Words By Jason H.
Although audacious of me to state – late ’90s underground would not be what it was if Biggie Smalls were alive. The decadent period of Versace button downs and tales of the good life were all well and good, especially when Christopher Wallace did it so convincingly. But copy-cats however, brewed up a cloud so thick of fraud that the whole style was tainted. Although the trend continued and many fans were duped riding on champagne wishes, Biggie’s death ushered in a lane for the same talent without the aura of superstar bullshit. While B.I.G. earned his spot, imitators didn’t and when the wave of “underground” emcees came in full force, it was like the can of air that Mel Brooks inhaled in Space Balls. It was a breath of fresh air defined.
“We played against each other like puppets, swearing you got pull
when the only pull you got is the wool over your eyes
Getting knowledge in jail like a blessing in disguise”
- Talib Kweli off of “Respiration”
“The deadly ritual seems immersed, in the perverse
Full of short attention spans, short tempers, and short skirts
Long barrel automatics released in short bursts
The length of black life is treated with short worth.”
- Mos Def off of “Thieves In The Night”
To a bulk of you reading this, don’t front – you were sleeping on the Black Star album. After Rawkus Records’ initial compilation releases of Lyricist Lounge and Sound Bombing, the Black Star album became the most memorable. Not taking anything away from other albums such as Funcrusher Plus, but the more soulful Black Star still resonates. It is one of those cases when the initial release didn’t hit fuckers hearts but stood the test of time. Singles such as “Definition” caught ears on the BDP sample and “Respiration” was a popular cut with the Common guest spot. But as a whole – heads weren’t really talking about it. Besides college radio spins, the singles did not catch wind of mainstream radio. Those still zombies to what was deemed “Pop”-ular, didn’t really give it a chance and thus began that “backpacker” shit, as they say.
Like a squeegee, we be lightin’ shit up like phosphorus
Turnin’ flamboyant niggaz anonymous, depressin’ to optimist
You stoppin’ us is preposterous, like an androgenous masohganist
You pickin’ the wrong time, steppin’ to me when I’m in my prime like
- Talib Kweli off of “Twice Inna Lifetime”
These simpletons they mention the synonym for feminine
Sweeter than some cinnamon from Danish rings by Entenmann’s
Rush up on adrenaline, they get they asses sent to them.
- Mos Def off of “RE:DEFinition”
The double-edged sword of being stamped “underground” provides creative freedom while being stereotyped as one dimensional. The misnomer of “backpacker” infers characteristics of over your head concepts and extremely thorough wordplay. Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are: Blackstar can fall under that criteria, but what separates themselves is showmanship which we now can see today. They became the Hip-Hop duo of their era while infusing their own characteristics of arrogant swagger combined with harmonic hooks and themes of black pride in digestible doses. In addition, Mos and Kweli’s lyrical compositions were so heavy in quotable material, there are only a few albums post Black Star that can be recited with the same fervor.
“Skyscrapers is colossus, the cost of living
is preposterous, stay alive, you play or die, no options
No Batman and Robin, can’t tell between
the cops and the robbers, they both partners, they all heartless”
- Mos Def off of “Respiration”
“Reverse psychology got ‘em scared to say shit is wack, outta fear of being called a hater, imagine that.”
- Talib Kweli off of “Hater Players.”
With the term “quotable” in mind, I decided to hand pick stand out lines which define what the album was set to accomplish. Not to necessarily saying there were outright goals set by the duo in completion of this project, but to combine their talents to form an underground supergroup made this one of the most best albums for the end of the millennium. Mos Def & Talib Kweli were virtually unknowns at this point and even post-Black Star, they remained to be so on a mainstream level until their solo joints dropped soon later. For lovers of lyricism, they were immediately a hit and the Black Star album was tangible evidence that lyrically both couldn’t be fucked with.
“I’m like shot clocks, interstate cops, and blood clots
My point is, your flow can stop!”
- Talib Kweli off of “Hater Players”