Black Milk, No Poison No Paradise

No Poison No Paradise is Black Milk’s first official LP since the release of 2010’s Album of the Year. With the exceptions of collaborations with other artists here and there, Black Milk kept a low profile with regard to his own stuff because he wanted it to feel a certain way. He’s been quoted as saying he wanted to release music that focused more on storytelling, and have a collection of songs with subject matters that tie into one another. He also described music as being like a dream, in that “the scenes are always changing and sometimes feel random and inconsistent.”

The Detroit-bred producer-rapper’s philosophy shines through on No Poison No Paradise, out today. However, it’s not random and inconsistent, and that’s a good thing. Sonically, he takes us back to 2008’s Tronic, so there’s a lot of drums and electronics, and less soul sounds than Album of the Year. Lyrically, the stories he tells seem to convey that he’s happy but not happy with his life as a rapper, which is understandable. The trappings of musical success can be purgatory for an artist like Black Milk, who’s not quite “conscious,” but just conscious enough, and more backpack than he is mainstream… but with mainstream-ish sensibilities. And so he grapples with it.

A good example of this would be “Interpret Sabotage,” where he raps, “They’re poppin’ champagne with b*tches in bars/They get in the car, they get out of the car/They get in their loft, and get up their broad/They get up the mornin’, they like...,” he pauses and then the cycle begins again. With the help of friends like Will Sessions, Black Thought, Dwele and even Dilla in spirit, Black Milk has offered up another artistically sound album that should be in any thinking hip-hop head’s collection.

Available on iTunes

Antonique Smith, “Hold up Wait a Minute (Woo Woo)”

Consider “Hold up Wait a Minute (Woo Woo)” Antonique Smith’s official debut single. The sassy, gutsy, bluesy song is sure to serve as an anthem for all the women out there who are tired of taking ish in love and war. Smith wails, “See, this disrespect boy ain’t meant for me/All you do is take and it ain’t meant for me/Hold up, wait a minute,” as she declares that she is officially over it.

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Lupe Fiasco, “Old School Love” (ft. Ed Sheeran)

It might seem a little strange that Lupe Fiasco would link up with Ed Sheeran for a hook, but Sheeran actually does seem to have a genuine appreciation for hip-hop (as stated in publicly. Now about the song: it’s the quality you should expect from Lupe when he’s not raging mad—pretty good. “Old School Love” is simple, as Lupe reminisces on the staples in hip-hop culture that he’s still fond of (despite them being obsolete).

The mellow beat—driven by a simple drum pattern and a few minor keyboard chords— serves as the backdrop for Lupe to rap verses like, “Analog, black vinyl spinning sounding so good/Top down, can’t be a classic if it’s no wood,” and “Takes a long time/It happens so fast to realize that your future is somebody else’s past,” as he reflects on how swiftly time flies. “Old School Love” is the lead single from Lupe Fiasco’s forthcoming album, Tetsuo & Youth.

Listen here.

Random Axe of Charlie, BPMs: The Anti-Mixtape

Charlie Vox is a multi-gold and -platinum singer, songwriter and producer. You may not have heard of her because she’s spent a lot of her time working behind the scenes, penning hits for the likes of Rihanna and Melanie Fiona. But these days that’s probably going to change. With her band, Random Axe of Charlie, she’ll get her name recognition all up in your ear. The band’s latest “anti-mixtape” is a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and definitely all funk, hip-hop, soul and retro nouveau. Charlie’s soulful soprano sweetens the deal. If Charlie Vox were food, she’d be a tasty Gladys Knight, Mille Jackson and Mary J. Blige gumbo.

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Starrene Rhett Rocque is a pop culture junky who often fantasizes about becoming a shotgun toting B-movie heroine, and aspires to save the world from the impending #ZombieApocolypse… In reality she’s a freelance entertainment journalist/blogger who muses about music, TV, movies and love. Follow her on Twitter @GangStarrGirl.