Black Star

Black Star

Rawkus Records, 1998

http://blackstarhub.com

REVIEW BY: Shane M. Liebler

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/16/2006

“The statement that they make will determine what everyone else plays very shortly. Ya dig?”

The first and, for the time being, only full-length collaboration of rap partners Mos Def and Talib Kweli has certainly stood the test of time in terms of greatness. Of course, the project known as Black Star is most accomplished in its bold simplicity rather than its ambition.

It’s the freewheeling flow that only Mos and Kweli share that makes Black Star a standout of the hip-hop scene of the time, both over- and underground. Brooklyn’s b-boy scholars were the franchise players for Krush Groove-minded Rawkus Records, which was like the B-side to late '90s hip-hop, releasing underground LPs and compilations just about monthly. It carried a hip-hop torch extinguished by West vs. East coast rap wars, a legacy of freestyle battles and Adidas sneakers.nbtc__dv_250

In the tradition of fellow NYC luminaries De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, Black Star skillfully interweaves social commentary about the black condition with frequent boasting about and promotion of themselves and “the movement.” Mos and Kweli’s superior verse-trading abilities accent the at-times profoundly poetic observations subway culture phrased so well against DJ Hi-Tek and others’ lounge-y beats.

“Breathe in - inhale vapors from bright stars that shine / Breathe out - weed smoke retrace the skyline,” from “Respiration” is one of several literary gems. But, most of the time, the duo makes like two b-boys simply kickin’ it. The album’s carefree feel pumps through the tempo-setting “Definition”/“RE:DEFinition” sequence and on inspirational tracks like “K.O.S. (Determination).”

Mos Def boasts he’s “dark like the side of the moon you don’t see” on “Astronomy (8th Light)” and close to Kweli like “Bethlehem and Nazareth” on “Definition.” Kweli adds weight to the other end of the scale with sound advice like, “Stop acting like a bitch, already / Be a visionary / Or maybe you can see your name in the column of obituaries.” The silky “Brown Skin Lady” adds a little romance to the occasion while “B-Boys Will B Boys” and “Yo Yeah” pay homage to the grandmasters of the game.

Black Star hardly breaks any new ground, but it’s barely a retread. Having these two talented ryhmesayers on a properly promoted major label release would have certainly made it a hit. But, it rightfully remains the humble launching pad of two impressive careers and still fills the loose vibe missing in mainstream hip-hop.

In their own words, Black Star keep shinin'.

Rating: B+

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© 2006 Shane M. Liebler and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rawkus Records, and is used for informational purposes only.