First things first - this album sounds great. If you can listen to the opening track and not instinctively turn up your stereo, you might want to check your pulse.

Of course, I would expect nothing less coming from someone who has already established themselves as one of the best working producers, who cut his teeth collaborating with J Dilla. I know that connection is both a blessing and a curse to him, but I think this album might be the last time we get hung up on it. Album of the Year is a lot of things, but I think above all else it will mark a turning point in his career.

The title is a play on the phrase, which actually refers to the music reflecting the past year or so of his life. In “365,” I first ignored the lyrical content and got caught up with the amazing snares and cymbals crashes and funky bass line and the well-integrated “doos and dahs” from the female back-up singers. But if you take the time to listen, you’ll find that Milk has dealt with the health problems and the loss of loved ones. The album’s sense of immediacy comes from his awareness that life is precious and there’s no time to lose.

I know the knocks on Milk haunted Dilla, which is that they are great producers but subpar emcees. While I think this is a fair criticism of Dilla (I’ve said it myself), I don’t think it applies to Milk. He isn’t a top-tier emcee, but he can hold his own. He’s at his best when he gets personal, and stumbles on clich├ęs when he goes into battle rap territory. Then again, you could wage this criticism on a lot of emcees. As a testament to his comfort on the mic, I don’t feel like he gets overshadowed by any guests.

A lot of this album focuses on striking a balance between the harsh realities of life and the great expectations we put upon musical artists. Sure, Black Milk can lay down some really inventive beats that justify his reputation, but he’s a person like anybody else with friends and family and life can be hard. Just in case you don’t take the time to peel away the layers and realize what a personal album this is, Milk throws in a skit toward the end where someone is leaving phone message about how they aren’t impressed by everything he’s done, and that the album should be renamed “Album of the Minute.”

There’s a lot to this effort, and I encourage everybody to take the time to give it the repeated listens it deserves. My immediate reaction was to crank it up and bob my head, as I imagine a lot of people will do. Yet as you dive deeper, you will not only pick up on all the incredible arrangements and subtle musical flourishes that Milk provides, but you will also find a thoughtful emcee with a tremendous amount of candor. There are still instances of braggadocio that lead to some weak lyrical moments, but I think that if Black Milk continues to push himself lyrically, he has the capability to drop the album of the decade on us.