Classic Album Review – Mos’def – black on both sides

Black on Both Sides

Studio album by Mos Def
Released October 12, 1999
Genre Hip hop
Label Rawkus/Priority
Producer Mos Def (also exec.), Diamond D, Ge-ology, 88-Keys, DJ Premier, Ayatollah, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Psycho Les, DJ Etch-A-Sketch, David Kennedy
Mos Def chronology
Black on Both Sides
(1999)The New Danger
Singles from Black on Both Sides
“Ms. Fat Booty/Mathematics”
Released: 1999
“Umi says” released in 2000.
Black on Both Sides is the debut solo album of American rapper Mos Def, released October 12, 1999 on Rawkus Records. Prior to the album’s recording, Mos Def had collaborated with rapper Talib Kweli for the duo’s studio album, Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star (1998),[11] which raised high expectations for a solo effort.[1]Black on Both Sides features an emphasis on live instrumentation and socially conscious lyrics.[5][8] On February 2, 2000, the album was certified Gold in sales by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), following sales in excess of 500,000 copies.[12]

Talib Kweli (one-half of Black Star with Mos Def), Q-Tip and Busta Rhymes are the only main rappers to be featured on the album. Kweli raps the second and final verse of “Know That”, while Busta goes back and forth with Mos on “Do It Now”. Q-Tip helps sing the chorus on “Mr. Nigga” but doesn’t deliver a verse. The lyrics Q-Tip recites are similar to his previously stated lyrics on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Sucka Nigga”. Vinia Mojica (who is known for singing on Native Tongues songs) also sings a duet with Mos Def on the song “Climb”.


The album features a mix between established and rising producers. DJ Premier, provides the “Mathematics” instrumental. Diamond D also is credited for one beat, which is “Hip Hop”. Ali Shaheed Muhammad, known mostly as a member of A Tribe Called Quest, produced the seventh song “Got”. Psycho Les of The Beatnuts did a little more than the aforementioned producers by supplying two beats (The ninth and tenth tracks “New World Water” and “Rock N Roll”, respectively.) Jazz legend Weldon Irvine provided additional production to “Climb”.

Ayatollah, who went on to receive moderate success, produced “Ms. Fat Booty” (the most famous song from the album) and “Know That”. The same followed for 88-Keys after he made “Love”, “Speed Law” and co-produced the instrumental outro “May–December” with Mos Def, himself. David Kennedy (The second swing of “Brooklyn” and “Umi Says” produced with Mos Def), Mr. Khaliyl (“Do It Now”), DJ Etch-A-Sketch (“Climb” and “Habitat”), Ge-ology (The first swing of “Brooklyn”) and D. Prosper (“Mr. Nigga”) round out the other contributors. The late Jay Dee also contributed, but his work was not included on the album’s final draft.

Mos received production assistance on most of the album’s tracks. His sole production credit comes at “Fear Not of Man”, but he provided additional production to four tracks (Hip Hop”, “Rock N Roll”, “Climb” and “Mr. Nigga”) and co-produced three (“Umi Says”, “Brooklyn” and “May–December”).

Early versions

On the song “Brooklyn”, a three-movement piece dedicated to Mos’ place of origin in Bedford-Stuyvesant, New York, Mos rhymes three verses over three different beats. The first beat is an original composition produced by Ge-ology, while the second verse is a re-creation[citation needed] of Smif-N-Wessun’s “Home Sweet Home” and the last verse is set to the instrumental of Notorious B.I.G.’s 1995 single Who Shot Ya? However, “Brooklyn”‘s original soundscape took its concept a bit further. The true original version was never released in its entirety, as initially recorded. Mos rhymes 3 complete verse’s over Ge-ology’s musical composition, now referred to as the first movement of the song. On a later version, the first and third verses are set to the instrumentals of two other 1995 New York rap hits, “Incarcerated Scarfaces” by Raekwon as well as “Give Up the Goods (Just Step)” by Mobb Deep, respectively. The “Who Shot Ya?” verse, with the same vocal take on the released version, is placed in the middle. It is assumed that the use of these instrumentals could not be cleared for various reasons. One of many being the possibility that the samples used in the original instrumentals were only licensed to be used specifically for those compositions, and any further licensing would require the original artists’ permission (therefore requiring more money on both sampling parties’ ends), or any other number of various music industry troubles. This said version circulates online frequently. It is also notable that on the song, Mos Def sings his own interpretation of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ famous song Under the Bridge.

Also, DJ Premier originally used a different sample than the one featured on the released version of “Mathematics”, which was decidedly entered into clearance. When clearance failed, DJ Premier crafted a different instrumental for the song.

Track listing

1.”Fear Not of Man”  Mos Def4:28
2.”Hip Hop”  Diamond D, Mos Def*3:16
3.”Love”  88-Keys4:23
4.”Ms. Fat Booty”  Ayatollah3:43
5.”Speed Law”  88-Keys4:16
6.”Do It Now” (featuring Busta Rhymes)Mr. Khaliyl3:49
7.”Got”  Ali Shaheed Muhammad3:27
8.”Umi Says”  Mos Def, David Kennedy5:10
9.”New World Water”  Psycho Les3:11
10.”Rock n Roll”  Psycho Les, Mos Def*5:02
11.”Know That” (featuring Talib Kweli)Ayatollah4:03
12.”Climb” (featuring Vinia Mojica)DJ Etch-A-Sketch, Mos Def*, Weldon Irvine*4:02
13.”Brooklyn”  Ge-ology, Mos Def, David Kennedy5:09
14.”Habitat”  DJ Etch-A-Sketch4:39
15.”Mr. Nigga” (featuring Q-Tip)D-Prosper, Mos Def*5:12
16.”Mathematics”  DJ Premier4:06
17.”May–December”  88-Keys, Mos Def3:29

Red Everything Movement


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