By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
The duo behind this record — Black Star, consisting obviously enough of Brooklyn MCs Mos Def and Talib Kweli — took its core concepts (and its name) from Marcus Garvey, the legendary Jamaican newspaperman, Black Nationalist, and founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, whose Black Star shipping line was supposed to serve as a shuttle back to Africa for the descendants of slaves still stranded in Jamaica, the United States, and the rest of the Americas.
So, unlike most of the bling-obsessed pop-rappers who dominated the late '90s, Black Star's Def and Kweli were thoughtful, political, and deeply literate. And after a decade of gangsta excess that began with N.W.A.'s "Fuck tha Police" and peaked, sadly but predictably, with the murders of hip-hop's two biggest stars, Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., the game seemed ready for major change.
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Along with the emergence of other politically conscious NYC spitters such as Common (not to mention the massive mainstream success of an intelligent, introspective singer-MC like Lauryn Hill), it looked for a minute as though Def and Kweli were heralding a new era in hip-hop that would explode the status quo, strip thuggishness and bling of its false glamour, and reclaim rap for the sons and daughters of Public Enemy, De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest.
If a true hip-hop head listened to Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star long enough and analyzed its messages closely enough, it was almost impossible to avoid interpreting it as a musical manifesto that laid the foundation — nonviolence, anti-materialism, pro-intellectualism — for a rap revolution. And the slab's strongest song, "Definition," was also its clearest statement, propelled by harsh, insightful lyrics like "Walkin' the streets is like battlin'/Be careful with your body.../Stop actin' like a bitch already, be a visionary.../It's kinda dangerous to be an MC/They shot Tupac and Biggie/Too much violence in hip-hop.../Consider me the entity within the industry/Without a history of spittin' the epitome of stupidity."
Unfortunately, though, a change didn't come and the revolution wasn't televised. At least, it never exploded the status quo, knocked off thuggishness and bling, or reclaimed rap. And now, 14 years later, the world is still waiting for another Black Star album.
Recently, Def and Kweli leaked an untitled track produced by Madlib, which sent heads into a frenzy of speculation about Black Star 2. But with both MCs denying the existence (and/or likelihood) of a sophomore slab, a live, track-by-track performance of Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star is the next best thing to a fresh shot of rhymes and revolution.