Respect must be paid. Black Milk, if you hadn't noticed, has long been one of the best sounding producers in hip hop. The Detroit Dilla disciple has practically grown into something of a rapping Brian Eno with his attention to detail and knack for intricately ambitious sound textures. You know before you dive in: a Black Milk album is going to sound lush. Sure, the term's overused, and often a defense mechanism when we don't know what to say beyond, “Damn, that sounds good right there.” Here, it just applies. I challenge you to listen to FEVER over any half decent system and not have the word pop to mind by the time the intro tapers off.

Lushness aside, a challenge for Black Milk (real name Curtis Cross) in his early records were the vocals necessary to coat the beats. For some time, they occasionally felt just that: capable, but obligatory. The beatsmith was more invested in, and comfortable with, the sound of his craft than the message behind it. This improved over time, and took a great leap forward on 2013's excellent No Poison No Paradise. Cross had doubled in ambitions, expanding from the sense of personal loss that dominated the earlier Album of the Year to take on cultural realities and wrongs.

Nonetheless, even that album felt a bit strained, if artfully so, delving into the mind of a character to explore ideas Cross perhaps wasn't assured enough to present as himself. FEVER immediately feels different. Right down to its vibrant coverart, Black Milk is more assured than ever. He no longer needs a dramatic fictional dreamscape to explore, his own ideas speak for themselves with half the effort.

Furthermore, while Poison and the equally strong If There's a Hell Below dug into an ever muddier, murkier sound for Black Milk, with Cross seeming to revel in the grit, with beats that could almost be described as jagged, FEVER represents a pivot in sound. It's not entirely surprising; while those former records served as a one, two punch, released hardly a year apart, he's taken his time with his latest.

This album arrives going on four years after his last effort, as Milk likes to work in bursts of inspiration. He taps into an idea, explores it, ideally, across two albums in rapid succession, and then waits until he's found a new wave. With FEVER, he sought to offer vibes, intending for a smoother, laid back sound.

Then the world went to hell. He stuck with the bounce in his sound, but took his thoughts to a sour, pensive place. 'Could It Be' gives the feeling of riding a bike on a sunny day, with its gentle trot and harmonized humming, only for Milk to blurt out stress over it. It makes for one compelling album, Cross sticking to nearly West Coast inspired grooves, tricking the listener into comfort, only to pull the rug out from under them.

The lyrics here often deal with the state of the world, Trump's head looming over much of the goings on. Much like Kendrick, however, Black Milk isn't as concerned with the man himself as the state of culture around him. On opener 'unVEIL', Milk hopes for, “love to make [him] go insane”, lost in the 'illusion', as he calls it. 'Laugh Now Cry Later' finds him seeing, “the whole world different now”, taking on the depths of social media and police and gang violence alike – all on the lead single.

There's no real end to Cross' aspirations here, in just over 40 minutes, he sifts through his own past while struggling to believe in a brighter future. It's just what makes this record so powerful: with some of the breeziest production one of the finest beatsmiths to grace hip hop has ever offered, Black Milk begs us all to snap out of it. With the mess we're in, it's all too easy to continue focusing on our petty interests, and FEVER just expects more.

It's a lot of pressure, not to mention ambition, for any album, especially a hip hop album equally capable of getting you to dance as to think. Black Milk has handled it with grace and aplomb. As he says himself on 'Will Remain': "a lifetime just to have overnight success." If FEVER isn't the record that pops off for him, it begs the question: what more does a rap virtuoso with an uncompromising vision for himself have to do to garner some damn attention?