If Black Milk's loud and bright 2010 effort Album of the Year felt like triumph and soul, the dark and punchy No Poison No Paradise feels like doubt and funk. It's also a return to the same kind of hip-shaking techno beats found on his 2008 album, Tronic, but the formerly Detroit-, now Dallas-based rapper and producer is also post-breakthrough, so his hunger is for something different, as the observational "Interpret Sabotage" searches for meaning, or at least peace of mind. Rattling off his lines at a frantic, Twista-fast pace and with a Kanye West-sharp snarl, Milk offers "They're poppin champagne with bitches 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...," then takes both a long inhale and long pause before the hollow and hedonistic circle begins again. Turns out, club life and bottle service aren't nearly as filling as serenity. The jazzy and ironically titled "Perfected on Puritan Ave" admits that back in the day "The rap game was a fallback plan" and yet backstage, Bettys who can't even hold or appreciate their high-grade weed are the reward for "young players who ain't ever seen or never had nuthin'/But made some off makin' rap shit and started live fast with some cash stuntin'." Brilliant how the brittle and off-kilter beat of "Dismal" suggests a man lost in purgatory, and with feelings that are equally vacant ("Yeah, you had it all, hit a broad all night/Now she's comin' full circle, didn't play your cards right") while "Sunday's Best" ("church shoes were achin'" and "rather be home video gamin'") and "Monday's Worst" ("I hate you in the worst way/Spent money on Rosé instead of your son's birthday") add up to a suite that shakes its head in the presence of church heathens, because if the wrath of God won't turn you around, what will? Producer Will Sessions handles the beat on the easy-strollin' "Deion's House," but otherwise, it's a restrained Milk behind the boards, wrapping his elevated lyrics in Dilla-inspired/Dilla-worthy broken funk for "Ghetto Demf" or making this a true album experience by allowing vocalist Dwele and keyboardist Robert Glasper room to just vamp on the instrumental treasure called "Sonny Jr. (Dreams)." Don't call it a comedown because No Poison No Paradise tempers all this down-trodden acceptance with hope and pride, and while the more approachable Album of the Year makes for an easier entry point into the man's discography, this one is deeper, and artistically more filling.
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AllMusic Review by David Jeffries