Black Star Drop ‘Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star’ Album: Today in Hip-Hop
On this day, Sept. 29, in hip-hop history...
1998: Two young Brooklyn rappers by the names of Mos Def and Talib Kweli, collectively known as the duo Black Star, drop off Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, a timeless album that established both as premier lyricists.
Arriving on the same day as new releases from heavy-hitters like Jay-Z (Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life), OutKast (Aquemini) and A Tribe Called Quest (The Love Movement), Black Star would have been easier to sweep under the rug if not for the microphone pyrotechnics of Mighty Mos, now known as Yasiin Bey, and Kweli, who both became living emblems of the Rawkus Records era.
Black Star literally announced their arrival with "Definition," a free-wheeling, Hi-Tek-produced anti-violence anthem that rang through loud and clear after the tragic shooting deaths of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G.
"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," Bey shouts on the hook before mentioning the aforementioned murders of the two rap icons.
In keeping with the Native Tongues tradition, Black Star coded in Afrocentrism and the idea of self-improvement. Black Star's group name and album title is a reference to the Black Star Line, a shipping line incorporated by Jamaican activist-entrepreneur Marcus Garvey nearly 80 years beforehand. Black Star's "Brown Skin Lady," which includes a sample of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson's "We Almost Lost Detroit," is a proclamation of Black beauty. "Thieves in the Night," meanwhile, is a direct reference to Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, a 1970 novel that explores the idea of self-hate in the African American community.
Fueled by Hi-Tek's jazzy production and the reflective lyricism of Yasiin Bey and Kweli, Black Star didn't include too many outside contributions. Hi-Tek, who had already formed the duo Eternal Reflection along with Kweli, has a production credit on nine of the album's dense 13-songs. Common, who appears on "Respiration," is the only guest verse on the entire LP.
Theoretically speaking, Black Star should have been the first of several releases from the ascendant rap duo. Thus far, though, it hasn't been—at least as far as actual Black Star albums.
Since the release of Black Star, Yasiin Bey and Kweli have both established legacies as two of hip-hop's foremost wordsmiths. Just a little over a year after the release of Black Star, Black Dante unleashed Black on Both Sides, a classic album that doubled down on the Afrocentrism and political lyricism he and Kweli brought to the table on Black Star. For his part, Kweli dropped off his stellar solo debut, Quality, in 2002. All together, Yasiin Bey has gone on to drop four solo albums since the release of Black Star, while Kweli has unleashed eight.
While there remains a dormant possibility that we'll get a new Black Star album—Bey himself promised some new Black Star music was imminent earlier this year—we might just have to be satisfied with the epic LP that is currently the duo's first and only. With the project's combination of dense lyricism, dope production and themes that remain relevant to this day, that's just fine.
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