're gonna be outnumbered anyways, by people who have common sense. Well, I wouldn't say common sense, but people who are just trying to live a life and aren't concerned by living their lives among people who are different than them. That's a very small group of people who just want to live in their bubble sayin', 'I only want to see one type of race, I only wanna believe in one type of politics', there's no middle ground, that's a small group of people. We see that from the different sides protesting.

Chase: Ok, I'm gonna change gears because we got pretty lost in politics.

Milk: (laughs) We're just being right.

Chase: So the album art, kind of a random angle, but I found it so striking. Especially for a hip hop record, it's not something you'd expect to see. Any story behind it?

Milk: Well, usually going into the art design, at least the past three records, I just give the music to the artist, and let them do their own interpretation, with what they see from what they hear. So, the artist I worked with this time is a guy named Adam Garcia, and he's done a few things for me on other projects. I gave him the album and told him kind of the direction, or the idea, what the album meant. He did his own artistic interpretation, it's definitely kind of abstract, but in terms of the design, the red slashes and the small picture of me, it's just lookin' like some modern art shit vs. just a rap cover. That was just his interpretation of FEVER, and what it should be. I'd actually been having a couple conversations about the idea of having kind of a white wall, art gallery style, kind of capturing a party, having the album playing in a gallery space, and having different artists create their own interpretation of FEVER, and the climate of the world and the country, and just putting their art to it. I like doing something like that, it's cool to see artists give their own take, to hear it one way from what I'm hearing. Not just artists, people in general, I'm always interested to see what type of color they're seeing when they hear certain things.

Chase: I'd definitely check out that gallery. The great thing about the cover to me, is it's essentially simple, there's not that much going on in it, but it just pulls your attention.

Milk: Yeah, yeah, yeah: Adam's really dope, man.

Chase: You've often had nice features on your projects, from Royce to Black Thought, Danny, I could go on and on: but here you basically stuck to your own voice, was that by design or was there anyone you'd like to have had on the album?

Milk: For FEVER, I was cranking out beats and rhymes at such a steady pace that I didn’t even think about rap features. Once the album was finished, I felt like I had said all that needed to be said and got my message across. In terms of collaborations, two people who come to mind that I’d love to work with in the future are Kevin Parker and Ty Segall.

Chase: So, what were you listening to during recording?

Milk: Hmm...albums I was listening to. I was listening to a lot of mellow stuff, and I think that's why I wanted to color a more mellow vibe for the album. I was listening to stuff like The Internet album, Ego Death, shit like Tame Impala's Currents. Anderson .Paak's album. NxWorries, definitely. A lot of vibey type stuff. That kind of pushed me to make, at least in my league, some more vibier type of production. You got a lot of K-pop over there? I've heard some but there's not really anything about it that gets me excited, like, musically. (laughs)

Chase: There's some that might make for good samples, actually, I think.

Milk: Oh, wow, really?

Chase: There's this girl IU that makes different type of tunes than you're probably thinking. I wanna see someone sample her so I'm gonna push that agenda.

Milk: (laughs) Definitely, definitely. I'm about to write that down right now actually, what's the album? [We talk about K-pop for a time, surely of interest to no one here]

Chase: Where did 'You Like to Risk it All' come from as the closer? What do you mean by that title?

Milk: The inspiration for the song came from the vocal sample, the words being sung. The “You Like To Risk It All” side of the record is about my willingness to risk it all in pursuit of a dream and hoping to attain certain goals within this lifetime. The flip side, “Things Will Never Be,” represents self-doubt and the choice to push through, stay persistent, stay focused and overcome it.

Chase: Switching gears to something more personal, sorry to ask, but as a fan of Random Axe, did Sean Price passing influence this album?

Milk: I wouldn't necessarily say as an influence. I was just thinking about people in general, the state of the world, I wasn't thinking about any one person in particular. But, he definitely still has an effect on me, being friends with him, and, actually, that was about to be my next project I was gonna focus on after my last album Hell Below, and he just passed right after that. It was just...fucked up. That was one of the reasons I had the one Random Axe song on my last album, it was a song to let people, fans of the group, know 'we about to get it back started', that was supposed to be a spark to get people back interested, and yeah, he just passed. Unfortunately, we hadn't gotten around to recording any new music. It's just sad.

Chase: Damn. A lot of the losses recently, Prodigy and Sean P, man. I basically grew up on Mobb Deep.

Milk: Right. Of course, two of my favorites as well. Really dope, New York, super New York rap, ya know what I'm sayin'? (laughs ruefully)

Chase: Alright, nearly wrapping it up, anything else you just wanna toss out there?

Milk: Aw, man, pressure pressure. We touched on so many things. There will be a FEVER tour, probably gonna hit Europe in May, do the States in the summertime. That's what I'm focusing on, now, man. Tryna figure out how me and the band that I perform with, what we're about to do with the new music. And, yeah man, more production stuff. Collaborations with a few people. Just stay workin', man.

Chase: Who do you have stuff coming up with, can ya tease that?

Milk: I wish I could. You know how it be when the ink isn't dry yet. (laughs) Don't wanna put your foot in your mouth if the shit don't come out. But definitely working with some new, young, current artists. I was up in the studio with some people, and I have a couple things with some really legendary people. Artists that have bee around in the game doing their thing for a minute, so...yeah, man, workin' on it.

Chase: Who's a young face that you would want to work with?

Milk: That I wanna work with...it's funny, man, because I had my eye on working on a cat like Earl, a cat like Kendrick, then I was able to work with both of 'em on a Danny Brown record I produced, 'Really Doe', where they all was on it, it was Danny, Ab-Soul, Earl, Kendrick – that was crazy. Three people that I wanted to get around to working with, and I was able to get 'em all on one song.

Chase: Four birds, one stone.

Milk: Yeahhh. Basically, basically. But there's other dope artists out here, man, not really anyone in particular. At this point I'm open to working with anyone that wants to work with me, especially if they dope, talented.

Chase: Alright man, good talking to you. I'll look forward to whatever you got coming next.

Milk: You too man, appreciate it. You be safe out there in Asia. (laughs) Peace.