Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star is an album-length collaboration of emcees Talib Kweli and Mos Def. The album was released on August 18, 1998, to critical acclaim. The title is a reference to the Black Star Line, a shipping line founded by Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey. The album deals with modern-day issues, philosophical ideas, and life in Brooklyn, New York City, as the two artists know it.
The album’s fruition came about from the chemistry between the two emcees. Both planned to release their solo albums around the same time, but they postponed their individual projects and decided instead to collaborate on a full-length LP.
The late jazz musician Weldon Irvine played the keys on the album’s opening song, “Astronomy,” which interprets the word “black” in a positive way, and contains similes such as “Black, like my baby girl’s stare”.
The next song, and first single, “Definition (song)”, is a stern response to hip hop’s fascination with death, and a dedication to slain emcees Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G.. As the chorus goes,
“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 kinda dangerous to be a MC/They shot 2Pac and Biggie/Too much violence in hip hop, Y-O”
The chorus is also a play on Boogie Down Productions’ anti-gun song “Stop the Violence”, as well as “Remix For P Is Free” from their album Criminal Minded. “Children’s Story” is a re-imagined version of Slick Rick’s original, which features Mos Def cautioning overly materialistic pursuits.
“Brown-Skin Lady” is an affectionate tribute to brown-skinned women. The song encourages black and brown women to be proud of their hair and complexion, and to not be influenced by Western beauty standards. Kweli rhymes, “We’re not dealin’ with the European standard of beauty tonight/Turn off the TV and put the magazine away/In the mirror tell me what you see/See the evidence of divine presence.”
“Thieves in the Night” was inspired by author Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye. In the album’s liner notes, Kweli explains that the paragraph “struck me as one of the truest critiques of our society, and I read that in high school when I was 15 years old. I think it is especially true in the world of hip hop, because we get blinded by these illusions.
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