February 20, 2007

Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Blackstar (August 26, 1998)

Thought I'd switch it up on ya a bit. The Black Star album is widely regarded as a classic piece, usually by people who believe that the current output from group members Mos Def and Talib Kweli sound like ass. The release of this album resulted in the Rawkus Records heyday (before Rupert Murdoch's son probably ruined the label), and even though nobody bought this album, it brought much needed shine to the two gifted emcees, who would go on to expand their musical visions. 

While they started off as two solo artists linked up by the label, the chemistry between them was such that putting forth a combined effort soon outweighed the need to release solo albums right away. After interest in the album topped out, Mos threatened to start up a rock group called Black Jack Johnson, but then flip-flopped, ultimately putting out one really good album and two drink coasters in between acting gigs (such as The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, and 16 Blocks 2: The Secret Of The Ooze). Kweli wound up being instrumental to the success of rapper/producer Kanye West, but not so much to the success of Talib Kweli.

I got the release date of the album from Amazon.com, but I don't believe it. I remember one of the best hip-hop Tuesdays ever in stores happening September 29, 1998 (I'm too lazy to check on that date, though). I remember stopping at the Best Buy (as I was too naive to support the mom and pops at the time) and scooping up this, Tribe's The Love Movement, Outkast's Aquemini, and something vaguely Wu-Tang related, all in one shot. Shit like that just doesn't happens anymore. Sigh.....

Because what rap album would be complete without an introduction? 

People (read: bloggers) choose not to remember that when Kweli was fresh-faced on the mic, he sounded incredibly awkward over beats by everyone, including his frequent collaborator Hi-Tek. (Hi-Tek would eventually switch from producing good conscious rap songs to running with G-Unit. Raise your lottery tickets if you saw that coming.)

The first single. Great way to introduce people to two (dare I say?) important rappers that they never heard of before now. I remember the video being pretty hype, too.

Is it gimmicky to remix the first single and include it on the album? It would be, had this been an actual remix. Kweli and Mos come much, much harder on this track. Good listen.

The Mighty Mos rips off pays homage to Slick Rick's classic "Children's Story" on the solo tip. Kweli must have been working the late shift at Burger King that night.

Nice, chill song. Remember this was recorded in the era of the "awkward" Talib Kweli, though; proceed at your own risk.

Really just sounds like an extra-long skit. A skit, on a hip hop album? What are the odds?

Not feeling the female vocal on this song. Kinda boring, actually. May have to put on "I Know What Girls Like" to get the blood boiling and the brain synapses firing again...

And now I'm awake. If you don't like this track, you should just retire, get your complimentary watch, and be out. Sounds much more like a Kweli song featuring Mos, though.

A skit, yeah, but it flows into the next song seamlessly, yo.

My favorite song on the album. Actually one of my favorite songs, period. This is the closest I've heard that sounds like spoken word spit over a great backing track, and yet it's not as pretentious as most spoken word. The video was really good, too.

I remember when I heard this album for the first time, I thought the two emcees were cool, but the beats didn't do them justice. Nearly ten years on, I appreciate the beats more, but they're a little too quiet for anyone to care what's being said.

I remember thinking that this song was almost exactly like the last song on Tribe's The Love Movement, except this song has Kweli and the other one had Q-Tip. This song was the epitome of what people thought Rawkus Records was representing. Turns out, they wanted to make money just as badly as the majors. I should track down some Punch and Words shit, though.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Black Star is worth the listen. I find joy in listening to early albums by established artists, looking out for flashes of brilliance. Many years ago, I saw that Howard Stern movie Private Parts, and I admired the work of Paul Giamatti, who played Pig Vomit. Years later, I saw him play Harvey Pekar in American Splendor, and the same brilliant acting that I noticed before came right up to the surface. Mos and Kweli are like the hip-hop Giamatti: They're two talented artists who show a lot of promise early on, and even as they make crappy choices in the future, you still want them to succeed.

BUY OR BURN? Buy this shit. It's a good listen, and your girl won't be offended by the misogynistic themes usually permeating rap music. And, you'd be supporting real hip hop, which I believe is tax-deductible.

BEST TRACKS: "Respiration"; "RE: Definition"; "Twice Inna Lifetime"



  1. I always consider this album to be a classic, but when I go back and listen to it, I mostly just skip to "Respiration." I completely agree with you: that song has to be one of my all-time favorite hip-hop tunes. I remember being slightly let down when the Blackstar album first came out because I'd loved all of the early Kweli & Mos singles on Rawkus. Something about the album was just not there. Almost ten years later, I suppose I still feel the same way. Thankfully, Mos delivered the goods with "Black on Both Sides" and Kweli & Hi-Tek's "Train of Thought" is still a solid listen.

  2. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessFebruary 25, 2008

    You should definitely check out Mirror Music by Wordsworth. He uses insane multi-syllables whenever he rhymes and he shows a decent feel for songwriting on the album. I think the beats are good in spots and certainly passable overall, although I feel like the quality of beats is much more subjective than the quality of rhyming skills.

    As for Blackstar, Talib Kweli was definitely awkward early in his recording career. I'm a lyrics guy all the way and I couldn't tolerate him until Quality. I've always thought that Mos Def was an excellent rapper. His verse on Thieves In The Night is wonderful, as are pretty much all of his appearances on this album. This left me suffering through Kweli to get the reward of Mighty Mos Def.

    Ironically, the only Mos Def appearance I don't like is his solo effort, Children's Story. I just feel like it's an odd choice to completely jack a Slick Rick song on the track where you attack Puffy and company for jacking people. Another odd choice would be giving up your status as one of Earth's very best masters of ceremony in order to start a rock band and make lounge music. I like him as an actor though.

  3. In reply to your 5 album juggernaut that dropped on one day, not only that month was a great one for hip-hop but prolly that whole fall/winter season was the best we've seen from the genre since the renaissance in 94 (which if you do your research, a year filled with the most diverse hip-hop that ever came out)... but i won't forget that Master P was like the lil' jon to everyone else back around that time and his whole No Limit minions so it wasn't that great of a year but a time in my great kid memories.. Too bad i didn't notice these then rookies til later as they are now veterans.. good album and review!!!

  4. This is a great album, one of the best and it still holds up today

  5. you need to re-listen to Mos' verse on Thieves in the Night.... one of the best ever written, and he goes on for about 2 minutes.

  6. How come no one else hears how ridiculously awkward Talib sounds? Annoying.
    I like the album, although Brown Skin Lady sucks.

  7. "And, you'd be supporting real hip hop, which I believe is tax-deductible."


  8. damn Max, you were much less descriptive back in the day. I do agree w/ basically everything here though