Artist: De La Soul featuring Mos Def
Title: "Big Brother Beat"
Producer: Skeff Anselm
Album: Stakes Is High (1996)
Stakes Is High is a De La Soul album that I think a lot of people like well enough, but it won't ever come up in a discussion of finest Native Tongues projects. Posdnuos, Dave, and Maseo were venturing out on their own without producer Prince Paul, who worked the boards for their first three full-length efforts (although, to hear them tell it, Paul's contributions weren't quite as all-encompassing as hip hop heads would like to believe). Stakes Is High was also released three years after their previous album, Buhloone Mindstate, and the hip hop landscape had changed dramatically during their absence: gangsta rap's dominance of the culture had paved the way for New York's fascination with Italian mobster fantasies, leaving De La Soul on the outside looking in even more so than they normally would be.
The straight butter hit "Big Brother Beat" served as my introduction to rapper-slash-singer-slash-actor Mos Def, who hadn't yet changed his moniker to Yaasin Bey. As the song dropped two years before the rest of the hip hop world caught up with his collaboration with Talib Kweli, Black Star, The Mighty Mos is positioned as merely a newcomer in the game, albeit one who found himself underneath the wing of the Native Tongues (which most certainly resulted in his collaborations with Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest and, more indirectly, his partnership with Native Tongue superfan Kanye West). His breakthrough with Da Bush Babees, "The Love Song", most likely reached more people (since it was released as a single, whereas "Big Brother Beat" was not), and his work with Reflection Eternal, Medina Green, Urban Thermo Dynamics, and pretty much the entire Rawkus Records roster sealed his fate as an underground stalwart with lots of connections, but "Big Brother Beat" is where it all started for me, anyway.
Over a simple, melodic "oh shit, Skeff Anselm, he gets props too" instrumental (word to Phife Dawg), Pos and Dave (who was still going by Trugoy the Dove back then) share screen time with their guest, passing the microphone around while spending the duration of the track spitting the type of boasts that were popular at the time: that's why both Dave and Yaasin both have lines about making money (although Dave's description is funnier: "See, I'm out to get the coin like in them rainbow pots"). The Mighty Mos also points out Posdnuos's ability to "bag dimes", which, again, isn't the kind of thing one would expect from a bunch of conscious rappers. But it's clear that these guys are just fucking around, and their playfulness is as infectious as Anselm's beat.
"Big Brother Beat" isn't entirely successful at introducing Mos Def as someone who could be the second coming of the D.A.I.S.Y Age: the dude spits his bars with the confidence of a guy who had already been rhyming for ten years, and it was painfully obvious that he would find the success he craved, at least before changing his name and opting to never release his collaborative project with producer Mannie Fresh, apparently. But as a posse cut, it works wonders, as Dave and Pos both sound rejuvenated with the injection of youthful energy in the booth. "Big Brother Beat" might not have been the springboard "The Love Song" ended up being for Yaasin Bey, but it's still an enjoyable song, one of many from Stakes Is High, an album you two should revisit.
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De La Soul - Stakes Is High (review)