Black Star-Mos Def And Talib Kwe Fixed
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The late jazz musician Weldon Irvine played the keys on the album's opening song, "Astronomy," which interprets the word "black" in a positive way, and contains similes such as "Black, like my baby girl's hair". The next song, and first single, "Definition", is a stern response to hip hop's fascination with death, and a dedication to slain emcees Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. As the chorus goes, "One two three/Mos Def and Talib Kweli/We came to rock it on to the tip top/Best alliance in hip hop, Y-O/I said, one two three/It's kinda dangerous to be a MC/They shot 2Pac and Biggie/Too much violence in hip hop, Y-O". The chorus is also a play on Boogie Down Productions' anti-gun song "Stop the Violence", as well as "Remix For P Is Free" from their album Criminal Minded. "Children's Story" is a re-imagined version of Slick Rick's original, which features Mos Def cautioning overly materialistic pursuits.
"Brown-Skin Lady" is an affectionate tribute to brown-skinned women. The song encourages black and brown women to be proud of their hair and complexion, and to not be influenced by Western beauty standards. Kweli rhymes, "We're not dealin' with the European standard of beauty tonight/Turn off the TV and put the magazine away/Look in the mirror tell me what you see/I see the evidence of divine presence."
Black Star was voted the 24th best album of 1998 in the Pazz & Jop, a poll of American critics nationwide published annually by The Village Voice. Robert Christgau, the poll's creator, wrote in a contemporary review that Mos Def and Talib Kweli "devise a hip hop imaginary where hater players lose their girls-not-bitches to MCs so disinterested they give 'em right back. The rhymes are the selling point. But the subculture that cares most about these words is what you'll come back to." According to Encyclopedia of Popular Music writer Colin Larkin, the album abandoned "the negativity of gangsta rap" in favor of "a highly intelligent and searching examination of black culture, harking back to the classic era of rap epitomized by Public Enemy and KRS-One. The album's sparse, hard-hitting rhythms were also in marked comparison to the overblown productions of Puff Daddy, which dominated the rap mainstream."
While Puff Daddy and his followers continued to dictate the direction hip-hop would take into the millennium, Mos Def and Talib Kweli surfaced from the underground to pull the sounds in the opposite direction. Their 13 rhyme fests on this superior, self-titled debut as Black Star show that old-school rap still sounds surprisingly fresh in the sea of overblown vanity productions. There's no slack evident in the tight wordplays of Def and Kweli as they twist and turn through sparse, jazz-rooted rhythms calling out for awareness and freedom of the mind. Their viewpoints stem directly from the teachings of Marcus Garvey, the legendary activist who fought for the rights of blacks all around the world in the first half of the 20th century. Def and Kweli's ideals are sure lofty; not only are they out to preach Garvey's words, but they also hope to purge rap music of its negativity and violence. For the most part, it works. Their wisdom-first philosophy hits hard when played off their lyrical intensity, a bass-first production, and stellar scratching. While these MCs don't have all of the vocal pizzazz of A Tribe Called Quest's Phife and Q-Tip at their best, flawless tracks like the cool bop of "K.O.S. (Determination)" and "Definition" hint that Black Star is only the first of many brilliantly executed positive statements for these two street poets.
The messaging on the Black Star album, the first one [Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, released in 1998], resonates now. And we weren't saying anything that much different than, you know, people like Amiri Baraka in the Black Arts movement and what Nina Simone was saying onstage towards the end of her career. We stand tall on the shoulders of our ancestors. The canon of black art is amazing, and it is the lifeblood of all great art that comes from America in particular. Black people in America have been the moral compass, and we have been the ones who have elevated the art and we have been the ones who have made the most original American things.
Black Star has a relationship where one will pick up where the other left off, giving listeners a continuous thread of head-bobbing hip hop alongside strong messages. To emphasize their roles in the group, in hand, Kweli had a black microphone while Mos Def had a red one. Kweli channeled the bass with reserved movement while Mos Def seemed to savor the attention a little more than Kweli, adding unique dance step to his lyrics. 2b1af7f3a8