Talib Kweli and Mos Def didn’t impact the charts like some of their rap contemporaries, but the Brooklyn MCs left an indelible mark on hip-hop when they dropped their joint Black Star LP back in 1998, and they ruffled a few feathers along the way too.
The independently released LP, which will celebrate its 15-year anniversary in August, was celebrated for its artistic approach and stood in stark contrast to the polished rap sound that was being pushed out by Diddy, Ma$e and their Bad Boy crew in the post-Notorious B.I.G. era. On “Children’s Story,” a retooled version of Slick Rick’s 1988 classic, Mos Def fully criticized hip-hop’s commercialism and radio politics. Many believed he was taking direct shots at Puff, who at the time, had just stepped from behind the production board and into the spotlight as a rapper.
Things got even more awkward when Mos, who now goes by Yasiin Bey, first performed the song while Diddy was in attendance at the since-gone Wetlands club. “I think Big had just passed away a couple of weeks before and we were working on the Black Star album and Yasiin jumped up and did a verse for ‘Children’s Story’ and Diddy was in the house,” Kweli recalled when he spoke with MTV News last week.
Mos told a tale of an up-and-coming rap star who made a fortune rhyming over popular samples — a practice that was frowned upon by hip-hop purists in the late 1990s. “He jacked another and another, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder/ Sang some R&B over the track for ‘Deep Cover’,” Mos spit to the crowd that excitedly roared back.
Puff’s biggest hits at the time incorporated recognizable lifts from David Bowie, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, the Police and Diana Ross, so many assumed that Mos and Kweli were taking jabs — even Diddy himself. “Diddy came through and he came and wanted to talk to me and Mos about [how] he felt a way about the record, about what Mos was sayin’ onstage,” Talib said.
Though he was the poster child for shiny suits, gaudy jewels and feel-good dance hits, Puff wasn’t the only rapper taking hip-hop to new commercial heights. Jay-Z, Nas, LL Cool J and the Trackmasters made some of the biggest hits of the day using the most recognizable samples that they could find. It was a trend that Mos and Kweli were trying to reverse. “Mos told him, ‘It wasn’t directed at you personally. It’s directed at everything that’s going on in the business,’ ” Kwe said of the interaction. “That was one of the illest conversations that I ever seen.”
What’s your favorite Black Star track? Let us know in the comments!