First off I ain’t even gonna front wit yall. I didn’t check out the Black Star album until the year 2018. Wait, wait, wait.. I know I’m suuuuper late, but I must be honest. When the album dropped, I was lost in the DMX albums, Big Pun’s Capital Punishment, and Onyx Shut ‘Em Down. I was in my hardcore bag heavy. It was so many great albums that came out that year! I’d heard songs from both Mos Def and Talib prior to this collaborative album, but wasn’t really interested. I saw them as backpack rappers. Yeah, they were dope wit it, but I was is the streets. I wasn’t trynna hear anything of conscious substance. Today, I realize I cheated myself! In fact, listening to it today feels like this is what the rap game needs. I finally see why this album is critically acclaimed and said to be a classic by most hip-hop heads I’ve met. I don’t even know where to begin with this masterpiece. So many damn bars!
From the very beginning of the album, everything comes on ice cold.. You know from the rip they mean business and they’re about to show their entire ass wit it. When the intro ends, a song titled Astronomy drops. I wasn’t ready. The way they go back-to-back on this track is pretty much effortless. It sounds as if they recorded the song relaxing on a hammock under a tropical breeze. Who do these guys think they are? God-class emcees, that’s who.
Not even a minute in, Def says:
Black like my baby girl’s stare
Black like the veil that the muslimina wear
Black like the planet that they fear, why they scared?
Black like the slave ship that later brought us here
Black like the cheeks that are roadways for tears
That leave black faces well traveled with years
Black like assassin cross hairs
Blacker than my granddaddy armchair
He never really got no time to chill there
Cause his life is warfare, warfare
Then Talib follows with:
Deep on the front lines, the blacks is all there
Black like the perception of who on welfare
Black like faces at the bottom of the well
I’ve been there before
To bring the light and heat it up like “la cocina”
Make without imagine happen but maybe I’m just a dreamer
I love rockin tracks like John Coltrane love Naema
Next they go line for line together with:
Like the student love the teacher
Like the prophet love Khadeja
Like I love my baby features
Like the creator love all creatures
And that’s just a glimpse of the first song. I’m completely sold on what everybody was telling me years ago. The thing about hearing it now, about it being new to me, is that it sounds like it just came out. Look at the climate we’re currently living in – a time where if we (black people) don’t come together in unity we’ll be doomed. Truthfully, it’s the same about everyone as well. We all need to come together as human beings. I’m not gonna preach my version of a Martin Luther King speech but you know what I’m say’n. Let just continue on into the album, shall we?
I don’t need to say much about the next track. It was all over the radio at the time and still comes on underground radio stations. Definition. Super Burn! Rapid fire bars! Head nodding, neck breaking, greatness. The hook, so powerful and thought provoking, reminds us of the then-recent loss of two legendary emcees and the dangers of being a hip-hop artist.
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 kind of dangerous to be an MC
They shot 2Pac and Biggie
Too much violence in hip-hop, Y-O
You can fast-forward from when this album came out in ‘98 straight to today and see things are still the same. Unfortunately, that means this track is relevant too. After the hook, the song goes straight into a story about being pulled over by the police. In many cases, it’s the super-cop speaking in a threatening voice looking for a reason to blow your brains out. Many cops are still being assholes, and rappers are still being murdered. Only thing missing today is rappers going back-to-back like this which sucks, because these cats is killing these beats!
Right, what’s another track I can put people like me onto who never heard this project? Well, they have a song on here titled Children’s Story that pays obviously homage to Slick Rick, aka Rick The Ruler. It’s a cool track. If there is something that has changed since ‘98, it’s that rappers aren’t paying respect and homage to those that paved the way. I don’t understand why it’s so hard to do that in this new era of rap. Today we have people I wouldn’t even label rappers saying the most disrespectful things about our fallen legends. Tupac’s name seems like main target for thrown rocks these days. The crazy part is before he passed, Tupac said what cowards would do on his song Troublesome ‘96:
We Outlawz, motherfuckers can’t kill my pride
Niggas talk a lot of shit, but that’s after I’m gone ’cause they fear me
In physical form, let it be known, I’m troublesome
I don’t know about you, but it gives me chills to hear this and see people saying what they can only after he isn’t physically here to approach the situation. It feels like a new generation of gum bumpers are only taking advantage of hip-hop and young fans couldn’t care less. In any case, big respect to those that do honor and paved the way for Def and Talib to make this “Children’s “Story track.
Listen to me—the Brown Skin Lady track? Wow, just wow. Working through this album is almost depressing because it’s confirms to my spirit just how screwed up the rap game truly is. But it’s because the album is so good. Here is a song uplifting women and it’s incredible! Talib:
Fresher than Tony Rebel’s vegetables at African street festivals
Where incredible women is, plentiful
Over the years I met a few, none of them compare to you
Preparing you to make fruit bearable, somethin terrible, let’s see:
You fruitful, beautiful, smart, lovable, huggable
Doable like art, suitable to be part
Of my life, coppertone owe you copyright infringement, pay
You been this tan since way back in the day
It’s like I’m standin there you know appreciatin God’s design
And then you showed up, it’s like you read my mind
Damn she’s fine, I think I add the r-e, in front of that
And see if she’d, to get, with a cat like me
This song is exactly what’s needed on the radio right now! With so many little girls looking up to strippers, the love, and the hip-hop circus, I sometimes wonder if there will be an earth in the next few weeks. Ha! Things are so out-of-control and little ones grow up being inspired by superficial people, places, and things.
All this being said, the entire album feels good and the bars are on another level. Just by listening, you can tell the art of the bar has been set so low today you can trip over it. I have nothing but respect for other countries who embrace hip-hop because they’re holding onto artists like Mos Def & Talib Kwali. Sure, they listen to other rappers or gum bumpers like the Lil Pumps and Poppers for fun I guess, but their foundation for the art of hip-hop seems stronger than it is in the States. I urge you if you haven’t already: go and listen to Black Star. It’s hip-hop in its purest form.
When it comes to solo artists collaborating, it’s not always a success. These two sound like they were raised in the same house, and in a way, they were – the house of hip-hop. Prior to releasing this album, they were both going to put out solo projects but the universe said otherwise. Then *boom* the Big Bang was in effect! With production from Hi-Teck & Shawn J Period (to name a few) these emcees have blown my mind. Word is they’re gonna do it again. I can only imagine what that could be like. Honestly, all they have to do is repackage Black Star, change the cover, and re-release cause nothing has really changed in society other than the skill of rap artists. Whatever happens, people are about to be in for a treat.