Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star was released on August 18, 1998, to critical acclaim. The title is a reference to the Black Star Line, a shipping company founded by Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey. The album deals with modern-day issues, philosophies and life in Brooklyn. The two MCs had planned to release solo albums around the same time, but decided instead to collaborate on a full-length album. The first single, “Definition (song),” is a reaction to hip-hop’s fascination with death, dedicated to both Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., with a chorus that gives a nod to Boogie Down Productions’ “Stop the Violence.” “Children’s Story” is a re-imagination of the Slick Rick original, featuring Mos Def cautioning against materialism. The second single, “Respiration,” featuring Common, includes a Hi-Tek produced beat that samples Don Randi’s “The Fox” and another from the hip-hop documentary Style Wars. The track offers a melancholy ode to city life, with references to organic life functions such as breathing, eating and sleeping, but with an ominous edge, as Kweli raps about “sitting on shitty steps/we stooped to new lows, hell froze/the night the city slept.” The album peaked at No. 53 on the Billboard Top 200 and No. 13 on the Hip-Hop Albums chart, but has become considered a classic since then.
Black on Both Sides is the debut album of Mos Def, now known as Yasiin Bey, released October 12, 1999 on Rawkus Records. The album features an emphasis on live instrumentation and socially conscious lyrics and has features from Q-Tip, Busta Rhymes and Talib Kweli. Continuing with the Respect The Classics campaign, UMe will be reissuing this classic album back on vinyl for the first time in over 10 years.
Silencing any suggestions that he is any less capable than his more high-profile Black Star partner Mos Def, Talib Kweli, along with DJ Hi-Tek, crafts a masterful debut with Reflection Eternal. Like Mos, Kweli displays an impressive range of styles and sensibilities--whether popping party lyrics on "Move Something", reflecting on the mysteries of the heart for "Love", or musing on hip-hop's death and rebirth for "Good Mourning". In comparison to Mos Def's status as a new funk soul brother, Kweli's more of a b-boy bookworm--erudite and articulate, but he can also let fly with fire and spark on the mic anytime. DJ Hi-Tek finally gets to show off his full range of production ability with a blend of hot, aggressive tracks ("Blast") and relaxed groovers ("Memories"). As good a debut as you could ask for.
For one of New York's most notable "underground" rappers, Talib Kweli has been involved in some pretty high-profile endeavors, like the 1998 Black Star album that topped countless hip-hop polls, and his collaborations with Hi-Tek. However, it's on his own that Kweli can really focus on his vision and direction. Musically, TK is as eclectic as ever here; the manifesto "Rush" features hard-rock guitar riffing; "Where Do We Go" is a gentle, melodic track driven by sparkling piano and poignant strings. Along the way, Quality incorporates samples of everyone from Nina Simone to Chuck Mangione. Lyrically, Kweli is as positive and creative as ever, boldly continuing to provide an effective contrast to the downcast, violent themes so prevalent in hip-hop. As in all his other work, the message is ostensibly simple--wake up and look around you--but as any good lyricist (a category in which Kweli certainly belongs) must know, the devil is in the details. And it's those details that put some powerful flesh on this album's bones.
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Talib Kweli spent the winter in the studio putting the finishing touches on his second album, Beautiful Struggle features guest appearances from Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans, Res and Mos Def, and production by Kanye West (producer of "Get By"), Just Blaze, Charlemagne and others.
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