When this dropped, it was as though underground lyricism kicked its way out of its perceived grave and proved that Hip Hop was not just a commercial, superficial facade, but a multi-layered, profound avenue for expression. The culture gathered around these two heroes and celebrated, and Mos Def and Taleb Kweli are Black Star became one of the biggest records of the late nineties. And it’s light has not died down. To this day it hasn’t lost an iota of its fresh take on the central ideas of Hip Hop, both as a genre and a culture, and its songs still demonstrate complexity, able to stand with current evolutions of the genre’s sound.

Mos Def has always been one of my favorite lyricists, and his Black on Both Sides is one of the few albums that has never gotten old for me. The standout is track 2, “Hip Hop”, an ode to writing, to the culture, and to expression in general. And yes, I can still rap it from top to bottom, and his climactic omission (bait & switch) of the word “stop” still gives me chills, and sends the message that Hip Hop can defy expectations in its fresh delivery and longevity.

Taleb Kweli remains among the game’s most consistent, and even though I haven’t copped a record of his in a while, seeing his name on a song still brings me back to those early days of discovery, peeling back the facade of the mainstream to find much richer earth below. One of my favorites of his is “Get By”. Lyrically song, its social awareness still fit comfortably over the Kanye West produced, ostensibly radio friendliness of its beat. Kweli continues to extol the idea that substance matters so much more over labels and dollar signs, and he took the pass less traveled, sticking to his message as opposed to giving in to mainstream trends.

 

I was only going to feature Black Star today, but I decided to shine a light on its parts because I missed yesterday, and because they deserve so much more recognition than the game gives them. Their sole album is proof that quality trumps quantity.

 

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